It would seem that English would be a hard language to learn, with all of its irregular verbs and pronunciation rules.
English has borrowed so many words from other languages, in order to know how to read them, you have to know which language it comes from.
Formulating questions requires changing the word order. “You are learning English?” is correct syntax – word order in most every other language; in English you must say: “Are you learning English?”
Word order has great importance in English, and not just for questions. You can say “A cute little brown dog”, but “a brown cute little dog” would not be correct (unless you add commas, like so: a brown, cute, little dog).
In spite of these difficulties, English is one of the easiest languages to learn. Read on to find out why.
A Vast Number of Resources to Learn ESOL
Probably more so than for any other language, you are likely to find study materials, videos, tutorials and audio aids in English, a global language.
The Internet has thousands of websites to help you learn English:
Duolingo offers bite-sized lessons to help you learn English in comfortable segments and games for you to prove your ability in a fun and easy way.
You can download their app to your phone so that you can play and learn as you travel to work.
HelloLingo is a new website built around a learning community. Here you can meet native speakers of English online who are learning your native language. They will help you learn English while you help them learn your tongue.
A great advantage to this program and others like it is that you will learn slang and informal expressions; aspects of culture that you cannot learn from a book.
The British Council hosts a website dedicated to English learning. There, you can determine your current level of language ability and build a custom lesson plan that suits your needs. They have videos and games to help you sharpen your skills and make learning fun!
BBC offers daily English learning through interactive video and quizzes, as well as language lessons targeted to specific needs such as business and exam skills. This is particularly useful if you are studying for IELTS or TOEFL.
Both BBC and The British Council websites have an app you can download to your phone for learning 'on the go' – while you are out and about.
In addition to these and other targeted websites for English learning, you can watch movies, and listen to podcasts and songs in English.
Watching movies with English subtitles gives you a double dose of learning: you can practice your reading skills as well as your listening abilities!
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Downloading an English dictionary to your phone or other mobile device lets you listen to how a word is spoken as well as the possibility of studying while you are on the bus or train.
Many such dictionaries even offer separate British and American English pronunciation. Learning English through film and literature is a great way to improve.
Grammar Tips: English has Fewer Word Agreement Rules
Word agreement means matching subject to verb:
- The results show that people love learning English. (the subject and verb are plural).
- The results shows that people love learning English. (a common mistake: subject is plural but verb is singular).
Another example of word agreement is matching noun and pronoun: The man walked to his car – not 'the man walked to him car' or ' the man walked to their car'
Nearly every language has word agreement rules, but English has fewer of them than, say, French or German or Portuguese.
In French, a chair is gender feminine - la chaise, but if you are talking about an armchair, it is gender masculine – le fauteuil. Confusing, right?
German, with its three article designations, male, female and neutral, is even more complicated.
English does not assign objects a gender: everything is 'the' or 'a(n)'.
In other languages, you must match articles according to the object's assigned gender; in English there are only two articles to choose from.
Native English speakers sometimes have trouble learning other languages because English has no gender assignments and there are no rules for what would be considered a feminine, masculine or neutral object.
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In German, for example, every noun is capitalized – written with the first letter of each noun in capitals.
By contrast, the rules for capital letters in English are very simple: proper names and the first letter of each sentence are capitalized.
Exceptions Rather than Rules
Grammar rule exceptions are probably the most frustrating aspect of learning English.
Nouns ending in -ing
That ending usually belongs to verbs but can occasionally be used for nouns: “My breathing is more difficult when I climb mountains.”
breathing is usually a verb but, in this sentence, acts as a noun.
Adjectives ending in -ly
“The waitress was really friendly.”
Generally, it is adverbs that end in that manner; however, some adjectives also end in -ly.
Adjectives as nouns
“Society should do more for the homeless.”
Typically, 'homeless' is an adjective describing someone who has no home but in this sentence, it is used as a noun.
Nouns as adjectives
“I really like my history teacher.”
History is normally a noun but, in this sentence, the word describes what kind of teacher the student likes.
Nouns acting as verbs
“The law forbids texting while driving.”
Technology often causes nouns to act as verbs, such as in the above sentence. The word text, until recently, has always been a noun.
For students of English, it is sometimes easier to learn grammar rule exceptions rather than memorizing all of the rules because the exception points to the rule.
Other than these five basic exceptions, English grammar is relatively easy, following a simple subject-verb-object structure that many other languages also conform to.
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Verbs and Verb Usage is Easier in English
Although there are irregular verbs in the English language, listing them all could be done on a single A4 piece of paper, including all the forms (conjugation) of those verb.
Compare that with Spanish, whose irregular verb list and conjugation thereof would fill sixteen pages.
All English irregular verbs except for to be and to have are irregular in the same way. Here are three examples:
- Buy bought will buy
- seek sought will seek
- fight fought will fight
Do you see the pattern to follow?
Regular verb conjugation in English is easier too. A typical French verb, for instance, has more than fifty endings that you must learn.
Compare that with any regular English verb, which only has four endings.
Clearly, people learning English as a foreign language benefit from the minimal changes between verb tenses.
Vocabulary Building is Easier English
The average English speaker uses a vocabulary of approximately twelve thousand words, with a substantial percentage of them being synonyms for different, commonly used words.
People who are learning English as a second language should not concern themselves with the number of words they know; rather on how they relate or connect to other words. For example:
the word familiar is rooted in family. If you have an idea of what the word 'family' represents, you can relate objects that are 'familiar' to the idea of 'something comfortable and known', such as family.
Another way to boost vocabulary is to group words into families, otherwise known as rhyming words – words that have the same sound.
This can be a fun exercise: for each step you take as you walk, you speak a word. By the time you arrive at your destination, you might have reviewed an entire sound group!
English writing is easier than writing in many other languages. More than half of the words in the average English vocabulary can be correctly spelled by how they sound.
Breaking words down into syllables – individual sound parts that make up any word is a great help in developing writing skills.
Let us try this technique using the word usually. This word has four syllables, defined: u-su-al-ly.
'Usually' is one of the most mispronounced words of the English language. Most English learners pronounce it 'u-shur-ly' or 'u-woo-ly', ignoring the second syllable altogether.
Sounding words out is a common technique used by native speakers of English to teach proper spelling of words to their learners, a method you too can use to improve your writing and speaking abilities.
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Language Learning is Serious Business
Esl students take learning English seriously. It is indeed an important subject, but it doesn't have to be difficult.
Making use of the numerous resources: online, in print and on the air – in the form of music or radio broadcasts can help improve your English listening skills.
Incorporating the language's idioms and slang phrases into your learning can help improve your speaking skills.
Using spelling hints such as sound words, or learning what language English words come from will help with writing proficiency.
Find out how mastering English can help you access higher education and MOOCS
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