What Makes English a Challenging Language to Learn
Can you speak English? This question brings forth the best and worst experiences in mind for those who put their every effort to learn it. Sometimes non-English speakers create such a funny expression while “trying to” speak English that words jumble up. Billions of people learn new languages every day. It’s a time taking process and to think you can learn English in one go is a fool’s play.
Learning English can be tricky especially to control your tongue to produce the “accent” and “pronunciation” of specific words. Although there are languages more difficult to learn than English (like Chinese, Japanese or German) when a non-native tries to speak it, it takes real effort to speak an entirely new language.
Each language has its fair share of challenges, but let’s look into why English keeps troubling people
English consists of contronyms – words with two opposite meanings
“Can you clip the paper?”
What image comes in your mind after reading this statement? The word “clip” is a contronym. You cannot say for sure whether you want to attach something or make a cut or detach an item. For instance, when someone clips their nails, it means “cutting their nails” but if you say “clip the files” it means to attach the files.
The same word has two contradictory meanings which can be quite confusing for the non-native speaker.
English also consists of homographs – words that pronounce and spell (at most times) the same but with varying meanings
This is one of the most common errors made by amateur learners. English is full of such words that sound the same but mean something different entirely. For instance, the words “tear” (to rip) and tear (crying) have similar sounds but vary in meaning.
Some of the other common examples are;
- Bass (low sound) or bass (fish)
- Bat (sports equipment) or bat (an animal)
- Gate (a hinged barrier) or gait (manner of walking)
If you take a closer look at the last example, the spelling differs from each other despite the pronunciation. This can make things a lot confusing.
Idioms can be senseless
An idiom that says “it’s raining cats and dogs” can make less to no sense altogether for a non-converse person. Someone unfamiliar with such idiomatic phrases can take it for a literal meaning and be confused more than ever. Similarly, why does English refer to easy things as “a piece of cake” confuses the non-native speakers?
Idioms often are used as referrals instead of using regular words.
Infinite combinations can give you a straight headache
This is perhaps the worst nightmare of an amateur learner, i.e., to learn various letter combinations. To learn a series of combinations consisting of phrases is one thing but it can be hard to remember letter combinations that can be re-arranged and still sounds the same. For instance;
All of these words have different meanings and pronunciations, but if a non-speaker looks at it it’s easy to see why it can jumble the words.
Indiscrete plural words
The easy to grasp concept regarding plural words is that in the end “s” is additionally used like “girl” or “girls” but there are irregular plural words as well that don’t have an “s” at the end like “man” or “men”, “person” or “people” and so on. The list simply goes on. These need to be memorized with a clear understanding of irregular plural words.
Silent letters are tricky!
How many times did you get a word wrong just because you couldn’t point out the silent letter? Some words in English are spelled in counterintuitive ways. This means they consist of a silent letter either at the start, middle, or at the end of the word. For example
- Knight – “k” is silent in the beginning so the pronunciation sounds like “night”.
- Wednesday – “d” is silent in the middle, which means pronunciation will be “wen-z-day” with a “z” sound.
- Reign – “g” is silent at the end which makes it sound like “rain”.
It can be hard to learn these words and not knowing the right word while writing can often lead to mistakes.
Word order is crucial
Those who speak English naturally do not have to face the trouble of creating a sentence. You’d know which order to speak (how to arrange words). This is another mistake made by non-English speakers. It may happen that the logical order of the sentence doesn’t make sense at all.
For instance “this sight is interesting”, although it does sound somehow correct the actual word order would be “this is an interesting sight”.
Emphasizing the words
The way a person speaks a word can put a lot of stress on the word. A single word can be said “lightly” “expressively” or can be “heavily stressed”. So each time emphasis is put on certain words it represents the actionable behavior of the speaker as well.
For instance, “who do you think are you speaking to?” or “who do you think are you speaking to?” the emphasis is on “you” put a little bit of stress on the second person the speaker is referring to. However, emphasis on certain words can lead to misinterpretations.
Synonyms are not interchangeable
In English, almost every word has a synonym – words that have alternatives but explain the things in the same manner regardless of how different they may sound.
It is okay for you to say “let’s watch or see TV” but if you say “let’s see television” it does not sound right at all. Similarly, a person who watches the TV is not called a “watcher”, rather he is called a “viewer”.
This is pretty much equally confusing for foreigners. Similarly, the synonyms to describe a characteristic like elegant and graceful may describe a ballerina but “chic” or “classic” will not suffice.
English is an interesting language. The use of contronyms, homographs, indiscrete plurals, silent letters, idioms, and synonyms combine to make English learning quite challenging. For improving your learning skills and gaining a strong command of the English language, you need to pay special attention to detail and keep practicing!
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