Language Difficulty Ranking For English Speakers
Learning a new language as an adult is big undertaking – so if you want the best value for your time, choose wisely.
For most people, there are no time constraints on becoming fluent in another language, but for the Foreign Service Institute – the U.S. government’s main provider of foreign affairs training – quantifying the “learn time” of various languages is vital. American diplomats, for example, need to become proficient in the official language of their posting country, and it helps immensely to know how long that might take.
The FSI organizes languages into five broad categories based on how different each language and culture is to the United States:
Category I: The Quick Ones
Category I languages are the easiest for English speakers, who can reach reading and speaking proficiency within about half a year of intense study. There is a mix Romance and Germanic languages in this classification, including Dutch, Swedish, French, Spanish, and Italian.
It might be surprising also to learn that Afrikaans is in this “easiest” category as well. It uses 26 letters in its alphabet like English (although it also contains additional phonetic sounds), and has a lot in common with modern Dutch.
Category II: Es ist schwer zu sagen
Though German is very closely related to English, there are grammar quirks that bump it up in difficulty. FSI estimates it would take 30 weeks of intense study to become proficient in German.
Category III: Intermediate
Category III languages are mainly spoken in Southeast Asia, and they include Indonesian and Malay. Swahili also counts as a Category III language. (Note: there are no Category III languages spoken in Europe.)
Category IV: For people who like a challenge
Category IV includes the most challenging European languages for English speakers to pick up. Here you’ll find Slavic and Baltic languages such as Polish, Croatian, and Latvian, as well as Greek, Turkish, and Icelandic.
This category also includes Finnish, Estonian and Hungarian. These Uralic languages have the distinction of being particularly challenging for English speakers to master as they have little in common with any other European languages. FSI estimates it would take a year of intense study to become proficient in these languages.
Category V: For people who really like a challenge
Languages in category V are the most challenging for English speakers because they generally have completely unfamiliar scripts and cultural assumptions. These languages are most common in Asia and the Middle East.
While Mandarin, Arabic, and Korean are sufficiently difficult to comprehend, Japanese has a reputation for being the toughest in this group thanks, in part, to multiple writing styles.
Mastering Japanese could take years, but FSI estimates that it’ll be at least 88 weeks before you’re chatting your way through Tokyo.
This map was inspired by one created by Redditor, Fummy.
Animation: How the European Map Has Changed Over 2,400 Years
The history of Europe is breathtakingly complex, but this animated map helps makes sense of 2,400 years of shifting borders and nations.
How the European Map Has Changed Over 2,400 Years
The history of Europe is breathtakingly complex. While there are rare exceptions like Andorra and Portugal, which have had remarkably static borders for hundreds of years, jurisdiction over portions of the continent’s landmass has changed hands innumerable times.
Today’s video comes to us from YouTube channel Cottereau, and it shows the evolution of European map borders starting from 400 BC. Empires rise and fall, invasions sweep across the continent, and modern countries slowly begin to take shape (with the added bonus of an extremely dramatic instrumental).
Below are nine highlights and catalysts that shifted the dividing lines of the European map:
146 BC – A Year of Conquest
146 BC was a year of conquest and expansion for the Roman Republic. The fall of Carthage left the Romans in control of territory in North Africa, and the ransack and destruction of the Greek city-state of Corinth also kickstarted an era of Roman influence in that region. These decisive victories paved the way for the Roman Empire’s eventual domination of the Mediterranean.
117 AD – Peak Roman Empire
The peak of the Roman Empire is one of the more dramatic moments shown on this animated European map. At its height, under Trajan, the Roman Empire was a colossal 1.7 million square miles (quite a feat in an era without motorized vehicles and modern communication tools). This enormous empire remained mostly intact until 395, when it was irreparably split into Eastern and Western regions.
370 AD – The Arrival of the Huns
Spurred on by severe drought conditions in Central Asia, the Huns reached Europe and found a Roman Empire weakened by currency debasement, economic instability, overspending, and increasing incursions from rivals along its borders. The Huns waged their first attack on the Eastern Roman Empire in 395, but it was not until half a century later – under the leadership of Attila the Hun – that hordes pushed deeper into Europe, sacking and razing cities along the way. The Romans would later get their revenge when they attacked the quarreling Goths and Huns, bouncing the latter out of Central Europe.
1241 – The Mongol Invasion of Europe
In the mid-13th century, the “Golden Horde” led by grandsons of Genghis Khan, roared into Russia and Eastern Europe sacking cities along the way. Facing invasion from formidable Mongol forces, central European princes temporarily placed their regional conflicts aside to defend their territory. Though the Mongols were slowly pushed eastward, they loomed large on the fringes of Europe until almost the 16th century.
1362 – Lithuania
Today, Lithuania is one of Europe’s smallest countries, but at its peak in the middle ages, it was one of the largest states on the continent. A pivotal moment for Lithuania came after a decisive win at the Battle of Blue Waters. This victory stifled the expansion of the Golden Horde, and brought present-day Ukraine into its sphere of influence.
1648 – Kleinstaaterei
The end of the Holy Roman Empire highlights the extreme territorial fragmentation in Germany and neighboring regions, in an era referred to as Kleinstaaterei.
Even as coherent nation states formed around it, the Holy Roman Empire and its remnants wouldn’t coalesce until Germany rose from the wreckage of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. Unification helped position Germany as a major power, and by 1900 the country had the largest economy in Europe.
1919 – The Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire – a fixture in Eastern Europe for hundreds of years – was in its waning years by the beginning of the 20th century. The empire had ceded territory in two costly wars with Italy and Balkan states, and by the time the dust cleared on WWI, the borders of the newly minted nation of Turkey began at the furthest edge of continental Europe.
1942 – Expanding and Contracting Germany
At the furthest extent of Axis territory in World War II, Germany and Italy controlled a vast portion of continental Europe. After the war, however, Germany again became fragmented into occupation zones – this time, overseen by the United States, France, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. Germany would not be made whole again until 1990, when a weakening Soviet Union loosened its grip on East Germany.
1991 – Soviet Dissolution
In the decades following WWII, the political boundaries of the European map remained relatively stable – that is, until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Almost overnight, the country’s entire western border splintered into independent nations. When the dust settled, there were 15 breakaway republics, six of which were in Europe.
Bonus: If you liked the video above, be sure to watch this year-by-year account of who ruled territories across Europe.
The Best and Worst Performing Wealth Markets in the Last 10 Years
This telling chart shows how national wealth markets have changed over the past decade, highlighting the biggest winners and losers.
The Best and Worst Performing Wealth Markets
A lot can change in a decade.
Ten years ago, the collapse of Lehman Brothers sent the world’s financial markets into a tailspin, a catalyst for years of economic uncertainty.
At the same time, China’s robust GDP growth was reaching a fever pitch. The country was turning into a wealth creation machine, creating millions of newly-minted millionaires who would end up having a huge impact on wealth markets around the world.
The Ups and Downs of Wealth Markets (2008-2018)
Today’s graphic, using data from the Global Wealth Migration Review, looks at national wealth markets, and how they’ve changed since 2008.
Each wealth market is calculated from the sum of individual assets within the jurisdiction, accounting for the value of cash, property, equity, and business interests owned by people in the country. Just like other kinds of markets, wealth can grow or shrink over time.
Here are a few countries and regions that stand out in the report:
Developing Asian Economies
In terms of sheer wealth growth, nothing comes close to countries like China and India. The size of these markets, combined with rapid economic growth, have resulted in triple-digit gains over the last 10 years.
For the world’s two most populous countries, it’s a trend that is expected to continue into the next decade, despite the fact that many millionaire residents are migrating to different jurisdictions.
European nations saw very little growth over the past decade, but the Mediterranean region was particularly hard-hit. In fact, eight of the 20 worst performing wealth markets over the last decade are located along the Mediterranean coast:
|Rank (Out of 90)||Country||% Growth (2008-2018)|
European Bright Spots
There were some bright spots in Europe during this same time period. Malta, Ireland, and Monaco all achieved positive wealth growth at rates higher than 30% over the last 10 years.
While it’s expected to see rapidly-growing economies as prolific producers of wealth, it is much more surprising when mature markets perform so strongly. Singapore and New Zealand fall under that category, as does Australia, which was already a large, mature wealth market.
Australia recently surpassed both Canada and France to become the seventh largest wealth market in the world, and last year alone, over 12,000 millionaires migrated there.
The long-term economic slide of Venezuela has been well documented, and it comes as no surprise that the country saw extreme contraction of wealth over the last decade. Since war-torn countries are not included in the report, Venezuela ranked 90th, which is dead-last on a global basis.
Short Term, Long Term
In 2018, global wealth actually slumped by 5%, dropping from $215 trillion to $204 trillion.
All 90 countries tracked by the report experienced negative growth in wealth, as global stock and property markets dipped. Here’s a look at the wealth markets that were the hardest hit over the past year:
|Wealth Market||Wealth growth (2017 -2018)|
The future outlook is rosier. Global wealth is expected to rise by 43% over the next decade, reaching $291 trillion by 2028. If current trends play out as expected, Vietnam could likely top this list a decade from now with a staggering 200% growth rate.
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