How Difficult Is It to Learn English?

English – as you probably don’t need reminding – is the most widely-spoken language in the world and the go-to secondary language for most of the world. This being the case, almost everyone has or has tried to learn it. But, is it difficult to learn?

The answer to this question, as with any language, is entirely subjective. Since you’re reading this article, it’s safe to say that you’ve at least grasped the basics – congratulations! Since you’ve got this far, you’ll be happy to hear that learning English is utterly manageable if you’re able to put in the effort.

English shares its roots with other European languages

Alongside motivation, sheer geographical luck is a factor. You see, thanks to Europe’s long and chaotic history – where countries the likes of Spain, Britain, France, Germany and the Scandanavian countries all spent time invading each other – many of these languages have similarities and shared roots in languages like Latin. Indeed, one of the dominant language families in Europe is Indo-European.

English is definitely a lot easier to learn for people who have knowledge of another European language, and this is particularly true if you speak another Germanic language as these are quite closely related to English and have (at least partly) similar grammar and logic. Learning English will prove more difficult if you’re from a country that natively speaks a language completely unrelated and distant to English.

This, of course, also works the other way – native English speakers will find it a lot easier to grasp Dutch than a completely unrelated tonal language, for example, Vietnamese. The good news for language learners everywhere is that for ages past, languages have been learnt and swapped, and there is nothing insurmountable to the task. It’s just a question of breaking down the daunting prospect of learning a whole new language to more manageable bits.

Let’s talk about English pronunciation

Before you congratulate yourself for picking the simplest language on the planet to learn, there are also some maddening aspects to learning English. The hardest part for many beginners seems to be the seemingly random way of pronouncing some words. Compare “through”, “though”, “tough” or “said” and “paid” – the list of different rules and ways of pronouncing similar looking words almost requires a sixth sense for guessing the right way.

Also, worth considering is English’s love for silent letters. Take two words ‘night’ and ‘knight’.The first is the part of the day after the sun goes down, the second, is a person that wears metal armour and carries a sword – both completely differents words. When read you’ll quickly note the difference, but heard in conversation you’ll be forced to pay attention to context to work out which one is being talked about.

English grammar can be quite forgiving

Luckily, there are a lot of factors that make English seem positively easy. The language has simplified cases, for example. This would mean to lot to anyone who has ever tried to get good command of either Finnish or Hungarian. Instead English makes use of prepositions. Although getting the prepositions right also takes a fair amount of practice, it still beats changing nouns to show their gender, case, and relation to a verb. Verbs themselves mostly only have five different forms they can take. That’s half the number of verb forms found in some languages deriving from Latin.

Learning English through its culture

There is another reason why English can be a lot quicker to pick up than many other languages – and that is culture. It is hard to overstate the importance of mainstream Western culture as a great tool for improving your language skills. With Hollywood productions and pop music being so readily available and easily digested, it has never been easier to first understand even the finer points of English, and, secondly, get intimately acquainted with the cultural movements behind the language. Watching native language TV shows (even children’s programmes) help with understanding spoken English and can help you master such aspects of the language that are hard to find in language books.

Conclusions: English is one of the easier languages to learn

So, although it’s impossible to answer the question about how difficult English is, it is safe to say that it is completely doable. You get shortcuts from other languages and the grammar won’t kill you. And, English being the business of the world, is a great motivation factor.

Learning any language is a difficult process – you have to not only get used to a whole new set of grammar and speaking rules, you are also meeting a new culture (whether you like it or not) through their means of communication. English is no different.

Check out our other posts looking at how easy it is to learn German and Spanish.

If you’d like to learn English with a private tutor, we can help you find one in your city.

Written by Liisi Pajula