The idea of how cumbersome learning a language can be a relative idea. As for all skills, how difficult learning English can be depends on the learner’s starting point. Hebrew happens to be difficult if you’re a Brit, and so is German if you’re Indonesian.
A case can certainly be made for why English is an easy language to learn based on structure. The obvious fluidity comes from the fact that English is a gender neutral, case less language with a relatively simple grammar system. It is also the most studied and researched language with the highest number of resources available that can unravel the challenges it brings. Thousands of books are written each year that can act as a learning medium. For the uninitiated, there are numerous TV programs and movies that can stem a deep understanding on the workings all the while avoiding the taut technicalities of learning. Approximately 20% of earth’s populous communicate in English, so depending on country of origin we are most likely to encounter at least one person to interact with in a day. So what is it about English language that has attained a fearsome reputation? And how have so many countries adapted it so thoroughly as official or second language? According to most non-native speakers a few pesky technicalities are to blame.
- Baffling pronunciations
Spelling can be undoubtedly termed as the most challenging part of any language. A novice also must contend with the difficulties of pronunciation. Words that are built with almost same letters can sound vastly different.
Take for example through pronounced thru.
Rough is pronounced ruff.
Bough is pronounced bau.
- The Exceptions to the rules
Take for example the rule of the silent E: in English the ‘e’ at the end of the words are silent. Made, mate, gate are few such examples where the ending ‘e’ has a silent connotation.
Except when it comes to words borrowed from foreign languages such as: fiancé, recipe etc.
Another such rule is ‘I before E’; we can witness this in piece, niece, believe, freight, where this rule holds true.
The exception occurs when the letters occur after c such as in: receipt, thus reversing the rule.
The subtlety of the exceptions to the rules in English language is a key piece that must be mastered to progress into the core of the language.
- Homonyms – where homophones and homographs coincide
These three phenomenon in English language make up for an oddity that could make understanding what the person in front of you is trying to convey a tricky affair.
Homophones are similar sounding words that carry different meanings. Such as to, two, too.Whereas homographs are words that are said or spell exactly the same but carry different pronunciation as well as meaning. A great example for this is the word wind.
The wind blew away the dry leaves. Here wind represents a gust of air.
The travelers were unaware where they will wind up. Wind here represents an uncertain course.For a word to be termed a homonym, it must be a homophone as well as a homograph. Right and write are the perfect example of a homonym.
- Phrases and idioms
The idiom ‘feeling under the weather’ or ‘ piece of cake’ can mightily confuse a novice to English language as they are neither to do with the weather or cake. Feeling under the weather signifies feeling ill whereas a piece of cake is to say something is really easy.
As a learner the subtleties of English language is often lost in the classroom basics. Phrases and idioms are cornerstones of English language that can only be learned by interacting with native speakers or reading voraciously.
A simple sentence like ‘I love her’ can be transformed into completely different sentences by emphasizing. If we place ‘only’, as an emphasizer before any of the words in above sentences the meaning changes.
‘Only I love her’ is not the same as ‘I only love her’ or ‘I love only her’. Understanding the difference in these can make all the difference when one wants to learn to speak with affluence. Words like always and forever can emphasize continuity in, there will always be a monarch in England.
Whereas they can emphasize annoyance in, Paula is taking forever to return from the store.
These are only but a few factors that can make the English language an enigma to some. Geography can also undermine one’s capability of grasping the language. As it originates from the Germanic family of languages a Dutch or German might find it easier to comprehend the language than, say Chinese, which is completely unrelated to the Germanic family. Interestingly, since 30% of English words have French origin a Frenchman will have easier time recognizing the vocabulary. German words make for almost 26% of the vocabulary and the rest is borrowed from Latin and other languages.
On a darker note, countries such as India and apartheid Africa have a much higher percentage of people who speak English as their primary or secondary language due to hundreds of years of colonization. In fact, this has rendered many to more easily lean towards English than their own native languages. Whereas neighboring countries free from the restraint of colonization find English much harder to grasp.
Age can play a challenging hand in learning as well. Children readily have faster absorbing skills than adults.
With all the intricacies an archaic language like English can bring, whatever level of difficulty it may pose can be nuanced into ones learning with time, practice and exposure to the language. At the end of the day it comes down to ones willingness to cross the limits of human language barrier. Through reading comprehension, exercising the opportunity to speak and listen to a native English speaker or simply watching one of your favorite English series in Netflix can propel the understanding of the English language to new heights.