English is the world’s most commonly spoken language and also the language that’s learned by most people (1.5 Billion). However, for some, learning English can be particularly challenging. It can be challenging to get started and even harder to keep up.
But why is English the hardest language to learn? Is it because it is a very complex language? Is it because of the vast number of dialects? Is it because of the many pronunciations and accents?
The truth is, there are many reasons why English Is the hardest language to learn. And, as you will see, they are all related to one another. In this article, you will find out what these reasons are, and you will also find out how to overcome them.
4 Factors that Contribute to Difficulties in Learning the English Language
As you know, the English language is very diverse. The rules of the language are not the same everywhere. And even in the same place, there are many different accents and pronunciations. It is not easy to understand someone who speaks in another way from you.
For example, let’s say that you are a native speaker of English. You might think that you know all the rules of the language. But as you learn more, you find out that you are wrong. The truth is that you have only a tiny part of the rules of the language.
Or, let’s say that you are an American student on a trip to the UK. You might think that you will understand everyone, but you will be surprised that some people speak differently from you. And, of course, they will appreciate you differently.
Many factors contribute to the difficulties of learning English. These factors include your native language, your exposure to the English language, the consistency or inconsistency of how you speak and learn, the methods you use to understand, your cultural background, and so on.
These factors can be related to each other, and they can also be different from one another. To better understand why English is the hardest language to learn, let’s look at these factors in more detail.
1. Your Native Language
It is said that the most crucial factor in learning a language is your native language. For example, if you speak French, it can be challenging for you to learn English because the rules of the French language are different from those of English. The same goes for other languages like Spanish, Italian, or any other language.
Your native language is the one that you use every day. It is the language that you use to communicate with other people around you. You are constantly exposed to it, and you are continually learning it. Your native language is also the one that you think in, and it is the one you can use to express yourself.
Now, when you are learning English, you are learning a different language. Your brain must understand the rules of the English language, and it must get used to the new language to be able to use them to express yourself. But your brain is used to the rules of your native language, and it is not easy to change that. It means that it is very difficult for you to learn English.
2. Less Exposure to the English Language
Another that contributes to the difficulties of learning English is your exposure to the English language. The more you have heard and spoken English, the easier it will be to learn it.
For example, if you have lived in the United States for a long time, you will slowly, surely learn the accent and pronunciation of American English. And if you have lived in England for a long time, you will also learn the accent and pronunciation of British English.
But if you have only lived in the United States for a short time, you will not have much exposure to American English, and vice versa. Even if you have some exposure to both dialects, you may still find it difficult to understand their differences.
Less exposure to the English language also means that you will not have many opportunities to practice and learn the English language. If you do not use the English language often, you will not remember all the language rules as fast as you use them every day.
The same goes for pronunciations and accents. If you do not use, hear, and expose yourself to the English language often, it will be a slow and difficult process to learn all the necessary rules and variations of the language.
2. Inconsistency in Learning
Consistency is the key to learning a language. Just like how you need to be consistent in learning and doing anything, you also need to learn English. Making a habit of learning the English language is very important. It is essential if you want to learn it quickly. If you don’t, you will have to spend a lot of time repeating things over and over again.
The problem is that most people do not have the same learning habits. They can be very inconsistent in learning, making it difficult for your brain to get the exposure to learn the language. And the more inconsistent you are, the harder it will be for you to learn.
Having a scheduled time to learn and a goal to achieve is a great way to ensure that you don’t forget about learning. Consistency and motivation are the two most important factors that contribute to the success of learning a language.
For example, when you listen to an English song repeatedly, you will eventually remember the lyrics. But if you listen to another song and play it often, you will probably forget the lyrics of the first song and remember the lyrics of the second song instead.
The same thing happens when you are consistent in learning a language. Even if you learn another language, you will still be able to remember English if you are consistent and make a habit of learning it.
4. Your Method Used in Learning English
It is not enough to learn the English language by listening to English lessons, exposing your brain to English words, and repeating them over and over again.
The truth is, you might be getting used to the English language, but you don’t understand why some words are different from others or why some people use different words for the same thing. You might understand how the words are pronounced, but you don’t know why they are that way.
Your method of learning English may also affect your understanding and how fast you learn.
For example, if you are using an English grammar book to learn English but are not practicing the grammar rules, it will be difficult to master them.
Or, when you are watching a video lesson on YouTube, you feel like you are still in the beginner stage no matter how many times you watch the video. Then maybe you need to change your learning method, go out and practice, and meet new people who are also learning English.
People learn in different ways. Some people like to practice, while others prefer to watch videos and listen to audio lessons. It would be best if you found out what method works best for you and then used it.
19 Reasons Why English is the Hardest Language to Learn
Except for a few European countries, English is the most spoken language in the world. The US alone has over 250 million native speakers, while the UK has over 50 million. So, plenty of people speak English, which means plenty of people trying to learn it.
Some people think that it is challenging to learn English, and that is not unreasonable. After all, it is a very complex language. But how hard is it? And why is it so hard?
Let’s take a look at 19 reasons why English is the hardest language to learn.
1. Mixed Origins of the Language
It is hard to pin down precisely what the English language is. The language has evolved, and many different cultures have influenced it.
For example, English contains many words from French, German, Latin, and many other languages. English is derived from Old English, including the language of the Anglo-Saxons.
Old English has its roots in Old Norse, Latin, and French. The Norman invasion of England also influenced the English and French languages in 1066.
It was during this time that many words were introduced from French and Latin. Some of the words in English are still related to French.
Some of the words from French include château, cuisine, and avant-garde.
These words have been around for a long time, and they have been influencing English ever since. These words are now part of the English language, written in the English language dictionary, and they are so ingrained in the language that they are hard to change.
With the mixed origins of the language, English is full of words that are related to other languages. It means that the language is a mix of many different worlds and cultures, making it hard to learn.
This is because English is very broad in its meaning, and the meaning of many words in English can be influenced by the speaker’s culture or the origin of the word itself.
There are approximately 171,146 words in the English language, spoken by more than 1.30 billion people worldwide. With the spread of English, it became even more diverse, and there are even more words related to other languages and cultures.
2. Different Cultural Influences
As you know, English is a very diverse language, and many different cultures have influenced it.
For example, the word “brunette” comes from the French word for “brown”, and so there are many words that come from French. The word “bureau” comes from the French word for “desk”, and so there are many words that come from French.
Another example is the word “blitz”, which means “lightning”. This word comes from the German word for “lightning”, which references the Blitzkrieg, ground lightning strikes during World War II.
So, the fact that so many different cultures influenced English in the past — means that many words come from many other languages.
3. Archaic English is Still Present
English is an ancient language, and it has evolved a lot over the years. And Archaic English, which is what people used to say, is still present in English today. They are words that have been used for a long time, and sometimes they are very difficult to understand because the meaning has changed over time or even because the word is not in everyday use anymore.
Some words may also have simple meanings but are considered old-fashioned or “archaic” because they are out of fashion. Not many people use them anymore, and so they may be unfamiliar for some people.
Some of these words include “damsel”, which means a girl who is in distress, or “thither”, which literally means “there”.
Another tricky word is “fruit”, which, if you think about it today, means “a thing that is grown on a tree”, but as an archaic word, it means “offspring” or “children”.
4. Different Dialects are Available
In addition to the many different cultures that have influenced English, there are also many different dialects. There are about 160 different dialects of English! That means that there are a lot of different ways to speak English. So, it can be complicated to learn all of these different accents and pronunciations.
For example, the American dialect is not particularly difficult to understand if you live in America. There is also the British dialect, which is quite distinct from American English. Then there are other dialects like Scottish and Irish English that can be difficult to understand if you don’t live in these areas.
Simple words like “water” are pronounced differently in different dialects. It may sound clear and simple to say “water” in the American dialect, but it may sound thick and heavy in the British dialect. Or the “h” in the word “hello” may be silent in the Brit dialect but pronounced clear in the American dialect. Southern American people may also say “howdy” instead of “hello“.
It is why it can be tough to learn English if you are learning from scratch. You can’t get used to these different accents and dialects the same way you can get used to your dialect. It can be challenging to learn if you don’t live in an area where a particular dialect is spoken.
5. Nonsense Everyday English Words
In English, many words are entirely made up. These are called “nonsense words”, and they can be a huge source of confusion for non-native English speakers.
These pseudo-words include “Jabberwocky”, which is based on Lewis Carroll’s mythical creature that talks like a bird and has a big mouth, “scribble scrabble”, which is a nonsense word for scribble or writing and drawing, and “bazinga“, which is often used as a way to express surprise.
These nonsense words are sometimes also used to make fun of someone, express sarcasm, or be used as expressive words.
While many of these words are not listed in dictionaries, many natives use them in casual conversation.
6. Mixed Vocabulary
Mixed vocabulary means that words are based on two or more base words combined to create a new word.
For example, “chortle“, a word for laughing, is made up of the words “chuckle” and “snort“.
Another example is “brunch“, which is made up of the words “breakfast” and “lunch“, or “spork” which is made up of the words “spoon” and “fork“. They are words that are made up of multiple base words.
7. Inconsistencies and Illogical Statements
Another reason why English is so hard to learn is that it is inconsistent and illogical. Sentences and phrases don’t always make sense, and this cannot be very clear.
For example, “There are no stupid questions apart from those that aren’t asked,” “There is no reason to cry, but you might be my reason for crying,” and “It is the job of the customer to tell you what they want.”
The first and second sentences are illogical since they talk about no questions and no reasons, but then they talk about some exceptions. The last sentence is confusing because it talks about the customer is the one to order, but the customers also have a job to tell the waiter what they want.
8. Full of Rules and Exceptions
English is complex, with many rules and exceptions. This is especially true when it comes to grammar. For example, there are many exceptions to the rule that if you use a word in the past tense, you should use “ed” instead of “d” at the end of the word. There are also many exceptions to the rule that if you use a word in the present tense, you should use “s” at the end of the verb if it’s singular.
For example, “She sells flowers” is different from “I sell flowers” in terms of verbs, although the two sentences are grammatically correct and they are both present tense. Or “She is selling flowers” is different from “They are selling flowers” in terms of verbs because the first one is present tense and the second one is a continuous tense.
Another example would be “I have a cat” and “I have two cats“, which are different in terms of plural and singular nouns.
9. Various Pronunciation
There are many sounds that are hard to pronounce, and there are many different pronunciations in different countries.
For example, the words “rural“, “Otorhinolaryngologist”, and “anemone” might be hard to pronounce for some people.
Words like “park“, “horse“, or “further” are also pronounced differently in British English and American English because of the different vowel pronunciations.
10. Numerous Idioms
Idioms are phrases that are unique to a particular culture. For example, “Hang in there” is an idiom that means “to persevere“. This phrase has been around for a long time, and it is common in the US.
But the phrase “give someone a good kicking” is an example of an idiom unique to Australia. This phrase means making someone feel excited, which is different from kicking someone as in inflicting pain. Another example would be “a piece of cake” which means “something that is easy“.
11. Confusing Rules in Spelling
When you learn a language, you need to learn the rules of spelling. However, English spelling is quite confusing.
For example, the letter “g” can be spelled “gh“, “j“, or “g“.
The letter “c” can be spelled “s“, “z”, or “k“. The letter “q” is almost always followed by an “u” as in “queue“, “quarantine“, and “quarterback“.
These are just a few examples of the many confusing rules in English spelling.
12. Full of Homophones
Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings.
For example, “new” and “knew” are homophones. “Caret” and “carrot“, as well as “flower” and “flour” are also homophones.
English is full of homophones, and they can be very confusing. Homophones can be a real challenge for many learners.
13. Stressing Certain Words & Different Intonations
When you speak English, you have to use different tones in your voice. It is because there are words that can be stressed to make them more critical.
For example, in English, you would say “the moon” and stress the word “moon” because it is the noun you are talking about, or you would stress “green” in “greenhouse” and “flow” in “overflow“.
There are many different ways to emphasize words in English, and the rules can be pretty confusing.
14. Complicated Tenses of Words
Tenses are a part of English grammar that is very complicated. When you can add “yesterday” or “tomorrow” to indicate when something happened in some languages, you have to use tenses in English.
For example, “I went to the cinema” and “I am going to the cinema” are two different tenses, one for the past and one for the future.
Another example would be “She looks at me” and “She was looking at me” as well as “my class has started” and “my class will start“.
15. Tricky Synonyms
Synonyms can be tricky because many words are used to describe the same thing.
For example, “loud” and “earsplitting” are both synonyms for sounds that are very loud. “Beautiful” and “gorgeous” are both synonyms for looks that are very pleasing, and “gentle” and “delicate” are both synonyms for something very soft.
16. Complex Logical Order of Words
When you look at the English language, you see that it is written logically. The order of words is often based on what is happening in the sentence.
For example, if you say “I want to buy a house“, the order of words would be subject, verb, object.
However, there are also other types of sentences that do not follow this pattern.
For example, “I am learning Spanish” consists of the subject, auxiliary verb, verb+ing, object. Another example is the phrase “walking in the rain” which consists of the verb (in this case, it is gerund), preposition, and the explanation of the preposition.
17. Vague Language Formality
Formality is a huge part of any language, and this is especially true of English. You can say a few very simple things in English, but it can be considered rude or uncommon to speak in a way that is not formal.
For example, the word “lots of” is an informal way of saying “many“, the word “totally” is an informal way of saying “completely”, and the word “anyways” is a casual way of saying “nevertheless“.
18. Translating Word by Word is Not Good
To learn a language, you have to be able to read and write it. But when you are translating English into other languages, you can’t just translate word by word. Instead, you have to be able to translate whole sentences. Sometimes, translating word by word can lead to extraordinary results or misinterpretations.
For example, if you translate the sentence “city of stars”, it means a city full of stars. But it can also be a colloquial term used to describe Brisbane, California.
Another example is the sentence “the virus has been uploaded”.
In this case, the word “virus” can mean a software application or a computer virus instead of a plague. Or, the sentence “salt and pepper”, can refer to the kitchen spice or a term to describe two colors intermingled to form a mixture.
19. Inflection Changes Words Meaning
Inflection is the process of changing the form of a word or adding suffixes to a word. It means that you have to know the meaning of the word and know how to change the form of the word.
For example, the word “himself” refers to the possessive form of the word “him”.
Or the word “smartest” means “most intelligent” and “smart” literally means clever, as well as “flower glass” refers to a glass that is used to grow flowers.
Learning English can be challenging, and there are many reasons why it is so hard, including cultural influences, inflection, word stress, grammar, different pronunciation, and many other things. But it is important to remember that it is not impossible to learn English and do it if you want to.
Exposing yourself to different people and different situations will help you learn. Getting used to the sounds of English, learning the vocabulary, and understanding words are all good ways to learn. So, don’t be discouraged by all the difficulties you face, but instead, focus on learning consistently and persistently. Good luck!