July 29, 2020
Is English hard to learn? Before answering this question, it is crucial to understand the origins of the English language and see the roots of basic vocabulary. It helps to explain the existing challenges that a non-native speaker may face. Considering that English represents one of the wealthiest vocabularies among the most common languages in the world, it makes it easier to find similarities for certain speakers. In most cases, however, an average person will not use the 500,000 words that can be found in the Oxford Dictionary, yet at least one unknown word in an expression will easily confuse a beginner. According to linguists, an average native English speaker uses approximately 3,000 words in a usual conversation.
Coming back to vocabulary roots, English can be safely defined as a mixture of all the best. Just imagine mixing Middle French with Latin, and even Saxon influences. It has turned English into a language where most French speakers can see the logic, while German and Dutch will find it much easier to learn the vocabulary if we forget about some grammar rules for a short while. However, unlike German, where most words become interconnected or prolonged, English implements a socio-cultural set of expressions that usually describe a certain situation or represent a complex metaphor. It also answers the common question of is English hard to learn and why.
Taking a look at the English vocabulary, we can see that about 25% of it has a Germanic origin, while about 30% relate to Old French. As a rule, it will make it relatively easier for French, German, Dutch, or even Scandinavian speakers to learn English as they will see certain similarities. Knowing the roots, however, will only make learning a bit easier but might also make it even more difficult in terms of grammar or specific English spelling.
When an average person asks why is English so hard to learn, the first thing that comes to mind is correct grammar because this is the first thing that will give out a non-native. Indeed, English grammar is quite challenging, yet it is nothing like a tonal Chinese or even Russian! In addition to grammar, the English language has at least six other things that will make you cringe and complain. If you think that we only talk about spelling, you will be surprised to learn more about the truly difficult parts!
The challenging part about English grammar that most people face as they learn is a constant comparison to a native language. Starting with the nouns, which can mean people, places, or even things, you would be amazed to learn that Europe, a dog, or “it” all belong to nouns. Speaking of adjectives, they are constantly going through modification. For example, saying “irrespective”, “restless” or “wishful” are all adjectives. Ending up with the verbs and tenses, you should start with the past, present, and future verb forms. Now if you think that it is difficult, you haven’t tried Spanish!
Ask any English school child is English a hard language to learn and you will hear them talk about “this baffling spelling”! Unlike German or even Dutch, the English language has some tricks up its sleeve that will keep even the native speakers unsure. For example, words like pronunciation, intelligence, or weird are quite challenging. Add a Middle English dough and a handkerchief and you get an idea!
Just like it is in most languages, the word order has critical importance in English as well. Getting things wrong can bring a major change to the meaning that you put in a sentence. For example, saying “I don’t know very well Michael” or “we have also a lot of dogs” would quickly give out a foreigner. In good old English that would be “I don’t know Michael well enough” and “We also have several dogs”.
A reason why we have these linked is a close relation to a common mistake among foreigners learning English. Just like children, they often speak the way they hear it. For example, we get things like “Am I beeing bad to you?” or “Don’t brake my heart” instead of “being” and “break”. The words that sound alike but have a different meaning are homophones and there is quite a lot to learn and remember!
It is no secret that English is full of slang and idioms as the language with a rich history. If we say “she hit the roof” or “things went south”, it does not translate what it says literally. Fortunately, learning these expressions is not that difficult!
Regional dialects in English are quite challenging to understand, let alone learn if you have not been born in that area and have not spent some time talking to the locals. For example, there is Liverpool English, Californian English, or so-called “Geordie” style, which can be found in the Newcastle area.
Synonyms remain one of the most popular parts of an average English course. According to most foreigners, learning at least 50 synonyms helps them to understand English in a much deeper way. Just think about not using “beautiful” each time and saying something like “pretty, stunning, outstanding, or attractive” when talking about something!
While learning English is difficult, there are still things that will make any foreigner feel happy because they act as mental shortcuts that lead to success. Compared to many other languages, English is not only about the challenges.
Once you learn the letters and the basic structure behind all “bird”, “thought”, “enough” or “mind”, things become much easier as the reading becomes an interesting experience. It takes time and practice but it is much easier than trying to read Korean or Arabic!
It is enough to know that there are three main verb tenses, namely, the present, past, and the future. They are, in turn, divided into four aspects that are: simple, progressive, perfect, and perfect progressive. If we take Spanish, we have seven verb tenses and some exceptions to the grammar rules. English, on the other hand, is simpler in this regard. Learn the verb forms and you’re halfway there!
In simple terms, there is no subjunctive mood in English. It stands for something hypothetical or a situation that we hope may happen. For example, we cannot say “It is necessary that John see his mother”. We can say “John sees his friends every Sunday”. It means that the base subjunctive does not use any other verb form like “runs, sees, smiles”. If it is used, it requires the addition of “that”, like in “She suggests that you be present today”.
Now it cannot be denied that the English language is one of the most popular because there is a lot of practice material that can be bought or downloaded online free of charge. Imagine something like that in Gaelic or Icelandic to see how lucky English learners are!
Another great benefit is a number of native English speakers all over the world or those who speak English fairly well. Since English is one of the most popular Internet languages, finding an English speaking person is much easier than encountering a Swedish native online.
Asking is English the hardest language to learn in the world will bring up a smile upon the faces of Japanese children who have to learn 3,000 special ABC characters only to master the basic reading skills. While learning English beyond the basic vocabulary can be difficult, especially with all the slang involved, it is much harder to master tonal languages like Chinese or Vietnamese. Basically, it means that the same word spoken in a different pitch changes the meaning!
Even if we do not mention odd languages like Arabic or Icelandic with the Old Norse forms and expressions that even Danish won’t understand, there is Finnish with its fifteen grammatical cases. You can say “laula”, which means to sing while saying “lauleskella” will stand for singing as well but in an environment where they do not know you are singing!
It may be difficult at first but take your time to read the books and listen as much as you can. Let your mind get used to a talking speed and the tonality of the native speakers. It is not only a sign of respect or emotions being expressed but a way to understand the true meaning. By choosing to read books, you will see how the sentences are formed. Now asking is English a hard language to learn for foreigners will not be a fearful question but a way of exploration and joy!
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