Billions of people study English around the world, making it the third most widespread native language, and many are enrolled on an English speaking course as an adult or from a young age.
It has been called one of the most difficult languages to learn, both for learners and native speakers alike – largely due to its unpredictable spelling and tricky to master grammar.
We’re looking at some of the general reasons why people find learning English particularly difficult…
Simple phrasing of sentences that native speakers use on a regular basis, can be full of frustrating and illogical constructions, from a foreign speakers point of view. Keywords used in everyday sentences will often make no sense to anyone having to study English.
For example, “I get up and put my clothes on” – to the untrained eye or ear, the sentence can be both confusing and contradictory – with the use of “get up” instead of the much more sensical “stand up” or saying that you’ve put your clothes on, when they never get put off, only taken off.
These phrasal verbs are everywhere, presenting words that don’t really mean anything when taken out of context, like “set off.”
The English language is littered with rules like any other, whether they’re grammatical or used to help with spelling, there are lots of them – and unfortunately lots of ways they can be broken, contradicted or proven incorrect.
One example of a rule with many exceptions, is the rule for remembering how to spell a word containing “ie” or “ei”: “I before E except after C”. Sure this is applicable to some words, like “friend”, “fierce”, and “believe.”
However, there are actually more words that don’t comply with this precedent than those that actually do. Including, “receive”, “ceiling”, “receipt”, “weird” and “science.”
There are confusing rules when it comes to the ordering of words that can be so subtle they are hard to explain. Native speakers only intuitively know about ordering certain words correctly, because they just simply sound right.
For example, the phrase “An intriguing little story” would be preferred over “a little intriguing story.” The first one sounds better, and changing the order of the adjectives describing the noun, whilst still being grammatically correct, makes the second one not work as well.
Getting used to these little nuances and numerous exceptions to rules, can be a nightmare for those trying to make progress learning the language. Especially when applying existing knowledge to use the same principle with a new word, doesn’t always work.
There are many words in English that supposedly mean the same thing, by flicking through the thesaurus you can come across countless groups of these words. You’d think they could all be easily interchangeable, but this isn’t the case.
Subtle differences can apply to words with the same definitions, because English words can have multiple meanings.This can cause people to end up using a word in completely the wrong way. You would “watch television”, or maybe “see a film”, but you would never “see television.”
Another example would be, when saying “I received a gift”, you wouldn’t say “I welcomed a gift”, even though both words can be synonymous, depending on the context, the meaning can be completely different.
Beyond spelling and meaning lies pronunciation, which can also cause just as much confusion for those learning English.
Some words are simply difficult to know how to say, this especially applies to those that end with the same combination of letters, but are pronounced completely different. Look at “tough” and “rough” for example, both are similarly pronounced, “tuff” and “ruff.” Then there’s “bough” and “through” – both are spoken very differently, “bow” to rhyme with now, and “throo” respectively.
Not to mention silent letters that add to the confusion, lots of words tend to start with a letter that isn’t even pronounced – “knife”, “knob”, and “gnome” to name but a few.
The bizarre pronunciations only continue when you factor in the UK’s many unique regional dialects, which add strange additional vocabularies and sounds to similar words.
The same word or phrase can sound and mean something completely different depending on where you are in the UK. Even just travelling from the south to the north of England can give you a very broad and distinctive spectrum of how the English language is spoken.
English is an old language that over the centuries has evolved and also made way for quirky and interesting sayings that have been integrated into everyday language. These are known as idioms, and if heard by a foreign speaker, they would make very little sense.
Examples include, “It’s raining cats and dogs”, “turn a blind eye”, “fat chance”, and “once in a blue moon.” Native speakers often use them without even thinking or really knowing where they came from.
As well as the points we’ve looked at, there are many other reasons why learning English can be tricky – but with enough tuition, practice, patience and development, English can be mastered like any other language.
That’s why we at the New College Group are here to help. If you want to take your English learning to the next level.
Join us at NCG and we can make it much easier for you to learn and study English.