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Why Is English Such A Difficult Language To Learn?

by Dangula Bingula

English is a challenging language to learn but it is not alone, Russian, Mandarin and Finnish are right up there with it. But what is it exactly about the English language that makes it so challenging and what precisely should you be aware of as a TEFL teacher about to embark on your first job (looking for a TEFL Job? Look here: https://www.theteflacademy.com/tefl-jobs).


The Origins

This is the fun part of this language and its entire culture. It is so diversified. If you dig deep into it, you’ll notice that it consist of at least three other languages. We’re talking about those that dominate, and they include German, French, and of course Latin. This means that it is easier for some to grasp their minds around this particular language. For example, the French have it much more comfortable than, let’s say, Serbs or Ukrainians. A lot of vocabulary is going to be familiar to them, which makes the process of learning much more manageable. Those who also wrap their heads easier around this language are the Germans and Dutch people. Both of these languages, together with French, have many similar or plainly the same words which are easy to understand, which makes it that much easier for them to learn English as a new language. Or, in their cases, not so much unknown. But, if you are coming from a different background, as we already said, from the Balkans or the Far East, you’re going to have much more issues trying to learn the official language of the United Kingdom.

Spelling From Another Planet

We would love to single out spelling as the one most difficult things in the English language, placed above everything we’ll write below. Once you grasp your mind on what spelling is, you’ll see why English is so difficult to learn. Spelling is what makes it so hard to understand sometimes. It is a system that is already established, and all you can do is to know it; there’s no way going around it. The worst part is that spelling can get tricky even for native speakers, and if you are new to this language, you’re in for a lot of trouble. This is what kids in schools find the hardest to comprehend. You can see why matters are like this when you visit the words such as ‘dough,’ ‘tough’ and ‘bough’ are all spelled the same way. Many of these and similar terms have their origin in Middle English, making it clearer to see why they’re difficult to comprehend. When you face a set of hard to spell words, you understand why help from Language Trainers is what you might be needing. If this is your first time that you’re facing English lessons, you’ll probably see spelling as baffling. But it would be best if you got used to it. Because as good men from Coldplay would put it: Nobody said it was easy. When you put words such as loch, which is used in Scottish but not in English, which makes them non-existent, you understand why even the native speakers battle with spelling.

If you thought this was all there is to it, think again. Below you have, in short lines, other eight things that show us just how challenging the English language is and can be at times. But, as hard as it can get, we don’t love it any less.

  1. English follows rules of grammar just like other languages but it has so many exceptions and oddities, it is a wonder there are any real rules at all.  For every rule your students learn, there will be myriad exceptions to it. How about ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’ – where does that leave ‘science’ then?
  2. Irregular verbs, English has hundreds of those.  ‘Fight’ becomes ‘fought’ in the past tense so what happens to ‘light’?  It becomes ‘lit’, of course it does.
  3. The order of things.  It is instinctive to most English people as to the order in which they should construct their sentences so why is it, following all the grammatical rules, that a foreign language speaker learning English, will put words in a slightly incorrect order?  That is rule-following again with the added quandary of no justification other than, ‘this sounds better’.
  4. Pronunciation.  There are numerous examples of inconsistencies when pronouncing words, all I need say is “through, though, bough, enough and trough”.  Place names? That’s a whole weeks’ worth of lesson in its own right.
  5. Emphasis placed in different parts of a sentence can subtly change its meaning although the words on paper can remain static.
  6. Homophones, which are words that sound the same but have different meanings and may have different spellings.  For instance, ‘to close the door’ and ‘he was sitting too close to me’. Placement in the sentence is usually the (only) indicator of how to pronounce the word and what it means.
  7. Multiple meanings which rather limits the use of a Thesaurus as many of the words suggested as alternatives won’t fit exactly to the context.
  8. Idioms and proverbs, ‘its raining cats and dogs’, ‘the straw that broke the camels’ back’ and ‘ a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’.


You can see why many English language students are totally bewildered by this strange, complex and often contradictory tongue.  A good grammatical understanding of English is really helpful to TEFL teachers because it helps you to manage and teach all of the anomalies even though you may be able to give your students no good reason as to why they exist.

Learn more about why English is so tricky to master.