Jamie Griffiths
Professional Teacher
The Five Most Difficult Aspects of the English Language
Hi everyone,

Luca Lampariello, a polyglot, thinks that these are the 5 most difficult aspects of the English language:

1) Spelling
2) Verb tenses
3) Words with multiple meanings
4) Phrasal verbs
5) The fact that there are so many words in English

Do you agree with him? What are the most difficult aspects of the English language (or other languages) for you?

It would be great to hear from teachers and students about this one.

Jamie (www.italki.com/jamie.teacher)

May 31, 2020 8:23 AM
Comments · 8
As you want me to be a bit more specific, I am happy to talk about some areas of grammar that often cause problems for students.

The Present Perfect is an area of grammar that causes problems for students at all levels. A tense that involves a connection between the past and the present can be very confusing for students (especially when a lot of languages either don't have an equivalent tense, or they have a tense that appears similar in form but is used quite differently).

Articles are, of course, a problem at all levels as well. Students of all nationalities make mistakes with articles but they tend to make different kinds of mistakes (depending on their native language). Some nationalities tend to use them too little when they speak English (for example, Russian and Japanese speakers tend to leave them out) whereas other nationalities tend to use them too much when they speak English (for example, Spanish/Italian speakers). It is, obviously, understandable that they make these specific types of mistakes due to features of their native languages.

Gerunds and infinitives is another grammar point that causes problems for a lot of students. Unfortunately, there are some verbs that take a gerund (eg 'enjoy + gerund') and others that take an infinitive (eg 'need + infinitive'). Unfortunately, there is no clear reason for this and students need to learn them through exposure and practice.
These are just a few examples of difficulties that students have.

Needless to say there are many other aspects of English that cause problems for both students and teachers, and I'd be interested to hear other people's opinions.

Jamie (www.italki.com/jamie.teacher)
May 31, 2020
I definitely agree that saying "English is easy because it doesn't have seven cases" doesn't really make sense, as it might be easier in that sense but is more difficult than other languages in other ways (like the five mentioned in the article). That's an interesting point about people who claim that English is easy often don't speak or write as well as they think. I think this is partly because people often aren't aware of their mistakes until they get to a higher level.

Phrasal verbs are definitely a key thing that is difficult about learning English, Unfortunately, they can't be avoided as they are so common in everyday speech. There is a really good book by Collins called "Work on your phrasal verbs, master the 400 most common phrasal verbs". It's easy to use with good explanations and exercises. They are also organised by topic, which is much better way to learn them rather than "chapter 1 - phrasal verbs with get", "chapter 2, phrasal verbs with look" as there is a much clearer link between them.

Jamie (www.italki.com/jamie.teacher)

May 31, 2020
This is such a great topic. There is a common misconception that English is easy because it doesn't have seven cases and many inflections in different tenses. Strangely, the people who claim English is easy compared to their native language almost never write and speak it perfectly or even well. Here we have someone whose English is truly near-native (Luca) admitting that it's not so straightforward to master English.

Phrasal verbs are definitely tricky. We use them all the time and it really makes a difference when you manage not only to understand them but can use them to express yourself. I see many intermediate students try to add them to their conversations and get the preposition wrong. This results in a change of meaning in some cases and bewilderment in others.
May 31, 2020
Hi John,

You are right that the article I posted is a very simplified version for the blog and his followers. My idea was to generate a discussion between students and teachers about the aspects of English that they find difficult. With this purpose in mind, it made sense to choose an article that talked about very general areas of difficulty, rather than going into the specifics.

I don't think that the article is intended to be a definitive, scientific study of the most aspects of English. They are five areas that undoubtedly cause a lot of problems for a lot of English learners, but there are many other aspects that could have been mentioned instead.

May 31, 2020

It would be interesting to know your opinion, Jamie, as a Professional teacher and not Luca's very simplified version for the blog and followers .

Or at least the names of problems for different target groups of learners...

Sorry, but talking about those 5 issues you've mentioned is like talking about an elefant by touching him in 3-4 nice different places and making some serious resolutions. The result could be very different indeed depending on the place you have touched

May 31, 2020
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Jamie Griffiths
Language Skills
Chinese (Mandarin), English, French, Japanese, Other, Portuguese, Spanish
Learning Language
French, Japanese, Other, Portuguese, Spanish