Orchid English Blog

Is English the Hardest Language to Learn?

Posted on 7月 16, 2019

 

By Emily Stallard, owner and trainer at Orchid English

 

Is English the hardest language to learn? This is something that a lot of people wonder.

 

When I was at secondary school, I remember a teacher telling us that English was the hardest language to learn for foreigners. Then I lived in France and Japan, where people also told me their own languages were the hardest to learn for foreigners. Wait a second, I thought. Everyone thinks their own language is the hardest!

 

There is a certain amount of linguistic chauvinism, which means having a superior attitude to one’s own language. I can see amazing richness and difficulties in English that I can’t see in other languages I speak because English is my native language. After teaching English for ten years sometimes students would ask me a question about English and I would have to check it. So is English the hardest language to learn? It would be tempting for me to believe, but I just can’t see the intricacies in other languages.

 

The most difficult language to learn largely depends on the languages that you already speak. As a native English speaker it’s much easier for me now learning Spanish than when I was learning Japanese. My Japanese former colleague in Tokyo once told me he was going to start learning Korean, because it would be easier than English. I had to laugh because to me Korean seems very difficult! But it’s quite similar to Japanese so it would be easier for him.

 

The more similarities English has to your native language, the easier it is to learn. If you’re interested in learning more about the development and history of English, there is a brilliant article on English Club here.

 

Here is a brief list of what I consider to be the biggest difficulties in English, plus some more straightforward features of English.

 

Difficulties

  • Spelling correspondence to pronunciation: rules and irregularities.
  • Volume of phrasal verbs.
  • Primary and secondary word stress – unless your language has this too, like Spanish or Chinese.

 

Easier Features

  • The Roman alphabet is shared across several languages, with only 26 letters.
  • Conjugation is more straightforward in English than many other languages.
  • High volume of media in English means you can expose yourself to a huge amount of films, music and books in native English.

 

So, is English the hardest language to learn? It depends. Probably not, unless your first language is extremely dissimilar to English. If you can read this article you’ve already reached a good standard of English.

 

What do you find difficult about English? Our English teachers can come to your company in London and you can get tailored classes that focus on your particular needs. This may be speaking, grammar, writing or something else. Get in touch today for a free demo class.

 


Can you learn English online?

Posted on 6月 26, 2019

 

By Emily Stallard, owner of Orchid English

 

In recent years there are so many apps and websites promising to help you learn English online. Are they worth it?

 

I tried a popular app for learning French. It was OK. It gave me a vocabulary drill and probably boosted my vocabulary somewhat. I found it infuriating that the app kept drilling me on words that were almost identical in French and English. I’m used to face to face classes and a real teacher can take this into consideration.

 

The most important thing that the app lacked was training how to think on your feet when you’re speaking to a native speaker. Trying to make your own sentences and express your own opinions. And of course, how to understand native speakers when they are talking to you.

 

At the moment I’m learning Spanish. What’s really hard in Spanish if it doesn’t occur in your native language is the subjunctive. Broadly speaking, the subjunctive means you have to use a different verb conjugation depending if it’s a fact or just a wish, or desire. We have echoes of the subjunctive in English (like “if I were you” but not enough to help me much!

 

I spent a lot of time doing grammar quizzes online to supplement my face to face classes. It’s fine for learning verb conjugations, although studies show writing notes by hand is better for your memory. What I have noticed with learning Spanish online is that I can get good at the online quizzes, but when I’m speaking to a real Spanish person in Spanish, I don’t use this tense at all! It’s like it’s dormant knowledge.

 

At no point when learning online do I practise speaking, and if I did, there is no-one to say whether they understand me. I speak in Spanish class and to my Spanish friends as much as I can. I’m sorry to say that native Spanish speakers often don’t understand my Spanish sentences! Practising making yourself understood is really necessary.

 

One of the great difficulties with English is that the spelling can be very different to the pronunciation. The standard of English language teaching worldwide is improving a lot. In the past there were whole generations of people who learned English at school with books, but were unable to speak or understand effectively in English.

 

If you learn English online or use an app with no audio, you risk falling into this trap. Not only do you need to know the pronunciation, but you need to be able to pronounce it so that native English speakers understand.

 

If you live somewhere in the world where you really can’t have English classes in person with a teacher then it could be a good study supplement to learn English online. However, if you live in London it’s much better to have classes face to face with an English teacher. Find out what sort of classes you can have at your company here.


12 Identical Words in English and Spanish

Posted on 5月 23, 2019

 

By Emily Stallard, Owner at Orchid English

 

As some of you know, I’m learning Spanish at the moment. Some years ago, I learned Japanese and normally if you don’t know the word, you have to guess it from context or look it up.

 

Happily, in Spanish, often the word I want is similar to a word I know in English anyway. Recently, ready to learn a new word, I’ve had the lazy pleasure of discovering words which are identical in Spanish and English.

 

Sometimes I can’t believe the words are identical because they don’t seem like words that would be similar. When I say identical, this is in spelling only.

 

Anyway, if you are a native Spanish speaker or if you have a good command of the Spanish language, these 12 English/Spanish words are “buy one get one free”!

 

Collar

Cruel

Editorial

Inspector

Nostalgia

Panorama

Propaganda

Retina

Serial

Tractor

Tropical

Vulnerable

 

That was a list of my favourite words that are the same in Spanish and English, the ones I found the most surprising. Tractor? Could you believe it? There are even more than this – which ones do you know?

 

 


Does Age Matter When Learning Languages?

Posted on 1月 11, 2019

 

It’s said that it’s essential to start learning languages as young as possible, but is this really the case? Does age matter when learning languages? Here are some of my experiences learning languages with age, from a teenager until now.

 

French as a teenager

 

I first studied French at secondary school and we did a lot of grammar and verb conjugations. Does anyone enjoy verb endings? Like lots of British people, what I remember most clearly is learning how to ask for various items of stationery from our partners. I remember wondering why French people were so interested in stationery and assumed their conversations must be very boring!

 

At our school we had a lovely native French teacher and our accents really improved when we tried to copy a real French person.

 

A teen magazine article gave me the idea to learn vocab with mnemonics which I enjoyed a lot. After five years of studying French I got grade “A” but was unable to hold a conversation or understand a simple dialogue between French people in real life. I do sympathise with the school system trying to measure accuracy in language, which is, I think, more of an art.

 

Japanese in my early twenties

 

Before I was qualified to teach English I regret to say that I didn’t know how to study languages effectively. I had a great private tutor in Tokyo and spent a lot of time studying alone from books and notes. What I should have done was spoken more and made more mistakes and got through it, in addition to our private language classes.

 

French again in my mid twenties

 

After not speaking French for about eight years I moved to Paris to teach English. One reason I chose France was because I had studied French at school and was looking forward to refreshing my language skills.

 

On the ferry I realised that I needed to get my phasebook out to look up how to order a coffee. My French was dormant, and needed a trigger to get it back to the front of my mind. Fortunately this wasn’t such hard work as learning it the first time. I took group language classes to improve the accuracy of my French.

 

Happily, French people don’t ask each other about stationery much, as I had been led to believe at secondary school. Speaking French in real life as opposed to in school taught me that you have to make mistakes as part of your journey to learning a language. People will be impatient with you but you just have to carry on.

 

Spanish in my mid-thirties

 

Everyone says languages are easier when you’re younger. But my experience learning languages with age has been the opposite. My Spanish is much less precise than my school French but I’m able to communicate better and I learned it much faster because of previous experience learning languages.

 

One thing I find harder about Spanish is that it has taken me longer to get a sense of the “music” of the language. Recently in our group language class a young classmate told me that I spoke Spanish with a strong English accent, and I had to agree!

 

Then, to my surprise, my Spanish teacher said that he didn’t start learning English until he was in his mid-thirties too, and he speaks English with a very accurate British accent.

 

Retirees

 

I have met several retirees who say they will only ever be able to speak a couple of words and phrases in the language they are learning. Well, in the words of Henry Ford: “If you think you can do a thing, or you think you can’t do a thing, you’re right”. I honestly think it’s more about attitude, and self-identifying as “bad at languages” than age.

 

I have been impressed by classmates in their eighties in my group language classes who are profient in Spanish and Japanese. We can often surprise ourselves.

 

Conclusion

 

In conclusion, learning languages with age may take longer but it’s not a race anyway. People who learn second languages as children can often fool native speakers into believing that they are also natives.

 

As adults we are unlikely to be able to do this, but we are still capable of getting to an advanced level in a foreign language. With age, hopefully we become more patient with ourselves too, which is key when learning something time consuming.

 


Can You Learn English Without English Classes?

Posted on 1月 9, 2019

 

I first went to Japan in 2005 and taught English in addition to absorbing the culture and seeing the country. Before I left, a British friend told me that I was sure to learn Japanese quickly from talking to people in shops, and just from being in Japan. Exciting to think that I could be a linguistic sponge and pick up so much language naturally.

 

Months later, still without a teacher, I could use and understand some everyday words but certainly not hold a conversation, or make friends with Japanese people who didn’t speak English, as I had been hoping.

 

You will not learn a language to above a very basic level just by living in the country and talking to people in shops. Think of the vocab you need to go to a shop. Probably something like “Hi”, “Would you like a bag?” “Thanks”, “No thanks”, “Bye” plus some numbers. The same goes for using the train.

 

By the way, using the train in London and listening to the announcements is an excellent way to learn the pronunciations of local places. Even native English speakers don’t always know how to pronounce British place names because our spelling can be full of surprises.

 

But you’re reading this blog post because you want to improve your English beyond learning names of tube stops, right? You want to improve fluency and accuracy. So can you learn English without English classes in London?

 

If you work here and just speak English for your job you run the risk of only being able to speak about your own job. If you have British friends and talk to them socially you may only learn to have social conversations. English classes cover a wide range of subjects.

 

In this wonderfully multicultural city I meet several non-native English speakers who have have lived here for many years. Some have learned English without English classes and they speak what I call “street English”. This is uncorrected English which enables them to communicate in day to day situations.

 

Adults can’t learn grammar effectively by absorbsion, like children can, so “Street English” can be hard for other people to understand. Is this action finished? Is it hypothetical? Also the pronunciation of people who have learned English as adults without English classes tends to be inaccurate. In Britain we are normally hesitant to correct the English of foreigners, unless we are English teachers.

 

Find out how to get people to correct your English here.

 

So in conclusion, it’s true that you can widen your vocabulary if you want to learn English without English classes. But you will sacrifice accuracy, being understood by other people, and the fast progression that you can see from applying yourself in English classes.