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6 Reasons Why English Is a Hard Language To Learn

English can be hard to learn, but it doesn’t have to be! In this article, we explain why English can be tough to crack and how to make it easier. 

So English is hard to learn, right?

In short, yes: it is difficult to learn English. However, any skill worth learning comes with its fair share of challenges.

That said, a skill can always be made easier with the right tools and strategies. While we aim to show you just how hard it is to acquire English as a second language, we also have all the tips at the ready to help you do it faster. 

Remember to check out our guide on How To Learn English Quickly for the best tips and tricks to learn this language. Lastly, don’t forget that you can supercharge your journey to fluency in English by working 1-on-1 with a native speaker in our Live Coaching program

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Practice English, phone a native speaker!
Image by Ichigo121212 from Pixabay

6 reasons why English can be difficult to master

The following isn’t meant to scare you. Rather, we want to help you identify the aspects of English that will need extra attention.

1. Unpredictable pronunciation

Unlike highly phonetic languages such as Spanish, similarly spelled words in English will at times sound different from each other. For example, through sounds like [ˈθruː], but though and tough are pronounced [ˈðoʊ] and [ˈtʌf], respectively. 

You’ll need some time to get your ears attuned to these differences.

2. Massive vocabulary

Compared to other languages, English has an immense vocabulary. Some even consider it to be the language with the most words.

This causes learners to feel as if they’re never done with English vocab, considering that new words keep popping up. 

Now, while this is certainly true with any language, it feels especially overwhelming in English. 

3. Tricky grammar

English grammar is teeming with quirks that make it difficult to master. For example, English has a special rule about what adjectives to use first when a noun has several of them in a sequence.

 Following this rule, you can point out that a small blue bird [ə ˈsmɔːl ˈbluː ˈbɝːd] flew through the window, but you can’t say a blue small bird. 

According to the English language book The Elements of Eloquence, the adjective order should be as follows: opinion, size, age, shape, color, origin, material, and purpose.

Other elements that give learners headaches are verb patterns and tenses, auxiliary verbs, and subject-verb agreements. Again, paying extra attention to these elements can help you learn them faster. 

4. Heavy on idioms

English has picked up a lot of idioms – or quirky ways to say things – that make it hard to understand. For example, going to sleep can be said as hitting the hay [ˈhɪtɪŋ ðə ˈheɪ]. Here are some of our favorite ones:

  • Barking up the wrong tree [ˈbɑːrkɪŋ ˈʌp ðə ˈrɔːŋ ˈtriː] – pursuing the wrong thing
  • Piece of cake [ˈpiːs əv ˈkeɪk] – something that’s considered easy
  • Cost an arm and a leg [ˈkɔːs ən ˈɑːrm ənd ə ˈlɛɡ] – something very expensive
  • Break a leg [ˈbreɪk əˈlɛɡ] – a way to wish someone good luck
  • Losing your head [ˈluːzɪŋ ˈjɔːrˈhɛd] – to panic or become anxious

5. Exceptions and inconsistencies

English grammar is filled with exceptions and inconsistencies that follow no clear patterns. In other words, you will have to memorize them. 

For example, most nouns become plural by adding s, es, or ies. However, certain nouns have special plural forms that follow other rules for… reasons. 

For instance, a mouse [ˈmaʊs] is a single rodent, while a couple of them are mice [ˈmaɪs]. Meanwhile, you can own one house [ˈhaʊs] or two houses [ˈhaʊsəz], but never two hice

A single goose [ˈɡuːs] can honk loudly, and so can two geese [ˈdʒiːz]. However, while one moose [ˈmuːs] can bellow, the same can’t be said of three meese – it’d be three moose. Yep, the same as the singular.

6. Regional dialects

To complicate things even further, English pronunciation and vocabulary will change depending on the country where it’s spoken. For example, color [ˈkʌlɚ] is spelled colour in British English.

The complications that dialects bring to the table sometimes include meaning. For example, underwear [ʌndɚˌwɛr], pants [ˈpænts], and undies [ˈʌndiːz] mean the same thing in American, British, and Australian English, respectively. 

A sign of London's underground stands under a blue sky

Underground or tube in the UK, metro or subway in America
Photo by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

How does English compare to other languages?

As we’ve seen, English gets a bad rep for its immense vocabulary, unpredictable pronunciation, and tricky grammar. However, it’s not as hard to learn as people think.

For example, English will be easier to pick up if your native language is in the same linguistic family: the West Germanic group. Dutch and German belong to this family, so if your native language is either, you’ll probably know a lot of English vocabulary already.

It will also be relatively easier to learn if you speak another language that’s heavily influenced by Latin, such as Spanish, French, and Italian. 

Additionally, unlike some Asian languages, English is not a tonal language. There aren’t any unique sounds and tones you need to learn to give some words a precise meaning. 

Lastly, English is such a widely spoken language that there are many resources, including movies, books, series, and podcasts available for your use. 

4 tips to learn English 

As we explained earlier, learning any new skill faster is all about the methods, tools, and strategies you rely on. 

Here are the best 4 things you can do to improve in every challenging aspect of English. Remember, for more tips and tricks to learn this language, there’s our handy How To Learn English Quickly guide

1. Learn how English sounds

Start off by training your ears to understand English sounds. By learning to identify the cadence and pronunciation in the language, you will be able to pick up vocabulary faster and speak sooner. 

Our brains and ears are wired to understand our native language, so rewiring them for English is one of the most important things you can do at the beginning. We have some handy pronunciation tips for English that might help you.

2. Focus on the vocabulary that matters

We’ve already mentioned that English has a vast vocabulary. If you want to learn fast, don’t just try to memorize every single word you come across. Rather, get to know the most useful words.

Frequency lists are compilations of the most commonly used vocabulary. Most languages have one. Learning from these lists will allow you to understand bigger chunks of the English words you come across in texts and conversations.

You can start with The Most Awesome Word List You Have Ever Seen – a frequency list made by us.. This list is made up of 625 of the most common words in any language. Get the free English version here

3. Learn grammar as you go

If you’re looking to learn English quickly, the last thing you want to do is to pore over grammar books eternally. On the other hand, you should pick up this tricky element as you go. 

Try noticing the patterns while you read and pay close attention to how native speakers talk. Frequently consume English media to absorb as much grammar as you can in a natural, intuitive way. 

4. Practice with native speakers as much as you can

The best way to learn English is to practice with native speakers as much as possible. Native speakers offer 100% native-level pronunciation, immediate feedback, and an infinite source of new vocabulary. 

If you’re not sure where to find a native speaker to practice with, we’ve got you covered.

How Fluent Forever can help

Our Live Coaching program combines all the four elements that make up effective language learning. You learn pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar with a native speaker certified in our proven language teaching method. 

All our Coaching sessions are personalized so that they’re relevant to you. They’re based entirely on your fluency goals, interests, and preferred learning pace. We offer weekly, twice weekly, or daily sessions to fit your schedule. 

Additionally, the sentences you learn with your coach will appear as flashcards in the app. Once you get app access, you can review them periodically to help the words and phrases stick.

Sign up for Coaching here, and start learning English today. 

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