Facts about Learning English as a Second Language

Facts about Learning English as a Second Language

English might be a very challenging language to learn. Yet, being a language of globalization, English accounts for about 400 million native speakers and the considerable 1.5 billion of total speakers. Thus, considering the hard time many learners have and this kind of statistics, some questions do arise. Is English hard to learn? How hard is it really? Why is that so? Let’s take a look at some of the hardest and easiest bits of English, and find out!

Language Families

As there are about 6,000 languages in the world, oftentimes, for greater convenience in learning and in order to systematize things, languages are grouped into families by the researchers. One such family is Indo-European, to which English belongs, and which contains four major families of its own. The European part of that family includes Romance languages, such as Spanish or French, Balto-Slavic languages, like Polish or Ukrainian, and the Germanic languages, such as German or English.

Yes, English is most frequently classified as the Germanic language, although, its vocabulary and grammar are only about 25% Germanic with the rest coming from some other European languages. So, how hard is it to learn English? Well, that depends. The good news for non-native and mostly European speakers who decide to take an English class is that the language is probably similar to something you have learned the other day. Yet, the bad news is that there are many difficulties if you’re not from Europe.

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Origin of the English Vocabulary

Being a very tough step in learning English, the vocabulary of the language is extremely broad as it was influenced by several other languages. With over 500,000 words, English appears massive and might easily scare anyone considering to start learning. There’s no need to be afraid as only 3,000 of those words are used for daily conversation and the majority of basic documentation. In addition, most of the English words have a Latin, German, or French origin, so if you speak any of those languages (Spanish and Italian will work instead of Latin, of course), you won’t feel as though being trapped in the darkness. But, still, what is the most difficult part of learning English?

Challenges in Learning English

Well, there’s not one, but rather 7 most challenging areas to pay special attention to as some ESL students might have problems with them. Aside from vocabulary (if you want to learn all words, of course), English has some tricky concepts to master, including spelling, homophones, synonyms, pronunciation, accents, regional dialects, slang, and idioms. Each of these areas has lots of rules, exceptions, rules within the exception, and exceptions within rules. While this sounds really confusing and complicated, the examples still may give us a hint that it’s not too much.

Challenge #1

Spelling in English is kind of a funny story. While there are some strict spelling rules, there are lots of exceptions as well. For example, the plural forms of a noun are created by adding a letter «s» at the end of the word. So, the plural form of ‘house’ is ‘houses’. At the same time, there are many mice, rather than mouses. So, such exceptions in spelling are one of the top reasons why English is difficult really.

Challenge #2

Homophones are two words that sound exactly the same but have totally different meanings depending on the context and are spelled differently. For example, the words «site» and «sight» sound the same, yet, have different meanings. While «site» means a place, «sight» is an ability to see. Homophones are an especially tough topic in English as there are not only pairs but also triplets, quadruples, and even 7 different words that sound the same!

Challenge #3

Synonyms are words that have similar meanings but are spelled and pronounced differently, as well as may be used in different contexts. Again, English is very rich in this regard. For example, the words «start,» «begin,» «initiate,» and «commence» have the same meaning, but you cannot initiate doing homework unless you want to sound weird for the native speakers. So, when you may ask yourself, «why is English so hard?» synonyms can easily give you the answer.

Challenge #4

Pronunciation is another funny thing in English. For example, the words «cough» and «dough» look very much the same, while the former is pronounced as сuff, the latter sounds like dow. And that’s just one example.

Challenge #5

Accents are very diverse in English, pretty much like in other languages. The native and most widespread accents might be very hard to perceive. As someone with an American Eastern accent will tend to pronounce words closer to their actual spelling, the same American from the South sounds less strict. And Australians or Scottish people have even become topical memes. They are sometimes referred to as people who speak English, yet, nobody can understand what they’re saying. So, if anyone ever asks «why is English a hard language to learn for foreigners?» you can simply say, «accents.»

Challenge #6

Regional dialects are very much similar to accents as they are very diverse too. For instance, the machine in the building that goes up and down is called the «elevator» in the U.S., while the British name it a «lift.» Moreover, regional dialects vary within a country. In the United Kingdom, for example, there are about 30 of them, while the U.S. accounts for 24.

Challenge #7

Idioms and slang, finally, come for those who didn’t have enough of regional dialects and spelling. Like in other languages, idioms in English include words that have totally different or opposite meanings when used in that idiom. For example, «to break a leg» can mean that somebody had good luck, not ironically. Slang, at the same time, is killing it all totally. Not only it includes some of perhaps the weirdest words you’ll ever hear, like amped, cuppa, or arvo, but also each English dialect has its own slang words. And there are hundreds of them.

So, is English a hard language to learn, really? Well, apparently, yes. Should you probably try learning it some other day and learn another language instead, right now? It’s up to you, however, despite being tough to learn, English is very cool for being widespread and, thus, having lots of materials for studying. In addition, there are many super easy things to master in English as well.

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The Easiest Bits

While it seems very hard to learn, there are some easy concepts in English to learn, and which are more basic. By covering certain chapters from your English handbook first won’t only get you started effectively but also give you the confidence to go for harder stuff. So, mastering these things will make learning the concepts described above a lot easier.

Concept #1

Reading. As the vocabulary of the most common words is not too broad, to start reading in English is not too hard, but will give great returns. As you start reading English books, newspapers, or websites, you become able to perceive both formal and informal English and it gets natural for you.

Concept #2

Verb Tenses basically show us the action in time, how it flows. Despite being very important indeed, verb tenses in English are quite simple as there are only three of them that are important and are widely used. They are the present, past, and future tenses. Those, in turn, are modified with only four aspects, simple, progressive (continuous), perfect, and perfect progressive. So, basically, there are only 12 main tenses to learn. Seems like a lot, but they are quite similar and not challenging to learn.

Concept #3

Grammar. Although English grammar is quite massive, the basic things you’ll need in order to read simple materials, write a basic essay, and have a simple conversation are only a few. For example, the subjunctive mood that has a very strict but universal model that is enough to learn to use the subjunctive in all possible cases. An example of subjunctive would be something like «I wish I had a car.» The cool thing is that a similar model is used for all past subjunctives.

On top of that, English is the language of modern globalization, so there are a lot of learners in the world today. That in turn means that the learning materials are available anywhere, as well as it’s not that hard to find a learning partner who’ll help you in your studies.

Is English the Hardest Language to Learn in the World Indeed?

Definitely not. It might be very difficult, especially for those of non-European origin. In comparison, English is quite easy to master in fact. There is a number of languages that have much tougher bits than English. For instance, Mandarin Chinese has an exceptionally complex tone system that changes the meaning of the word or even a sentence depending on how you pronounce it. At the same time, Scandinavian languages, such as Finnish, Swedish, or Icelandic have very complex grammar with even more exceptions than there are in English. Finally, the Arabic language has variations for every letter, which depends on the context. With that being said, English is totally not the hardest one.

English Language Difficulty

The degree to which a certain language is hard to learn is very subjective. It largely depends on your origin, language you’d like to learn, and your native language. In the case of English, however, this difficulty would be somewhere between easy and moderate. That is so because English is the cumulative language. So, chances that your native language is similar in some aspects or is even tougher, are high. To sum up, the best advice for anyone learning English is to not be afraid of it and all the challenges and simply start learning. When choosing between professional translation services vs. bilingual employees, an employer will likely pick the latter. You will learn a new language with relatively less effort as well as advance on your career path.