5 languages so hard they’ll make you glad you’re a TEFL teacher

Any English speaker who’s traveled the globe will know just how much natives of any tongue love to champion their lingo as the hardest going. But there’s no question that a few of the world’s languages stick out from the rest. These are the ones with labyrinthine grammatical systems, mind-boggling writing runes, unpronounceable alphabets and the like. They might just make you glad you’ve landed as a TEFL teacher, and not a tutor of Japanese, Hungarian or Polish. You’ll see why…

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Budapest, Hungary | © Thomas Depenbusch/Flickr


The unforgiving tones of the Hungarian tongue have been serving the Magyar peoples of central Europe for centuries. Officially classified as an Indo-Ugric lingo, it’s totally unlike most that are spoken within the European Union, which is enough to baffle almost any tourist who’s just made the short hop across from German-speaking Vienna or nearby Czech Republic! One of the trickiest aspects of Hungarian is the ingrained tendency to form compound words and verbs, many of which are now ingrained in the lexicon. Perhaps you fancy a trip to the használtruha-kereskedés (secondhand clothing shop)? Or maybe it’s all megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért (I don’t even know where to begin) anyhow? You get the idea.

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Kyoto, Japan | © Pedro Szekely/Flickr


Rated as one of the most difficult languages of all for the native English speaker to get to grips with, Japanese is surely one of those lingos that will make you glad you’ve landed as a TEFL teacher! It’s actually not the grammar or the vocab – the usual pitfalls – that will be the hardest things to overcome with this one. That honor goes to the writing system, which comes in three distinct forms, includes thousands of different symbols and signs, and has oodles of regional nuances besides. Still, taking up Japanese is a nice excuse to relocate to the buzzing city of Tokyo, or the blossom-spotted hills of Kyoto, no?

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Krakow, Poland – Polish is a hard language | © LiveKrakow


A cacophony of sibilants like no other language on earth, Poland‘s pronunciation is all hisses and soft sounds. That can make it particularly tricky for the native English speaker who’s more used to fat vowels and oodles of As and Os in their sentences. And the difficulties of this Slavic lingo don’t stop there either. The veritable myriad of conjugations that can be applied to verbs and nouns and numerals stems from the shocking seven genders and seven cases that exist in Polish. Those grammar whizzes out there would have already realized what that means: A whopping 15-plus ways of saying just a number or a pronoun! Perhaps it’s better just to stick to the vodka?

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Jeonju, South Korea | © Emmanuel DYAN/Flickr


Korean is so unlike any other language on the globe that linguists needed to make up a whole new family of languages just to be able to place it. Today, it finds itself neatly placed in the Koreanic language family; an elite club with just a few members – all of which are extinct apart from the modern Korean of Seoul and Busan. Famously difficult for its alphabets, which fuse the principles of traditional letter writing and symbolism in the style of Japan, Korean also makes use of agglutinative forms, which means it’s possible to be creative in your production of verbs and nouns, adding as many new aspects to a single word as you like.

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Wuxi, Jiangsu, China | © Thomas Depenbusch/Flickr


We know this one might come as bad news to that hopeful TEFL teacher who’s just relocated to Shanghai or Beijing to try and finally get to grips with the exotic tongue of the People’s Republic, but hey, who doesn’t love a challenge? And a challenge it certainly will be, thanks largely to the tonal nature of the speech in China, which can change the whole meaning of a sentence depending on how you say it. Throw in a couple of seismic differences between regions, with the likes of Mandarin and Cantonese rubbing shoulders with Hokkien and the regional dialects of Fujian, along with an all-new writing system, and you’ll get a glimpse of just how bigger an ask it is to become fluent.

Are you a budding TEFL teacher who’s encountered other, equally-hard languages on your travels? We’d love to hear all about them in the comments below! Or, if you think it’s time you took that TEFL training and got out into the globe to explore more dialects and destinations, be sure to check out our courses page.

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