Why English is Hard to Learn

Posted on August 2, 2019

People wonder why English is hard to learn. For this reason we have put together a list of some of the main reasons for the difficulties.

Our top 3: Why English is hard to learn

Spelling to pronunciation rules

As a native speaker I started learning English spelling rules as a young child. I never thought much about it as an adult until one day when I found my old exercise books. Suddenly I realised how much time my poor teacher spent correcting almost every spelling in my creative writing.

I love spelling because it shows us the history and richness of our language. However, its low correspondence with pronunciation makes it difficult for foreign learners and native speaker children. There is no “l” pronounced in “calm”, nor does “heart” rhyme with “beard”. What’s more, different words can have the same spelling with different meanings. Consider:

  • Close the door – shut the door
  • We are close friends – we are good friends

Phrasal verbs

Often, you can’t guess the meaning of the phrasal verb from its components, or alternatively they may have double meanings.

  • I need to put off (postpone) our meeting until tomorrow, because I’m so busy.
  • He was put off (discouraged) from applying for the job because of the lack of work life balance.

Stress patterns

See how the bold text shows stress falling in different places:

A linguistic feature of English is that every word has a primary stress. Importantly,if the word is three syllables or more, it has secondary stress as well. Additionally, there is sentence stress, which can entirely change the meaning of the sentence:

  • You can’t phone her – Someone else should phone her
  • You can’t phone her – Emphasis, or contradiction
  • You can’t phone her – You have to use another method of communication
  • You can’t phone her – You should phone someone else

5 additional reasons why English is hard to learn

Several standard forms

English is spoken natively in several countries, and this means that there is no one form of “standard English”. Consider these casual ways to say “a lot”, which are all correct:

  • There were loads of people – UK
  • There was a bunch of people – US
  • There was a heap of people – Australia

Fast evolution

English changes quickly. My colleagues and I have all taught adults who learned some English at school and are restarting as adults. These adults frequently say things like “It’s a fine day” and “My boss scolded me”. Both these phrases are technically correct but due to the passing of time they sound old fashioned. Better to say “It’s a lovely day” and “my boss told me off”.


Collocations are words that sound natural when put together, and there are tons of these in English. If you put words that don’t “collocate” together, like “do a mess” or “sleep a nap” it sounds unnatural. You should say “make a mess” and “have a nap” (or take a nap, in the US).

Read more about collocations in this English Club article. 

Polite forms

There is no way to change verbs to speak politely, as in some other languages. In order to sound polite, native English speakers often speak in a more indirect way, using longer phrases with more formal grammar and vocabulary.

Word order for adjectives

In a list of adjectives you need to put them in a particular order like this:

  • A really useful, large, flat, modern, white, Japanese interactive whiteboard.

Learn more about adjective order in our previous blog post. 

If you would like to read more about this topic, have a look at our previous post, Is English the Hardest Language to Learn?

Conclusion: Why English is hard to learn

Well, now you know some of the main reasons why English is hard to learn. However, don’t despair! If you can read this you are doing well on your journey to learning English. No language is easy to learn, and with this in mind we must keep motivated to reach a good level.

Orchid English provide excellent, reasonably priced English classes to adults in London and we come to you at your company at your convenience. Contact us today to set up a free demo class to try us out.

By Emily Stallard, owner of Orchid English

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