Questions for English Learners (or Natives?)


I wanted some opinions from non-native English speakers or to people who speak more than two languages.

How hard do you think learning English is as opposed to other languages? Do you think it is more difficult or less difficult?

Of course, this could be different for many people. Depending on many things, including if their native language is in the same language family as the one they are learning.

I say there are some aspects of English that I find easier…and some that I find harder.

For example, I find that English has a less complicated verb conjugation system as opposed to other languages where there are may different conjugations. I also find that English is easier in the aspect that it is gender-neutral (almost).

Contrary, I find that English is more difficult in the aspect of pronunciation. In English, we don’t have accent marks that can make pronouncing things a little easier like other languages have. We also have many different ways of pronouncing letters when they are next to certain letters, etc. (I hope that makes sense. :P)

All in all, I know this topic can be subjective in many different ways according to many different people, but I just wanted to hear your experiences as a learner of English, or as a learner of a different language.

What do you find is harder about English and what do you find is easier about English?

Tenses. They are my big obstacle. I don’t know when to use them correctly. (present perfect, past perfect etc.) Otherwise English is relatively easy language to learn.Even I don’t find phrasal verbs so difficult.

Ah. Yes. I find verb tenses to be difficult as well. I think I need a formal lesson of verb tenses in English, to be honest. While I can probably speak in any verb tense without thinking about it (in English), I probably couldn’t identify and explain what each verb tense is. :confused:

It’s easy to get your message across in English. The problem is speaking well. As Makacenko said, you have the large range of tenses, no stress pattern, odd pronunciation, the range of ways we compare two objects (bigger / more comfortable), the mixture of Germanic and Latin vocabulary etc.

We can compare this with a few other languages. Russian has just three tenses (but they do have verbal aspect), although it has free word order they have cases to indicate how the sentence is constructed and as far as I’m aware, there’s very little influence from other languages in terms of vocabulary.

With Spanish, you always use más to compare things. With conjugation, if the verbs ends in -mos, then “we” are doing something. If verbs end in -n, then they are plural. In English, the plural system must be difficult to understand (sheep/ sheep, mouse/ mice, octopus/ octopi), whereas in Spanish you add -s or -es.

That’s as much as I can say. I’m a native English speaker.

@James - Yes. I agree with the English plural system. It can be really tricky…even for native English speakers. I often cringe and have to bite my tongue when I see my friends (or anyone for that matter) make those kinds of mistakes. Most natives don’t like when people correct their English. I suppose they take it as an insult to their intelligence, but if I were to make a mistake I would want someone to point it out to me so I don’t continue to make a fool of myself. But that’s getting off-topic. :stuck_out_tongue:

No, I think that’s a perfectly valid point. From my experience, the English language is extremely lenient when it comes to grammar rules and what is “correct”. It’s all subjective. I mentioned the octopus/ octopi example earlier, but it can just as equally be octopus/ octopuses (although those lacking in maturity may take that to mean something else :/).

I agree with James123 in that it is rather easy to get your message across in English, but speaking it well is difficult. Pronouncing words correctly is also quite a challenge. There are still lots of words where I have no idea how to pronounce them unless I check a dictionary. That would never happen with languages such as Spanish, French, Italian, etc. because they have clear rules. Maybe it is just me, but I don’t know of any rule which could help a learner understand why you pronounce “to bow” differently from “the bow” or the “ea” in “feather” differently from the “ea” in “feast”. There are countless examples of that in English.
And the tenses, well, that’s an entire story on its own. You can perfectly get by in English and even speak it quite well but still get an F if you take an exam on tenses in English. I am talking from experience :wink:
Besides, there are quite a few differences between tense usage in the US and the UK for example (" I just talked to him" versus “I have just talked to him” etc.).

People tend to think that English is easy. This is mostly due to the fact that the language is very forgiving. You can actually butcher it (linguistically speaking;-) and people will still understand most of what you say. Besides you hear it almost every day no matter where you are in the world. It has become a lingua franca and while it’s great when people can communicate with each other in one “common” language, English has also greatly “suffered” from its status as a language which supposedly is easy to learn and to speak.

If you attend an international conference you’ll notice that many non-native speakers will give presentations in English, while hardly anybody of them would be “courageous” enough to have a go at it in German, French or Italian for example. This is not because English is easier but because native-speakers of English obviously are quite forgiving when it comes to incorrect usage of their language. They seem to have gotten used to the German, French, Italian etc. variants of their mother tongue;-)

Personally I think English is a beautiful and an incredibly rich language. The fact that it is quite easy to achieve a level which allows you to communicate may also be one of the reasons why bad usage of English is so common (and I’m not saying I never make any mistakes, just to be clear on that ;-).
So, to sum it up: If you just want to dabble in a language, English is one of the best languages to do so (it would take much, much longer to even be comprehensible in Chinese for example). If you want to speak it and write it well, it is one of the most challenging ones because it is such a rich language with an incredible amount of vocabulary.

@lovelanguages - You make very good points! :slight_smile: Thank you!

I agree completely. Tenses and vocabulary are also my biggest challenges in speaking or writing English.
I also think that as English is spoken in such a large area, there are so many varieties that it is really difficult for a foreign speaker to emerge in just one specific English variety. For example, British and American English differ not only in accent and pronounciation, but also in vocabulary (spelling differences as well as a tendency to use slightly different words) and grammar. One of my secret goals would be to speak English in a way that sounds naturally, but as I always get input from all over the world and from a huge variety of usages, I’m always speaking some kind of British-American-Australian English with a slightly South-African accent, sometimes switching to Irish accent. :stuck_out_tongue: Or something similar. It’s really difficult to figure out which usage is British or American or whatsoever. As you mentioned, often the opinions on what correct usage is, differ from one person to the next (often also in correlation with their background country), so it’s quite difficult to figure out ones own mistakes.
Tense is a big issue for me.
Pronounciation is also really difficult in English, as there are hardly any rules. :slight_smile: Actually you have to look up the pronounciation of almost any new word. I hate French words or German words in English, too, as you sometimes stick to the original pronounciation (like ‘moustache’) and in other cases pronounce it as if it was an English word. I’m always at a loss with words like that.

Well, if it’s any consolation to people who find pronunciation difficult, foreigners can mispronounce practically any word and be understood. Nothing would be thought of it.
The real problem is when people have very different intonations. It inhibits the overall understanding of everything they’re saying.

This is why nobody gets annoyed talking to an Italian person with a thick accent, but they do when someone comes from, say, a Hindi background.

The tenses, though, I can see.
We regularly throw around things like, "What I’d have liked to have had happened was that we would have gone to the beach and . . . " in regular speech, which is pretty complicated if you break it down.

Still though, I think those things are more for extremely fine tuning your English.

Well, I think, ‘fine tuning’ is the only thing native speakers of German or other Germanic languages need in English.
I can get along well enough by applying German grammar to English. However, it won’t be completely natural.

As for native speakers of a not related mother tongue - say an Asian language, for example - English has many of the same difficulties that all European languages have. For example articles as such. Of course, in English you don’t have to distinguish genders that much, but you still have to think about where to put an article at all and where not (as in ‘I eat cake’ as opposed to ‘I eat the cake’). Another thing is that English has (due to it’s reduced declination system) a quite fixed word order and this might also be difficult (for me as well, who is tending to apply German word order often enough). And, above all, tense. There are so many languages that get along with about three tenses. English has a lot and also quite strict rules as to when to use them. For example, both in French and in German, the past tenses are rarely mixed. We have a narrative past tense and one that is focused on the present, i.e. it is expressing that the thing I tell at the moment happened in the past. However, either you are telling a story (writing a book or whatsoever) or you just refer to the past as opposed to present in a conversation, so most of the time, you just stick to one tense throughout your speech. In English, you use tenses much more freely and you additionally have all these progressive forms, so it can really be quite difficult.
Then you have those tiny differences ‘will go’ or ‘going to go’…
Japanese has a progressive form, but on the other hand it’s only got past and present forms (no future or past perfect or similar), so you have just 4 tenses (progressive and not progressive, in present as well as in past tense), so for Japanese speakers as well, English offers a huge variety of tenses.

I can also imagine that for people who come from a not European background (i.e. their mothertongue is not European), it is also quite difficult to get a grip on the remainders of declinations and conjugations in English, BECAUSE there is no complete pattern anymore, but only remainders like ‘who - whose - whom’, ‘he - his - him’, ‘am - are - is - are’. Maybe it’s easier to understand the concept of different cases when learning a language that still uses the complete pattern. Although this is probably harder in the beginning, one day you will just have gotten used to it, whereas in English you can get along fairly well without having a clue what all this is about and get the same problems later on.

However, about what you said about wrong pronounciations: this is true in any language. Everyone will try to understand foreigners and understand people with a heavy foreign accent and grammar mistakes, as long as it doesn’t change the meaning of the sentence. (Germans have no problem at all understanding people who get genders wrong or use wrong plural forms or similar) However, when learning a language, everyone is aiming for proficiency, I think… and if you’re aiming for proficiency, you’re aiming for a good pronounciation, too.

“What are you zinking about?” :smiley:

I’d imagine that pronunciation and spelling would be the 2 most difficult things for learners of English. The only two spelling systems which I’ve seen which come close to the awkwardness of English’s are Tibetan and Gaelic. Both of those are charming in their own ways…but I don’t see it in English. haha