• Daniel Bullock

Is English difficult to learn for foreigners?


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Note taking is essential for learning English

The question of whether English is hard to learn for foreigners depends on many factors, for example where you come from, how old you are and your natural ability with languages.


Basically, English is not hard to learn for foreigners as long as we realize that hard work, review and a methodical approach are necessary. If you commit to working hard every day you really can achieve a high level of English proficiency.


If you start learning English with a very casual attitude, where you think just speaking with the teacher will make you a good speaker of English, you probably won’t improve much at all.


So, with that out of the way, let’s break learning English down into steps. A quick preface, these are only some of the aspects, to go into more detail would require a much longer post!

  • Grammar

  • Vocabulary

  • Fluency and communication

  • Listening

  • Attitude towards hard work

Grammar

While grammar may not be the most exciting of subjects, it is really really important. Grammar allows us to put down the building blocks of the language. No matter how good our vocabulary or pronunciation is, if we use poor grammar we will still sound like a non-native speaker. Also using poor grammar can confuse the listener. Take this as an example: Jamie said to his friend "I go to the shops". His friend then thinks Jamie usually goes to the shops. Jamie meant to say he went to the shops. In this example Jamie used the present tense, but he needed to use the past tense. So because his tense was wrong the meaning was completely different. This , in all likelihood, would confuse the listener! There are a lot more examples were incorrect grammar usage can change the meaning of what you want to say, but I think that is the topic of an entirely new post!

Vocabulary


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Building vocabulary through reading

Words give us power. If we have a wide variety of words at our disposal then we are able to express ourselves extremely well. On the other hand, if we don’t have many words in our arsenal, then we can’t always say what we want to say. Not to mention, if we have a large stock of words and phrases to use we will sound more proficient in the language. It might sound bad, but it’s also true that if we are using higher level vocabulary, people tend to you think we are more educated or perhaps more intelligent. This might not be the case, but using advanced vocabulary paints a certain image of a person.

Let us discuss an example. You were asked how your weekend was. You answer “It was good”. Now, there is nothing wrong with that answer. It gets to the point and the grammar is correct. However, if you said something like it was “laid-back and relaxing”, it just sounds a bit more detailed and perhaps natural.


Another example would be in answer to the question "what does she look like?" You say: She is tall. She is old. She has long hair. Alternatively, you could say “ She is pretty tall, a little bit older with long straight auburn hair.” This is an infinitely more impressive answer, but you’re basically saying the same thing. You don’t even need to know highly advanced words to do this. Older, straight and Auburn aren’t exactly what you would call high level vocabulary. Imagine what you can do if you use even more imaginative words!


There is one caveat however. We can’t go too far with vocabulary usage. It is important to use words which are natural and in common usage. If we use words that are too unusual or advanced it could have the same effect as using words which are too basic. It can make us look like a beginner or a student of the language rather than a regular speaker of the language. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong at all with sounding like a learner. Far from it. However I think it is a good goal to have to try to sound as natural and as close to a native speaker as possible.

Fluency and communication skill

If we want to improve our overall English ability, we definitely need to pay attention to fluency and communication skills. An example of poor fluency would be this:

Jimmy: Where have you been?

Tommy: [ Long pause] I went to the shops.

Jimmy asked the question but when Tommy answered there was a long pause. This is not natural and can make the other speaker feel uncomfortable ( depending on their relationship of course). What did Tommy need to do? He needed to use filler language while he was thinking, for example: Let me see, ahm, we’ll, hmm, where have I been? If he uses filler language, he sounds more natural and also gives himself more time to think about an appropriate answer.

Communication skill is sometimes difficult to describe but a simple example would be using hand gestures to help explain words or situations rather than just being quiet when you don’t know what to say. Eye contact is also very important for communicating in a natural way.

Listening skills

It is beneficial to practice listening regularly in a variety of ways. One example would be to try listening activities from textbooks which are appropriate for your level of English. You should try to listen for the general picture or story of a conversation. Then you should try to listen for details of the conversation. Examples of details would be what happened, for how long why and where.


Another way to practice listening is simply talking to other people using English. The more we speak, ask questions and converse with other people, the more practice at listening we get. Also watching TV, listening to the radio and watching movies can also help, although there is some disagreement as to how much this does help. My opinion? It can’t hurt!

Attitude towards hard work


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Home review is incredibly imporant

This is really really important. If you are a student of English who thinks that just taking a class once a week is the way to improve, you might be in for a surprise. First, it depends on how you act in the class. Are you repeating lots after the teacher? Are you taking plenty of notes of new words and expressions? When you go home are you putting your notes into a notebook in an organized way so that you can review again and again?


Are you actively trying to review at home by making new sentences and dialogs? If the answer to any of these is no then your improvements will be a lot slower. You need to be active in your studies. Some students have the attitude that just coming to class, speaking with the teacher once or twice a week is enough. It isn’t. Hard work outside of class is just as important, if not more important than hard work in the class. It is a long journey and a regular study routine will really, really help

In summary, do you think English is hard to learn?

English is not necessarily hard to learn, but it is hard work to learn. If you practice all of the points above then you will be going in the right direction. Practice these points for a significant time and you will notice that your English improves. This is only a short post and there are many more points to discuss about how to improve your English, for example reading books on a regular basis, studying grammar drills and talking to people with a big variety of accents. You might find that you’re listening is more accurate when talking to someone from the UK compared with someone from America, or the other way around! That’s why it’s important to hear and experience accents from many countries not just the countries where English is the native language either. Good luck in your studies I hope this post helps a little!