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).
- 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?
- 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.
- 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’.
- 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.
- Emphasis placed in different parts of a sentence can subtly change its meaning although the words on paper can remain static.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.