English has a reputation for being an easy language. It is true that its similarity to French and its simple grammar might lead one to believe that it is easy to learn. But it should not be forgotten that Shakespeare’s language, like all others, has its own specificities and complexities. The difficulties of learning English, though less important than other languages, are nonetheless real. But what exactly are they? Let’s debunk the myth of “the easiest language in the world” and take a look at the main difficulties of English.
Is English a deceptively easy language ?
For a French speaker, English is a demanding language to learn. However, it is not classified as a difficult language, like Chinese or Russian, for example.
Why is this? Because French and English are related languages. They both belong to the Indo-European language family and share many lexical similarities. Did you know, for example, that almost a third of English words come from French?
On the other hand, there are plenty of educational resources for learning English. Whether you are a beginner or already have an advanced level, you will easily find content (manuals, exercises, videos, etc.) to help you progress.
Finally, it should be noted that Anglo-Saxon culture is widely present in France and throughout the world. We are therefore regularly in touch with the English language, which makes it easier to learn.
🔎 Read also: Which languages are the easiest to learn?
Despite this, we must not forget the difficulties of English! What are they? Let’s find out…
English takes a long time to learn
On the Internet, some English courses promise immediate success. There are countless (false) promises such as “learn English in 4 weeks” or “become bilingual in 3 months”.
These commercial phrases imply that English is an easy language to learn. It would only take a few hours of lessons to master it like a native speaker. But if this were true, why aren’t more people in France fluent in English? As you can see, it’s because Shakespeare’s language requires more than just a few hours of practice to be properly mastered.
A learner starting from scratch would need about 720 hours of teaching to reach a B2 level (1). If you are not familiar with the CEFR language levels, you should know that a B2 level is the one expected for a Year 12 (Terminale) student.
The first difficulty for learners of English is therefore to remain dedicated and motivated over the long term.
A lack of correlation between written and spoken English
When you learn a language like Spanish, you can easily guess the pronunciation of a word when you see it written. The written form and the spoken form echo each other. In English, it’s not so easy!
When you first come across a word in a text, you can hardly guess its pronunciation. It’s a bit of a lottery.
Take the word diversity, for example. In the phonetic alphabet it is written as /daɪˈvɜː.sə.ti/ (British pronunciation according to the Cambridge Dictionary). As you can see, the letter “i”, present twice in the word, is pronounced in two different ways! The first pronunciation is “aï” (/aɪ/) and the second is like the French “e” as in the word “le” (/ə/). Let’s face it, it can be a bit confusing.
So, let’s just say that it is perfectly normal not to be able to guess the pronunciation of a word from its written form. This difficulty of English sometimes bewilders even English speakers!
Unfamiliar sounds, another difficulty in learning English
If you are one of those people who have difficulty pronouncing the word ‘the’, don’t worry, it’s normal! This is because the “th” sound (/ð/) does not exist in French. Your ear is not used to it, so you cannot hear it and pronounce it properly.
If only “th” didn’t exist in French, it would still be fine… But there are 14 other sounds in the English language that are not present in ours. So it’s not surprising that the French have difficulty with pronunciation when learning English.
The best way to overcome this difficulty is through practice. The more you are challenged by the sounds you have trouble with, the better you will be able to grasp and reproduce them.
➡️ Further reading: Improving your English pronunciation: tips and advice
The difficulties of learning English now hold no secrets for you. Do you need help to overcome them ? You can rely on our native-speaking trainers and our educational teams !
(1) Source Education First