In a world where 1.5 billion people speak English (including native speakers and second-language learners), you’d think it would be easy to learn.
But so many people find learning English such a challenge.
Why Is English Hard To Learn?
In this article, we’ll look at the top 21 reasons why learning English is so hard. Some of them will surprise you.
1. There Are Hundreds Of Irregular Verbs (Those Darn Exceptions).
Does this sound familiar? You’re learning new English words, but then you get stuck on the verb “to be” and can’t remember what form it should take.
You are not alone.
English is full of irregular verbs, which are a pain to remember.
You probably know some English irregular verbs already:
Irregular verbs don’t follow the general rules of English, making them difficult to learn for beginners.
2. English Changes Over Time.
Language changes over time, and English is no exception.
Some words and phrases that were once perfectly fine are now considered outdated or archaic (e.g., “thou” has been replaced by “you”).
And words become shortened or abbreviated over time through common usages (e.g., “LOL” means “laugh out loud” or “BRB” equals “be right back”).
On top of that, new words are added all the time—especially in technology-related fields (e.g., chillaxing, selfie, meme, and Amazon Prime Video).
All of these add another layer of complexity to learning English.
3. Too Many Resources Can Be Confusing, Overwhelming, And Distracting.
Do you tend to get distracted by information overload?
With the advent of the internet, you can find countless different sources for learning English online.
For example, if you want an e-book on how to write a novel in English, hundreds or even thousands are available for free download. How do you know which one will help you?
Or maybe you’re looking for videos about how to speak English well in a business setting. You’ll find over 1,000 results when searching on YouTube alone. And don’t get me started on online courses—the number of them must be in the millions.
But this abundance of information can be confusing and overwhelming. It might even distract you from your goals, not to mention a waste of time if it slows down your progress in learning English.
It doesn’t matter how many great resources are out there—they won’t make much difference if they aren’t helping you learn English in the way that best fits your needs and preferences.
Read on: What Makes A Successful Student
4. English Idioms Make It Hard To Learn English.
English is chock full of idioms or expressions that don’t make sense when translated literally. They’re often used in spoken English, making it challenging to learn English.
Consider the following three examples:
- “It’s raining cats and dogs.”
What does that even mean? It doesn’t mean you’ll get millions of cats and dogs falling from the sky. It simply means it’s raining hard.
- “I’m dying for a drink right now!”
This doesn’t mean their actual life is ending; instead, it means you’re in desperate need of water or other beverages because you’re thirsty.
- “He is all thumbs.”
This means he is clumsy. But if you think about it literally, how could someone be all thumbs at once? That doesn’t make sense.
You’ll need to learn idioms through context clues and conversations where people use them correctly.
5. There Are Too Many Words In English.
Well, it’s true. It’s a rich language that even native speakers get confused sometimes and accidentally use the wrong word in their writing or speech.
This can be an obstacle for ESL learners because these new words have multiple meanings and can be confusing, let alone for learners who are still trying to learn how to speak and write properly in English.
And throw into that mix a ton of borrowed words from other languages (think sushi, pizza, or champagne) for centuries, and you’ve got a vast ocean of words to learn.
6. English Phrasal Verbs Are Annoying.
Phrasal verbs (a verb with an adverb or preposition, or a combination of both) are a pain to people learning English as their second language because they don’t follow any particular rule or pattern and are everywhere in everyday conversation.
They can make your sentences more interesting and sound more natural.
Let’s break down some common phrasal verbs:
- run away (run + away): to leave a place quickly in order to avoid something
e.g., I ran away from home when I was 17 years old.
- come up with (come + up + with): to create something
e.g., She has come up with an excellent idea for making more money.
- look after (look + after): to take care of someone or something
e.g., I will look after your baby when you are working.
- look forward to (look + forward + to): to await something eagerly.
e.g., I look forward to seeing you.
7. English Learners Often Struggle With Homophones.
Homophones sound the same but have different meanings, spellings, or origins.
For example, “bear” and “bare” are homophones because they sound alike but have different meanings.
It’s easy for new learners to confuse them.
The list below contains some common examples of homophones for your reference:
8. Learning Pronunciation Can Be Challenging For Adult Learners.
Adult learners often find themselves at a disadvantage when speaking English because they haven’t had years of practice yet (like their younger counterparts) or didn’t start learning English until later in life.
For example, they might have trouble with the vowel sounds (/e/, /ə/) and consonant clusters (/spl/, /br/) because their native language doesn’t have them or has different ones.
It’s not just pronunciation that can be challenging—the fear of being misunderstood also plays a role in how well we pronounce new words when we learn something new.
Many adults who don’t have a perfect grasp of either English or their first language may feel insecure about speaking up in class or at work because they worry they will be misunderstood.
Read on: Funny Tongue Twisters For Adults
9. One Word Can Have Many Parts Of Speech.
Some English words can have more than one part of speech and many meanings. And these can be tricky to learn.
For example, the word “address” can be used as a noun (My address is 123 Main Street.) or as a verb (I would like to address my concerns!).
Or the verb “like” is used in different ways in the following sentences:
- I like traveling. (verb)
- You look like your mother. (preposition)
- People who buy houses like they buy clothes. (conjunction)
- He’s, like, really outgoing. (adverb)
- What are your likes and dislikes? (noun)
- I replied to him in like manner. (adjective)
10. Tenses Are Confusing.
If you’ve ever struggled to master the English language, chances are you’ve been tripped up by tenses.
Tenses are confusing because they describe actions at different points in time: past, present, and future. But when do we use each one? How do they work together?
What’s the difference between simple past and present perfect? Why can’t we just stick with one tense?
These questions may seem trivial at first glance. However, knowing how these little things work will make your writing and speaking smoother and more fluid.
There are 12 basic tenses in English:
|The Present Tense
|The Past Tense
|The Future Tense
|1. present simple
|5. past simple
|9. future simple
|2. present continuous
|6. past continuous
|10. future continuous
|3. present perfect
|7. past perfect
|11. future perfect
|4. present perfect continuous
|8. past perfect continuous
|12. future perfect continuous
This can seem complex on its own, but it gets even more complicated when you start to consider how these tenses can be used.
11. Beginners May Not Be Used To Contractions.
You might think contractions are a no-brainer, but they can be confusing if you’re not used to them.
Contractions are two words that have been condensed into one. They’re a part of informal writing and speech in English.
It’s common to see contractions used in text messages and social media posts, such as can’t (cannot), I’d (I had/I would), and she’s (she has/she is).
12. It’s Hard To Find The Right Words.
You might think that knowing the meaning of a word is enough to use it, but it’s not.
A word might have multiple meanings or connotations, or its use can change over time.
If you use the wrong word, you can make your audience misunderstand what you mean or even lose interest in what you’re saying.
13. Spelling Is A Big Deal.
How do you spell “colour”? Or “realise”? Or “traveller“?
Spelling often differs between British and American English, which can confuse beginners.
There are many exceptions to spelling rules as well; for instance, some words have different spellings depending on whether they’re used as nouns or verbs: house vs. houses; set vs. sets; begin vs. began or begun.
It gets even more complicated because many words are not spelled phonetically (i.e., exactly how they sound). For example, we have silent letters (e.g., “ghost,” “knife”) and words that are pronounced the same but look differently (e.g., “bear” vs. “bare”).
14. Synonyms Are A Hot Mess.
Synonyms are words with the same or similar meaning. Sometimes, these words are interchangeable.
Native English speakers use them frequently in daily conversations, adding flavor and excitement to our speech.
However, the sheer number of synonyms can be overwhelming when you first start learning English.
You will struggle to know which one to use when more than one fits what you want to say.
It can also produce confusion and frustration as you try to navigate through this new world of vocabulary.
15. Formality Is A Tricky Concept In English.
When learning English, you will need to know the level of formality (e.g., formal, informal, and semi-formal) suitable for each situation.
The level of formality can change depending on the situation and the relationship between the speaker and listener.
For example, if you’re speaking to your boss at work or writing an academic essay, you’ll use different words than talking with your best friend or mom over lunch.
16. Choosing The Correct Preposition Is Difficult For ESL Learners.
Prepositions are words like “in,” “on,” “at,” and “under.” They show the relationship between a noun or pronoun and another word in the sentence.
Native English speakers use prepositions naturally without thinking.
However, they can be tricky to learn because there aren’t clear rules for some prepositions.
On top of that, prepositions don’t carry stress as nouns and verbs do in a sentence—they’re typically unstressed words that are hard for ESL learners to hear, especially when listening to audio recordings or watching TV shows in their target language.
17. English Writing Is Not Easy To Master.
Writing is one of the most important skills a person can have in life. It helps you communicate with others and get your point across clearly and effectively—and it’s beneficial when applying for jobs or going on interviews.
However, writing is a skill many students struggle with, and it’s no surprise.
This can become particularly true when writing essays for academic purposes: many ESL beginners often do not know how to write a paragraph properly within the strict guidelines of academic writing.
18. It’s Hard To Understand Different Accents.
Being a good listener is hard if you’re unfamiliar with the speaker’s accent and their regional or cultural habits.
For example, you might meet a stranger from Australia, have a coworker from India, and have been friends with someone from Scotland for years. All of these people speak in wildly different accents. What they say might sound very strange to your ears.
Even people from the same country (like the UK) can have different accents that are hard to understand. It’s like they’re speaking another language altogether.
19. Learning To Read In English Is Hard.
Reading in English can put learners off quickly.
It’s not just the lack of related vocabulary, reading techniques (e.g., skimming or scanning), or background information on the subject matter.
The problem also lies in their lack of patience and discipline while reading long chunks of text. They might lose interest quickly, leading to quitting altogether.
20. There Are Many Silent Letters In English.
As the name suggests, silent letters are not pronounced, so you’ll never hear them in conversation or on audio.
But they still exist and can be a common stumbling block for ESL students.
Take the word “debt,” for instance: It’s spelled “d-e-b-t,” but if you say it aloud, the letter “b” is not pronounced.
Want more examples? Try reading the following words out loud.
- bomb with the second “b” being silent
- ghost with “h” being silent
- know with “k” being silent
21. Speaking Can Be Difficult When English Is Not Your Mother Tongue.
“There are two things that are more difficult than making an after-dinner speech: climbing a wall which is leaning toward you and kissing a girl who is leaning away from you.” — Winston Churchill
Speaking is different.
Many people think that if you take a language class, you’ll learn to speak it fluently.
But in reality, there are so many factors involved in speaking well (including how confident you are) that even if you have perfect grammar and an extensive vocabulary, it doesn’t mean you can speak English well.
Why The English Language Is So Hard To Learn
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article and that it has given you some insight into why English is so hard for foreigners to learn.
However, if you have a passion for learning it and are willing to put in the effort, there are many reasons why it’s worth it.
Need some help along the way? Check out HiEnglishHub.com, where I’ve created plenty of free resources for you. They’re easy-to-understand and digestible articles that will teach you useful vocabulary, grammar points, and tips about life abroad.