Why English is so hard to learn? 

What Makes English Such A Difficult Language To Learn?

Exploring the challenges of learning English

English is now a universal language that enables people from different countries around the world to communicate. Learning English has many benefits. In addition to international communication in culture, science, business, and more, English provides access to a vast amount of information, resources, and entertainment on the internet. Practically most of the websites you get from search engines are in English. English makes travel easier as it is widespread in many countries and regions. English develops memory, thinking, and creativity. People who plan to get a good job today must necessarily speak English.

However, its status as a global language does not necessarily make it easy to learn. For many, English is very difficult to learn and presents many challenges that affect learning it. In this article, we will look at some of the reasons why English is so hard to learn—what exactly makes English such a difficult language to learn.

English is constantly changing

English often undergoes changes. This is due to cultural, technological, and social changes in society. New technologies, scientific discoveries, cultural trends, and lifestyle changes lead to the emergence of new terms and expressions that are actively used in English.

New Words and Expressions: Technological advances and rapid changes in society lead to the emergence of new terms and vocabulary. Words like “podcast,” “emoji,” “blogger,” and “hashtag” have become an integral part of English, and they are constantly in use.

New Rules: Along with changes and developments in the language come new grammatical rules and syntactic constructions. For example, modern English may have new rules for using certain words that can cause confusion among learners. For instance, “irregardless” as a synonym for “regardless.” This means you can use irregardless to express that you pay no attention to something or do not depend on something. For example:

  • Irregardless of the weather, we will go hiking.

So the ongoing evolution of English creates challenges for those learning it. To achieve successful English language learning, it is important to take this aspect into account and be open to learning new words, expressions, and rules that constantly emerge.

Irregular spelling and pronunciation (phonetics)

One of the most common problems students face when learning English is its inconsistent rules of spelling and pronunciation. Unlike many languages that have phonetic spelling, where words are written as they sound, English words often do not directly correspond to their pronunciation.

  • Cupboard [‘kʌpbəd] – cupboard/closet. In this word, the letters oar are not pronounced, but sound like ə.
  • Pneumonia [nju: ‘məunɪə] – pneumonia, lung inflammation. In this word, the letter p is not pronounced, and the eu sounds like ju:.
  • Psycho [‘saɪkəu] – psycho, psychopath. In this word, the letter p is not pronounced, and the y sounds like .
  • Psychology [saɪ’kɔləʤɪ] – psychology. In this word, the letter p is not pronounced, and the y sounds like .
  • Raspberry [‘rɑ:zb(ə)rɪ] – raspberry. In this word, the letter p is not pronounced, and the er sounds like ə.

Homophones and homographs: English has many homophones (words that sound the same but have different meanings) and homographs (words that are spelled the same but have different meanings and pronunciations). For example, “read” (present tense) and “read” (past tense) or “tear” (rip) and “tear” (drop of water) create ambiguity and confusion for students.

There is also the problem of words that are spelled the same but are pronounced differently. These are words that have a different meaning or part of speech depending on the stress. For example:

  • record – recording (noun) (RE-cord) / to record (verb) (re-CORD)
  • present – gift (noun) (PRE-sent) / to present (verb) (pre-SENT)

Words with difficult pronunciation. These are words that have unusual or irregular sounds that do not correspond to their spelling. For example:

  • colonel – pronounced as [ˈkɜːnəl]
  • island – pronounced as [ˈaɪlənd]
  • psychology – pronounced as [saɪˈkɒlədʒi]

As a result, students face the difficult task of memorizing numerous exceptions, each of which is pronounced differently despite similar spelling.

The difficulty of learning idioms

English is rich in idioms whose meanings cannot be understood from the individual words. Idioms are phraseological expressions that have a specific meaning that cannot be understood from the literal meanings of the individual words. Idioms are one of the most difficult aspects of learning English because they often reflect cultural peculiarities, historical events, or humorous situations. Idioms can also vary across different regions, countries, or dialects. To understand and use idioms correctly, one needs to know their meaning, origin, context, and stylistic nuances. Here are some examples of difficult idioms in English:

  • To hit the books – to study hard. This idiom originated in America in the 1930s and means that students have to study diligently.
  • To cut to the chase – to get to the point. This idiom comes from Hollywood films where there were often exciting and important chase scenes.
  • To keep one’s chin up – to remain positive. This idiom originated in Britain in the 1900s and means that a person should keep their head held high and not give up.

Phrases like “kick the bucket,” “hit the hay,” or “barking up the wrong tree” can confuse English learners.

Difficulties with phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs are verbs combined with adverbs or prepositions to form new meanings. For example: look – to look, but look after – to take care of, look for – to search, look forward to – to anticipate. Phrasal verbs are one of the most difficult aspects of learning English because they:

  • Have many variants and exceptions. The same verb can have several phrasal verbs with different meanings. For example: take off – to remove, to fly, to happen; take on – to undertake, to compete; take over – to seize, to take control; take up – to start, to occupy.
  • Depend on context and style. Phrasal verbs can have different meanings depending on the situation. For example: give up can mean to quit, surrender, abandon, sacrifice; give in can mean to surrender, concede, hand over; give away can mean to distribute, surrender, reveal, betray.
  • Require memorization and practice. Phrasal verbs cannot be translated literally or logically, so they need to be learned as separate units. Also, phrasal verbs are often used in spoken language, so they need to be listened to and used in real situations.

Here are some examples of difficult phrasal verbs in English:

  • To get away with something – to avoid punishment for something. For example: He cheated on the test but he got away with it.
  • To put up with someone or something – to tolerate someone or something. For example: I can’t put up with his lies anymore.
  • To make up for something – to compensate for something. For example: He bought her flowers to make up for his mistake.
  • To look down on someone – to disdain someone, to see someone in a condescending way. For example: She thinks she’s better than everyone else and looks down on them.
  • To come up with something – to invent something, to think of something. For example: He came up with a brilliant idea for the project.

Grammatical complexity

English grammar, despite a relatively simple basic structure, can become convoluted due to countless exceptions, irregular verbs, and nuances in their use. English grammar is a system of rules and norms that govern the structure and use of language units. English grammar can be difficult to learn for various reasons. Here are some of them:

  • English grammar has many exceptions and irregular forms that need to be memorized. For example, irregular verbs that do not follow the rule of adding “-ed” to form the past tense and past participle. For example: go – went – gone, see – saw – seen, write – wrote – written.
  • English grammar has many complex structures and constructions that require an understanding of logic and sequence of tenses. For example, conditional sentences that express possible, impossible or hypothetical situations. For example: If I had a million dollars, I would travel the world.
  • English grammar has many nuances. For example, modal verbs that express ability, possibility, necessity, permission, advice, offer, obligation, etc. For example: You can swim. (You know how to swim.) You can swim. (You may swim.) You can swim. (You have permission to swim.)
  • Tenses are verb forms that show when an action takes place: in the past, present or future. In English there are 12 basic tenses, each with its own rules of formation and use.
  • Articles are function words that are used before nouns or adjectives preceding nouns to indicate definiteness or indefiniteness of an object. In English there are two main types of articles: definite (the) and indefinite (a, an).

Grammar can be quite complex in English. There are many other aspects of English that can be difficult to learn: phrasal verbs, idioms, modal verbs, direct and indirect speech, passive voice, reflexive pronouns, and others.

Large Vocabulary

A large vocabulary is an important component of successful English language learning. It allows you to understand diverse texts, audio, and video, express your thoughts, feelings, and ideas, communicate with different people, and participate in various spheres of life. However, learning a large vocabulary can have its difficulties and challenges. Let’s look at some of them:

  • Synonyms, antonyms, homonyms – these are words that have certain semantic relationships but differ in sound or spelling. Synonyms are words that have the same or similar meanings but are written differently, for example: big – large, happy – glad, beautiful – pretty. Antonyms are words that have opposite meanings, for example: hot – cold, day – night, love – hate. Homonyms are words that have the same or similar pronunciation or spelling but different meanings, for example: bear – the animal or to carry, rose – the flower or the past tense of “rise,” bank – the shore or a financial institution. The difficulty in learning these words is that they can have different meanings depending on the context.
  • Word formation – the process of forming new words from existing ones using various methods, such as: using prefixes and suffixes, e.g. unkind – unkind, happiness – happiness; forming new words by combining several others, e.g. blackboard – chalkboard, rainbow – rainbow; using abbreviations and deciphering them, e.g. NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration, ASAP – as soon as possible; using dialects and literary expressions, e.g. y’all – you all, ain’t – am not; using professional words, e.g. algorithm, DNA, photosynthesis; borrowing words from other languages, e.g. pizza, karaoke, tsunami. The difficulty in learning these words is that they can have different origins, pronunciation, spelling, meanings that need to be known and memorized.

To facilitate the learning of a large vocabulary, you can use the following tips:

  • Read, listen to, and watch diverse materials in English such as books, magazines, newspapers, blogs, podcasts, radio, movies, TV series, music, etc. This will help you see, hear and remember new words in a real context, understand their meaning, pronunciation, spelling, usage.
  • Use dictionaries, thesauruses, encyclopedias, online resources, applications, etc. This will help you learn more information about new words such as: synonyms, antonyms, homonyms, inflections, tenses, examples, illustrations, translation, etc.
  • Create your own flashcards, lists, charts, diagrams, drawings, associations, acronyms, etc. This will help systematize, streamline, remember new words, make them more visual, fun, and interesting.
  • Practice using new words in different types of speech activities such as speaking, writing, reading, listening. This will help activate, consolidate, test new words, use them in your own speech, communicate with different people, express your thoughts, feelings, ideas.

Understanding other people

One of the problems everyone faces is understanding other people – this is an important skill for effective communication and cooperation. To understand others, you need to:

  • Listen attentively and actively. Listening helps understand what a person is saying, how they are saying it, what their feelings, thoughts, needs, motivations are, etc.
  • Empathize and show empathy, that is, the ability to feel what another person feels, to treat them with respect and compassion. Empathy helps connect with another person on an emotional level, show them that you understand and support them.
  • Ask open-ended questions and provide feedback, that is, the ability to inquire about what interests you, deepen the conversation, confirm or clarify what you heard, express your opinion or advice. Questions and feedback help make the conversation more productive, interesting, and constructive.
  • Adapt to different speech styles and cultural characteristics, that is, the ability to take into account how another person speaks, what their habits, values, traditions, expectations, etc. are. Adaptation helps avoid misunderstandings, conflicts, resentment, and improves mutual understanding.

Dialects are varieties of a language that differ in geographical, historical, social or professional characteristics. Dialects can have their own peculiarities in phonetics, vocabulary, grammar, phraseology, etc. Dialects emerge as a result of various factors, such as:

  • Geographical isolation, when separate groups of people live isolated from others by natural or artificial barriers, e.g. mountains, rivers, borders, etc.
  • Historical evolution, when separate groups experience influence from other languages, cultures, religions, political regimes, etc. that change their language.
  • Social differentiation, when separate groups differ in their social status, education, profession, age, gender, interests, etc. that affect their language.
  • Professional specificity, when separate groups use special vocabulary, terminology, jargon, abbreviations, etc. associated with their activities.

Dialects are important for the national language because they:

  • Preserve historical memory, cultural heritage, folk art, national mentality.
  • Enrich the literary language, make it more lively, diverse, expressive, colorful.
  • Reflect contemporary changes, trends, needs, innovations happening in society.
  • Promote the development of linguistic consciousness, tolerance, patriotism, national identity.

Despite these challenges, millions of people successfully learn English every year, tapping into the opportunities and connections it affords. The difficulties inherent in learning English underscore the patience, perseverance, and practical efforts required. Understanding why English is difficult to learn is the first step in overcoming obstacles, opening doors to a world of communication, culture, and possibilities.

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