Why English is Hard to Learn – Five Reasons

Are you thinking about learning English so that you can travel to an English-speaking country? Are you considering immigrating? Maybe you’d like to study at an English-speaking university? Regardless of your reason for learning English, you’ll find it easier if you keep the five reasons why English is hard to learn in your mind as you study.

In this article I’m going to outline the five main challenges that my students have overcome by simply knowing that they exist and being able to anticipate them.

Typically, how hard it is to learn English depends on:

1. What your native language is

It tends to be harder to learn English if your native language is Asian but easier if your native language is Germanic. The main reason for this is that English is a Germanic language, and Germanic languages use similar sentence structures and share many French and Latin words. While it may be easier to learn English if your native language is from the same Germanic language family, it will still take time, effort, and perseverance to master English and become fluent.

2. How easily you accept unpredictable word combinations

Many English statements don’t mean what you expect them to mean. One of my students today was struggling with the expression “finish-off”. He was telling me that his friend had been waiting for him to finish his meal. His friend had said he’d wait for him to finish-off. The ‘off’ part of the phrase totally confused my student.

The main reason why English is hard to learn for some people is that they over-focus on unpredictability. You’ll find it a lot easier to learn English if you just accept, and learn, these odd expressions in context without asking too many questions.

3. How well you remember rules and exceptions

Like all languages, the English language is full of rules. We have rules for grammar, rules for spelling, rules for word order, and rules for everything else, but we also have exceptions for all these rules. Therefore, in answer to the question, is English hard to learn, the answer here has to be YES!

Let’s take the ‘ough’ sounds as an example. This little group of letters makes an ‘f’ sound in the word ‘cough’, but an ‘aw’ sound in the word ‘bought’. Little things like that can make English hard to learn, but if you sit up and pay attention during the early stages of learning, and if you have a good teacher, these little inconsistencies won’t get in your way.

4. How accepting you are of our confusing idioms

All languages have idioms – those little phrases that everyone knows, but no-one ever thinks twice about. English has them too, and it’s a lot easier to learn English if you just laugh at the literal translation of our idioms and then learn them in context.

Let’s take a look at the idiom “under the weather”. When someone tells you that they’re under the weather, they’re not saying that there’s a storm, or that bad weather is on top of them. They’re saying that they feel sick.

5. How much early practice you get with tenses

English has twelve tenses in the active voice and nine in the passive voice; therefore, you need to pay careful attention to the meaning of each tense right at the beginning when you first learn it.

Once you’ve learned each tense, you should take it for a walk and describe everything you see, smell, hear, see, and touch. By practicing your tense until it becomes part of your new language, you’ll learn to use it correctly right from the start.

Re-learning your tenses is one of the most difficult challenges you will have to face if you don’t learn them properly in the beginning.


While English is harder to learn for people whose native language is not Germanic, it isn’t easy for anyone. Learning any language takes commitment and a teacher who makes sure that you learn things correctly the first time so that you don’t face the frustration of relearning the basics later.

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