Why is English hard to learn?

Since the English language is considered to be lingua franca in most countries of the world, and it is often spoken as a second language, you might think it’s easy to learn English. Such misconception is common, especially amongst people who don’t speak English at all or very little. What does it even mean that a language is easy to learn? Is the grammar easy, or is the pronunciation easy? When you think more about it, it’s difficult to define “easy” in such a context. If you are from Europe, learning English might be a less challenging task than if you were from Asia, and your native language was Mandarin Chinese or Korean.

But is it easy to learn English? Long story short, learning English is not all that easy. It might not be such bad news, though. Now that you know English is hard to learn the language, hopefully, you will be more understanding towards yourself, if you have any trouble learning it.

5 reasons why English is hard to learn

There are some common points that are difficult for most English learners, no matter where they are from. Below, we’ve listed some reasons why English is hard to learn:

1. Inconsistent pronunciation.

English spelling and pronunciation might seem quite consistent… at first. Then, you dive into learning new vocabulary and discover that two words that have a similar set of letters are read in a completely different way. Like:

  • Heart, Heard, Great and Eat;
  • Moon and Flood;
  • Though and Through;
  • Stared and Started.

The examples are numerous. English pronunciation is tough to learn and while there are some rules to follow, usually it’s best to learn the pronunciation of each new word instead of relying on rules. It’s time-consuming, yes, but it’s important to use proper pronunciation when speaking – otherwise, you might not be understood.

2. Difficult grammar

English grammar has got 12 tenses total, how crazy is that? There are 3 basic tenses: Past, Present, and Future, each of them having 4 types: Simple, Continuous, Perfect Simple, and Perfect Continuous. So don’t be discouraged if learning tenses is tough for you! It’s totally normal. Let’s say your native language hasn’t got such classification of tenses, or that there are just 3 tenses: past, present, and future. In such a case, the concept of each tense having 4 sub-tenses might be complicated for you. If that’s so, try to really focus on grammar practice and on understanding the concept behind each tense in English.

3. Irregularities

This point overlaps a bit with points about difficult pronunciation and grammar. What we specifically want to point out here is the conjugation of verbs – present, past simple, and past participle. This is a very basic thing, yet it gives a headache to English learners everywhere. Regular verbs are fairly easy – you simply need to add “-ed” to the basic present form. However, irregular verbs seem to have no rules on how to create them whatsoever, therefore you need to learn them by heart. Unfortunately, it’s not just 10 or 20 verbs – it is estimated that there are more or less 200 irregular verbs in the English language!

4. Vocabulary – phrasal verbs.

Whether English vocabulary is difficult or not is debatable, however, there is one particular group of phrases that English students struggle with – it is a group of verbs called phrasal verbs. What are phrasal verbs? These are phrases that usually consist of a verb and a particle/particles. In a sentence, they are used as a verb, and depending on the particle you use, two phrasal verbs with the same core verb might have different meanings. For example:

A verb: to look

Phrasal verbs: to look up to somebody (to admire somebody), to look for(to search), to look down on somebody (to think somebody is unimportant), to look into (to investigate)

As you can see, none of those phrasal verbs mean “to look”, despite this verb being a core verb for each of them. 

Now, if you think that there are too many irregular verbs, hold your horses – there are over 10000 phrasal verbs in English. Of course, there is no need to learn them all (unless you are extremely ambitious and have a lot of free time), but still, it’s quite challenging to learn at least 100-200 of them. Phrasal verbs are commonly used, so it’s worth learning them though!

5. Unreliable sources.

English is probably the best language to learn as your second language, because of a multitude of handbooks, textbooks, websites, and apps for learning English. The more sources, the more opportunities to practice. However, there is a drawback – with so many sources, there is a risk that you might learn something wrong. Not every source is fully checked and proofread by a native speaker, especially on the Internet. On the other hand, just because someone is a native speaker, doesn’t mean they can speak grammatically correct English.

What can you do to minimize the risk of learning wrong information? If you have doubts, rely on sources that have been authorized by official channels for teaching English and promoting English-written materials – such as Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, or Harvard University Press. You can also try official news channels, such as BBC News or CNN. If you have a trusted English teacher, that’s also a brilliant source of knowledge. The point is, be careful about the sources you use to teach yourself English.

If you need assistance with learning English and are looking for a reliable teacher, try italki’s English tutor! Italki offers an opportunity to learn English online for students from all around the world – as long as you are connected to Wi-Fi, you can learn from anywhere. Flexibility is just one of the perks! With a guidance of a professional, experienced teacher, you will be able to improve your English skills in the shortest possible time. You can rest assured that you will be provided with materials in accordance with your English level, suited to your interests. You will be able to learn at your own pace –  not too slow, yet not too quick. Learning English has never been that comfortable before!