Why Learning English Is A Challenge

While you’ve probably heard that despite it’s many benefits, English is considered one of the most difficult languages to learn.  You probably haven’t been given an explanation as to why learning English is a challenge. Rather than us listing all the reasons we can think of, we thought it’d be better to get some insight from BridgeEnglish Denver student, Nelson D:

For different reasons, people from all over the globe try to master Shakespeare’s language—one of the most widely spoken in the world. Learning a foreign language is a challenge, but learning a foreign language abroad can be an unexpected adventure. I would like to share with you the history of one Bridge student from Mexico who almost got into trouble on bus 15 on Colfax. As a new person in Denver looking for help, he asked a group of four men sitting in the rear of the bus: “Hey gay, do you know how to get to Cherry Creek Mall?” Obviously, he meant “guy” and not “gay” (homosexual), and obviously this group of four people didn’t appreciate being called gay. This is a perfect example of how language can be confusing and how this confusion can lead us to trouble. As this Mexican student’s story indicates, a simple mispronunciation can lead to a problem.

Native Roots
English learners come from different places with different native languages. It is interesting because not everybody has the same difficulties, some are specific challenges they face according to their native language. For all English learners, many things are new and need to be acquired, such as grammar, sounds and pronunciation. English is a mix of different Latin languages which means it has lot of Latin roots and shares many similar sounds and grammatical rules with other Latin languages such as French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and German (even though that last one is not a Latin language). Many things are the same in English as in many other languages, but some principles and English sounds are completely new for learners according to their native languages.

New Sounds
In terms of new and unfamiliar sounds, the most famous is the sound “th”, which is pronounced by placing the tongue between the teeth (thought, this, thirty, teeth, etc.). English learners from most countries have difficulty pronouncing this sound, but it’s not impossible to overcome this obstacle. Although most learners can pronounce this sound with little effort, they feel too “lazy” to do it all the time, as it requires concentration. Like with all other unknown sounds, people try to use substitute sounds to replace it. The most common substitute sound for “th” is “z” when it’s in the beginning of the word, and “f” when it is in the middle or at the end of the word. Almost all speakers make this mistake (French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Arabic speakers). The second new sound for almost all English learners is the short “i” which is confused with the long “e”: “sick” versus “seek”. Indeed, almost all students can’t make the distinction between these two words and will use the pronunciation of the second one for both. Many students have been the subject of jokes because they confuse the words “b*tch” and “beach”. “I love Miami b*tch” instead of “I love Miami beach” is one of the worst mistakes and must be avoided in order to keep good “moral integrity”.

Some sounds are particularly new to some native languages speakers. For the Portuguese and Spanish speakers, the sound “g” (George) doesn’t exist and they are likely to pronounce like a “gu” when the word contains this new sound. Even though this sound is new, they don’t have any particular difficulty to learn it. Japanese and Chinese speakers are those for whom many English sounds are new. Indeed, the sounds “th”, “r”, “v”, “p” are nonexistent in their native language, so pronunciation of these sounds is not easy for them. The articles are also new for Asian and Arabic speakers who don’t use them in their native language. Many other English principles or grammar are new according to people’s native language or their personal handicaps. Not only does English have new rules or sounds for the student, but also it has some complex and confusing rules.

The use of articles is also new for Asian and Arabic speakers who don’t use them in their native language. Many other English principles and grammar are new according to people’s native language or their personal handicaps. Not only does English have new rules or sounds for the student, but it has some complex and confusing rules.

Confusing Principles
Usually, the structure of sentences in English is the same as in other languages: subject+verb+object combined with articles, prepositions and conjunctions. That means the construction of sentences in general doesn’t create a problem for learners, but sometimes things don’t work as expected and it makes people confused. In the construction of sentences, the positions of the words are not the same in all languages. For example, “I love dog” will have a literal translation of “I dog love” in Japanese. A beginning learner who thinks in Japanese would likely use the second sentence, which, unfortunately, is incorrect. The same confusion could happen for a French speaker in sentences such as “you miss me” which will be said when the person means “I miss you”. Each language’s specificities and structures justify the existence of this kind of mistake.

Prepositions and articles are the main points of confusion for many people because they are new or they work in different ways in the speaker’s native language. According to the context, a preposition could be translated differently in another language. A French, Spanish, or Portuguese speakers would likely say “I am in the bus/street” while he means “I am on the bus/street”. Even though Latin languages such as French, Spanish or Portuguese have more articles with gender of words that make them complicated, English articles or pronouns can be a puzzle sometimes. The distinction between, “this” and “that”, the existence of the pronoun “it” and the pronoun “you,” which is always plural are some English specificities that are really unclear for learners from all countries. In terms of conjugation, the present perfect and the past perfect are also not clear for many learners who have a hard time with the concept of “the past of the past”.

It seems like the difficulties are not the same according to the learner’s native language. People whose native language has a different alphabet seem to have more challenges learning than those whose native language comes from Latin roots. German speakers seem to have fewer difficulties learning English in terms of pronunciation, understanding, and grammar. Their language has most of the American sounds and has more grammar rules than English. French speakers have less problems with vocabulary because many English words come from French and almost all 3 syllable words or more are the same in French. But this advantage is a handicap in term of pronunciation because they tend to pronounce English words as they would pronounce them in French. Even if their native language is far from English, Asian and Arabic languages seem to have less grammatical confusion as they are learning new things.
Learning English is a challenging process for everybody. It means acquiring new rules, sounds, and a way of thinking that can be difficult. According to their native language, the difficulties learners deal with are different and need to be overcome. Each person must be conscious of their personal challenges and work on how to face them. The most important advice for learning English is to think in English,  because thinking in English is the best way to avoid all possible confusion.

Ready to challenge yourself? Enroll in our General English Program today, and enjoy your new language with beautiful mountain views in Denver, Colorado.