You’ve probably heard people say that English is one of the hardest languages to learn. But how difficult is English to learn, and where has this reputation come from?
A language which is spoken widely as a second language, has a lot of commonality with other European languages, and has its roots in Latin and Ancient Greek, what is it exactly that makes English hard to learn? These are just some of the reasons why English is so hard.
Whilst native speakers won’t stop to think about some of the English language that makes no sense whatsoever, when you’re learning to speak the language the number of contradictions you’ll come across is one of the top reasons why English is so hard. These are some of the things that can leave people learning the language more than just a little bit confused:
English is believed to have the largest number of words of any language. Not only does that make it difficult to understand, but trying to learn a language that has one of the biggest and most confusing vocabularies there is can pose a huge problem when it comes to remembering enough English words to be able to express yourself well enough.
Add to that its idiosyncratic spelling (which means that it’s hard to guess how to spell a word based on how it sounds), the subtle differences in similar words, and confusing synonyms and it’s understandable why so many people find learning English a challenge.
As well as the notoriously difficult pronunciation and emphasis (which demands an article in its own right), getting your words in the right order is something that won’t always come naturally when you’re learning to speak English. For example:
Native English speakers will know intuitively which order words should go in but it’s a difficult concept to teach to those who are learning the language; especially when either way of arranging the words is technically grammatically correct.
As well as regional dialects, there’s a huge variety of regional accents to contend with when learning the language too. In the UK, pronunciation will vary depending on which part of the country you’re in. For example, there’s a noticeable north/south divide when it comes to pronouncing ‘bath’ or ‘castle’ (a long ‘A’ in the south, and a short ‘A’ in the north), and endless debate on how the word ‘scone’ should be properly pronounced (S-gone or S-cone?).
Other countries who speak English also have distinctive ways of speaking the language. English in the USA and Australia will both be quite different to the English spoken in the UK. This means that where you decide to learn English can have a big impact on which pronunciation you use.
It’s when you’ve mastered the use of idioms that you know you’re finally speaking like a native. All manner of strange English sayings have been absorbed into the English language over the many centuries that the language has been used.
Guaranteed to make perfect sense to any Brit, sayings like ‘over the moon’, ‘raining cats and dogs’ and ‘turn a blind eye’ won’t make a bit of sense unless you’ve grown up with them. However, once you ‘know the ropes’ of the language, it can be really fun to find out the origins of these strange sayings and learn how to use them in your conversations ‘once in a blue moon’.
Well, it’s true to say that English is a challenging language to learn, but the same could also be said for other languages such as Mandarin, Russian or Japanese for example. In the end, it will depend on the individual as to whether the language is difficult to learn or not.
Used by over 1.5 billion people across the world to some extent, English is one of the most important languages there is, and so your persistence in learning all its nuances and idiosyncrasies is certain to open a lot of doors for you in the future.
To find out how you can supercharge your English learning by studying English at NCG, ask for details about our international summer courses, or our English language programmes in Manchester, Liverpool or Dublin. Who says English is hard to learn?