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I posed a question asking about a common terminology for the site which led to a discussion about what the consensus interpretation of some common words would be on the site for asking questions. This is one of those follow up questions to better define the scope of our site and to provide future contributions to the FAQ.

When someone asks a question regarding how "difficult" or "easy" some language is to learn, or some technique is to use, what metric or standard should be used to determine that?

What are some definitions for what constitutes the difficulty or ease of learning a language? What factors contribute to that determination?

The answer should contain:

  • An alternative wording for the phrase "difficult"/"easy"
  • Your interpretation of the word or the reason you suggest that wording
  • Some optional commentary

Some of the higher voted answers and ones that provide new insight to the topic will be chosen and added to a FAQ, providing the result of this meta post is satisfying.

See also: "Useful" isn't usefully defined -- Suggest possible wordings

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    Suggest adding a "must contain a wording and the interpretation that gave rise to it" like I did in my post. Consistency is fancy. :) – M.A.R. Apr 6 '16 at 17:10
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"Difficult" and "easy" are relative terms. As such, they must be evaluated in relation to something else. This isn't always obvious to people, as it is quite common to simply talk about things being "easy" or "difficult." ("It's easy to ride a bicycle." "It's difficult to get to the moon.")

The best advice I know to offer is to make the question as "tangible" as possible. Explain how you define difficulty.

Some (made up) examples, and suggestions to consider improving them:

1. Is learning X language more difficult than Y language?

First, this question is probably too broad, as in most cases, X will have some aspects that are easier than Y, and others that are more difficult--and which characteristics fall into which category likely depends on which language(s) you already know!

So for this sort of question, I suggest focusing on a very specific aspect of the language:

1. As a native speaker of W, will the grammar in X or Y be more complicated to learn?
2. As a native speaker of W, will X or Y have more new sounds that I must learn to pronounce?

Or ask a general question comparing X or Y to your native language:

3. As a native speaker of W, what aspects of X will be most challenging to master?
4. As a native speaker of W, what aspects of Y will be simplest to learn?

2. Is method X easier than Y to accomplish Z?

3. Is it easier to learn language X before Y, or Y before X?

Again, we need to know what "easy" is to you. This may be impossible to define in many cases. "Can I accomplish Z faster with X than with Y?" This may not work, as which is faster likely depends more on how much time you devote to it, than the method itself.

In these cases, perhaps a better approach is to ask about the pros and cons of X and Y, or even in which ways X may be considered easier than Y, and decide for yourself which fits your learning styles/preferences.

1. What are the benefits of X over Y?
2. How is X considered easier than Y?
3. In what ways is learning language X first beneficial to learning language Y later?

  • I like this answer. I especially like questions such as, "As a native speaker of W, will the grammar in X or Y be more complicated to learn?" because is addresses some aspect of the language that might be considered "easier" or "harder". – callyalater Apr 6 '16 at 19:02

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