Monday, May 16, 2011

Problems With Learning the English Language

English presents a number of issues to non-native (and sometimes native) speakers. It is grammatically unlike other languages, even those from which it has borrowed large vocabulary groups, and possesses a number of irregularities. Understanding these features of English may help the non-native speaker grasp the language and help native speakers see why learning English can be so difficult.

Related Languages

One problem with learning English is that is not directly related to many languages. The two closest are Scots and Frisian, but even these are not, for the most part, mutually intelligible with English. One of the things that makes learning a new language easier is already speaking a related language, and very few people speak languages closely related to English.

Plural Nouns

Though most nouns in English simply add "s" to their singular form to create the plural, there are many exceptions to this rule. These include words ending in "f" or "fe" (wife/wives, knife/knives), words ending in "y" (spy/spies, fly/flies), words that change interior vowel sounds (man/men; mouse/mice), and Old English plurals, such as child/children and ox/oxen.

Verb Tenses

English has a relatively large number of verb tenses, the correct mastering of which is important for communicating shades of meaning in English. To complicate the difficulty, English uses many auxiliary words, instead of verbal inflection, to create its tenses.

Irregular Verbs

English has many irregular verbs. Some English verbs are altered radically in conjugation (drink/drank/drunk, grow/grew/grown), while others do not change at all, such as burst/burst/burst and cast/cast/cast.

Writing System

There is often little connection between the way a word is written and the way it is pronounced. Consider cough vs. through and flood vs. door. Other inconsistencies include heteronyms, words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently, such as wound (wrapped up) and wound (an injury), and row (a fight) and row (a line of something).


English relies heavily on word order to convey meaning, while many other languages rely on case systems that show relationships between words with noun, pronoun and adjectival endings. English only retains these relationships with pronouns, but the alternations in English pronouns are also highly irregular.

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