I’d love to tell you in a hugely over-the-top reassuring tone that “it’s not that hard – learning English is a doddle!” The truth is that learning any language is challenging: it’s the whole reason why we at busuu have a job. But equally, language learning should not be defined by its difficulty; if you stick with it, it can be one of the most satisfying things that you can ever do (not to mention the amazing benefits it can have for your professional life). In this post, I’m going to touch on a few of the things that make English a bit tricky to learn, and offer a few pointers to help you overcome them.
Blimey o’riley! What on earth are you talking about?
Well, we all know that English native speakers love their idioms; the language is full of them! Some of them are related to historical or cultural concepts, and others seem to be completely abstract. We’ve got it all: everything from “raining cats and dogs” to “pulling someone’s leg”. Sometimes there will be an equivalent in another language; sometimes a direct translation might even work. But it’s fair to say that most of the time this simply isn’t the case, so it’s usually best to avoid translating them directly. Instead, learn them in their own right (even just three or four will help you a lot in everyday conversation) and don’t expect there to always be an equivalent.
Synonyms: are they interchangeable or not?
Yes. No. Maybe. Sometimes? If a word has the same meaning as another then surely they are interchangeable, right? Not in English, my friend! Let’s look at an example. You can say that you “watch a movie”, but you can also “see a movie”. You can say that you “watch television”, but you can’t “see television”: that sounds weird. So what’s with that? Well, whilst “see” and “watch” are synonyms, we tend to only use each of them with certain themes. So in this example, we use “watch” with TV and movies, but “see” only with movies. Isn’t English wonderful? Or should I say “amazing” or… “remarkable”?!
We are rule-breakers!
Every language on the planet is made up of rules. Just imagine if they weren’t: we’d have language anarchy… or no language at all! Nightmarish. We need rules. And English has plenty, which makes it hard enough to get your head around. But that’s not the whole story… For every word / phrase that follows a grammar, spelling or pronunciation rule, we seem to have about three more that don’t (woo!). Firstly, as with many languages, we have a bunch of irregular verbs to tackle. The best way to deal with these is simple repetition, even if it’s literally saying their conjugations out loud over and over again. You’ll sound a bit silly, but it’ll be worth it. Spelling rules are a whole different ball game. A great example is “I before E, except after C”: don’t you wish it were that simple? It actually feels like there are more exceptions to this rule than examples that follow it. What about “height”, “science”, “their”, “weird”?
Oh English, you are an odd one… but let’s set the record straight: it might not be the hardest language in the world to learn – Russian and Mandarin offer strong competition for the top spot – but we can all agree that English is a unique case. With all of its rules, exceptions to rules, words that mean multiple things, multiple words that all mean one thing (sometimes), idioms and everything else, no wonder it’s such a challenge. The absolute best thing you can do as a learner (after memorising those verb tables) is to get out there and speak it. Set yourself some small, easy goals. Make mistakes, and move on. Around a quarter of the world can speak this quirky language to some level – come and embrace the English weirdness!
Harriet is the Senior English Language Expert here at busuu and a self-confessed grammar geek!