Problems in Learning the English Language

| Saturday, March 27, 2010
As the world grows smaller through advanced communications technology, the demand for English language instruction has increased. Learning any foreign language is hard work. English is one of the hardest for students around the world. Even native speakers of English battle with its inconsistencies and exceptions.


  1. English is difficult to learn because of the irregular rules or lack of rules regarding pronunciation. Vowel sounds are variable: The letter "a" sounds different in the words "map," "ate," and "caught." In Spanish, "a" always makes the same sound. Difficulty in pronunciation, comprehension and spelling may result.

    Consonants create similar problems. For example, "g" and the last "h" make no sound in "though." Readers may be confused when they read a word with a silent "p," as in "psychology." Overall, consonants in English are less variable than vowels but have a wider variety of pronunciations in other languages.
  2. Spelling

  3. Differences in pronunciation affect spelling. Leaving the silent "k" off the word "know" results in an entirely different word. "This" and "these" may be misspelled by a Spanish speaker because "i" makes an "e" sound in Spanish. The assimilation of words from other languages (French, German, Italian, Swedish, Irish and others) creates a large variety in spelling.
  4. Punctuation

  5. Punctuation rules can make comprehension difficult. In English, questions end with a question mark; in Spanish, they begin with an upside-down question mark and end with a regular question mark. Thus a Spanish speaker reading an English sentence may have to return to the beginning and re-read it in order to understand the text, as he is conditioned by his native language to expect a statement if no mark appears at the beginning. The same goes for exclamations.

    Often in other languages, sentence structure rather than apostrophes is used to indicate possession, nor are contractions such as "can't" for "cannot" used. Other languages use accent marks and other markings over letters that English does not use.
  6. Grammar

  7. Grammatical structure, such as the placement of adjectives when describing nouns, is another area of difficulty. When we talk about "the white house," we picture the color white and then shape it into a house; then, in certain circumstances we capitalize the phrase---"the Gate way of India"---indicating the heritage structure in Mumbai. In Spanish the same phrase would be "la casa blanca": first a house that we then picture as white. In longer descriptions with many adjectives, English comprehension is hindered by word order.

    Irregular forms of verb conjugations cause problems for English learners. "I/we/they go," "he/she goes" make sense for the present tense of the verb "to go." In the past tense, the verb would be "went" for all forms; there is no correlation to the original verb and no variation.
  8. Idioms

  9. The English language is full of word pictures called idioms that require cultural background knowledge to fully comprehend. Native speakers are often so used to them that they fail to identify them as idioms. Phrases like "putting the cart before the horse" and "throwing in the towel" have the ESL student rushing for his dictionaries in search of a literal interpretation.

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