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The Problems with Learning English

Millions of immigrants come to the United States each year, despite the difficulty in learning English. It is not like other languages, even though many of the words were derived from them. English follows certain patterns in some instances, and at other times, there are perplexing exceptions to the rules. Therefore, foreigners should enroll in a literacy program.


Many foreigners, unlike Americans, become fluent in more than one language in their lifetimes, because of the close proximity of the countries.  The similarity in the languages they learn makes it easy to grasp and speak it.  However, English is not like any other language, except Scotch.  For instance, the Portuguese and Spanish can understand each other because their words sound the same and are spelled similarly.  These words have their origin in the Latin language.  Therefore, they can understand many of the words in each other’s language.

For example the following words have the same meaning in Spanish and Portuguese, which are known as West Iberian Romance Languages:


         Portuguese                   Spanish

·        Variedad                  Variedad

·        Possibilidades           Posibilidades

·        Voz                           Voz

·        Instrumento               Instrumento

·        Pobre                         Pobre

When I teach English as a Second Language, my students express confusion over the conjugation of verbs.  Probably the most difficult aspect of the English language is the conjugation of verbs.  There are many irregular verbs which simply confound many foreigners.  They look for patterns in conjugating verbs, but they rarely find them.  Because of this, learning the verbs is very time consuming and frustrating for foreigners.


For example, the present, past, and present perfect forms of the verb sing are sing, sang and sung.  I sing today, I sang yesterday, and I have sung.  Then there are verbs which never change, such as hit, hit, hit.  I hit today, I hit yesterday, and I have hit.  Because there are no rules as to how to conjugate the verbs, the students have to memorize them.       

While languages such as Spanish and Portuguese involve attaching a suffix to the root of a verb to show which person is doing the action, English uses pronouns which are separate from the verb to show who is doing the action.  In English, the pronoun is always separate from the verb.

There are many words in the English language which look the same, but are pronounced differently and have different meanings or are pronounced the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings.  For instance, threw and through are pronounced the same but have different meanings.  Blue is pronounced the same as blew, but the two words have different meanings.  Conversely, wound can be pronounced as “woond” or “wownd,” and each word has a different meaning, depending on how it is pronounced.

The other factor which makes English difficult is the word order.  The order of the nouns and adjectives is different for the romance languages than it is for English.  Since foreigners have a tendency to translate English word for word, the sentence may not make sense to them.  Americans have the same problem when trying to translate Spanish and Portuguese because the word order is different and not every word is translated.

While there are some challenges in learning to speak English, I have seen many foreigners do well with the language and secure well paying jobs as a result.  Therefore, it is worth the effort for foreigners to learn English while living in the United States.

 For more on Learning English, here are more articles:

ESL – Should Immigrants be Taught How to Speak English?

Learning English in the United States – The Key to Prosperity

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