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The 5 Scariest Languages That’ll Send Chills Down Your Spine

The Listen & Learn team is incredibly diverse and heavily multicultural. But there is one thing we all have in common: We love languages. Since you’re visiting our blog, it’s very likely you love languages too!

However, this doesn’t mean languages can’t scare us from time to time. Scary languages might haunt us with impossibly complex grammatical rules, intricate letters, or strange-sounding intonation patterns. And it’s not just beginner learners who get panic-stricken when they hear or see them in written form!

Since Halloween is around the corner, we thought it was fun (and a bit spooky) to survey our social media followers to see which languages scared them the most and this is what they said.

The ghost of scary languages.


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1. Mandarin (25.2% of the votes)

With more than 1 billion users, Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world. Knowing how populated Mainland China and Taiwan are, this is hardly surprising. What is truly astonishing is how many Mandarin-speaking communities exist around the world, from the US to South Africa and Nicaragua. There are an estimated 42 million Chinese speakers overseas, of which an astounding 30 million live in Asian countries.

So, what makes Mandarin a scary language? Well, first of all, it has a different writing system, and a highly complex one at that. But, besides that, Mandarin uses intonation to convey not only attitude but also meaning.

Take the following examples:

  • 妈 (mā) — mom.
  • 麻 (má) — hemp or flax.
  • 马 (mǎ) — horse.
  • 骂 (mà) — to nag or verbally abuse.
  • 吗 (ma) — a question marker.

While all of these words look the same in Pinyin (using the English alphabet), they are said with different tones, as shown by the diacritic marks above the vowel. It’s not individual sounds, but intonation, which gives these words their completely different meanings.

Do you see why Chinese is number 1 in our list of scary languages?

2. Hungarian (18.3% of the votes)

With 14 million speakers, Hungarian is the largest member of the Uralic family based on the number of users. It is also one of the scariest languages for English speakers. In fact, even in the USA, arguably one of the most multicultural English-speaking countries, you would have a hard time finding Hungarian speakers.

These are some of the reasons why Hungarian is so challenging:

  • It has 35 distinct grammatical cases(English has only 5).
  • Word order is very flexible.
  • New words can be created rather freely by adding prefixes and suffixes.
  • You need have to have a good command of Hungarian grammar in order to nail the subtle inflection that is needed to accurately convey meaning.

While all these things can be off-putting, you can certainly expect that learning such a difficult language would make you uniquely special!

3. Arabic (16.04% of the votes)

Learning Arabic is not for those who get easily scared. To begin with, its writing system differs from the Latin alphabet in two crucial aspects. First, it’s written from right to left. Second, its 28 letters are all consonants (vowels are conveyed through diacritical marks).

In addition, the exact shape of each character depends on its position in a word —initial, mid, and final, with an additional fourth shape which is used when the symbol appears in isolation.

These characters, however, are still not as torturous as one would think. In fact, it usually takes students a few weeks to master the Arabic alphabet.

No matter how long it takes you, one thing is for sure and certain. With a whopping 315 million native Arabic speakers, learning Arabic will allow you to communicate with a huge percentage of the world’s population.

4. German (11.34% of the votes)

If Germany has 83.24 million inhabitants, how is it possible that German is spoken by 130 million people as a native language?

German is not only one of the most widely spoken mother languages in the world, it’s also an official language in four countries in the European Union (Germany, Belgium, Austria, and Luxembourg), and one of the main languages in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

Despite being one of the most important and widely used languages on the planet, language learners are sometimes intimidated by German. But should they be? Is German really as scary as it seems?

For English speakers, not so much. Since English and German developed from the same language family, learners who are fluent in English will actually be surprised at how many words and phrases they can pick up without even trying!

Sure, German has at least three difficult aspects:

  • Three grammatical genders (feminine, masculine and neutral)and four cases (nominative, accusative, dative and genitive).
  • A few tricky sounds (such as “ch”and “sch”).
  • Some veeeery long words (Bezirkschornsteinfegermeister, for example, is a professional title given to homeowners and tenants in Germany)

But due to very straightforward rules and a lot of easily recognisable words, you won’t find it as scary as you might have expected.

5. Japanese (9.02% of the votes)

Really!? How can the language of some of the most breathtakingly animated films in the world be scary?

OK, we have to be honest.

Spoken by the approximately 120 million inhabitants of Japan (as well as by Japanese communities living in Hawaii and on the North and South American mainlands), Japanese is surely beautiful. But it’s also far from easy.

To begin with, there are three Japanese writing systems: Katakana, Hiragana, and Kanji.

Katakana and Hiragana are fairly similar. In fact, Katakana is just a different way of writing Hiragana, mainly used for writing foreign words or with an empathetic function.

Kanji, on the other hand, is very similar to the writing system of Chinese, which is quite convenient if you’re already learning Mandarin.

Then, there is another thing to consider: Japanese has various different dialects. And what is worse than scary languages? A scary language with lots of equally scary dialects! If you’re not planning to travel to any specific place, our advice is to start with the most common variety, which is the one used in Japanese media: 標準語 (hyoujungo, or the standard language).

The Runner-Ups

What other scary languages showed up in our survey? A special mention goes to Finnish (9%), Hindi (6.7%) and Polish (4.4%), as they received a considerable amount of votes too. Though all of them pose specific challenges to language students, what you need to know is that none of the languages in this article are impossible to learn.

What is more, the rewards that come with mastering a particularly difficult language cannot be matched by learning a language that is so close to your own mother tongue that you could learn it in your sleep!

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So, if you’re feeling brave and you want to give some of these scary languages a try, don’t hesitate to let us give you a hand. No matter which one you want to start with, we can arrange for you both private and group courses taught by native teachers and tailor-made for your particular needs, interests and objectives! Contact us now and get a free trial lesson, no strings attached!