Why is English so hard to learn?

why is English so hard

Students complain about it, the internet is full of articles about difficult English grammar and spelling, there’s even a poem dedicated to expressing just how difficult English actually is.

So why is English so hard? Many people struggle to express exactly what makes English so hard to learn. Since we deal with the difficulties of English on a day-to-day basis at Confidence Learning Services, we thought we’d outline some of the top difficulties most people have with the language.

What makes English so hard? English spelling.

As the poem points out, there are several different ways to pronounce the “ough” syllable, as in, “through”
“dough” and “cough.” But that’s not the only aspect of English spelling that is difficult to master.

Although English has 5 written vowels, (a, e, i, o, u) there are approximately 12 spoken vowels. We say approximately because these vary from region to region. That means that written vowels cannot correspond directly to spoken vowels, and we get all sorts of messy vowel combinations. For example, “oo” may represent the “oo” /u/ in “food” or the “oo” /ʊ/ in “book”. However, “ee” and “ea” may represent the same sounds, in words like “need” and “bead,” or ea may represent a different sound, as in “bread.”

english is so hard

This chart shows the tongue position for just 4 vowels.

In fact, although the English alphabet only has 26 letters, it has 44 spoken sounds. It doesn’t take a linguist or a mathematician to recognize that discrepancy as problematic.

English grammar makes English so hard.

Although English has a couple of things going for it in the grammar department – no pesky genders, no noun declensions – there are a few aspects of grammar that make English difficult.

Let’s look at the past tense. The problems begin when we recognize that the regular past tense “-ed” suffix has one spelling but three possible pronunciations. However, once we have mastered those, we realize that many verbs have irregular past tenses. Of the 18 most common words in the English language, 13 have irregular past tenses.

It’s not just the past tense we have to worry about. Something as simple as the plural is more complicated than it seems. Again we have two common ways of writing the regular plural – adding “-s” or “-es” to the end of the noun. However, we have 3 ways of pronouncing those endings, and again, many mysteriously irregular plural nouns as well, like “man/men” “woman/women” “child/children.”

I’m stressing out about English stress.

why is English so hard

Stress does make English hard, and I’m not referring to the anxiety you may feel when studying. English is a “stress timed” language, meaning syllables in the language may last different amounts of time, but there is perceived to be a fairly constant amount of time (on average) between consecutive stressed syllables.

This means that unstressed syllables between stressed syllables tend to be shortened to fit into the time interval. For example, if two stressed syllables are separated by a single unstressed syllable, as in ‘come for tea‘, the unstressed syllable will be relatively long, while if a larger number of unstressed syllables intervenes, as in ‘come and have some tea’, the unstressed syllables will be shorter.

Many languages are syllable-timed, rather than stress timed, so the idea of shortening syllables is almost incomprehensible to many students.

Those are our top 3 reasons why English is so hard to learn. What about you? What areas of English do you struggle with?

We’d like to make English a little easier for you. With our personalized course schedules, individualized lesson plans, and flexible scheduling, we make it as easy as possible for you to get top quality instruction face-to-face with an expert. Contact Confidence Learning Services today at 1-865-226-9477 to schedule your free English assessment via Skype.

by Laura Brewer