Published 21st April 2016

We all know that learning a foreign language is hard, but for some reason learning English as a Foreign Language seems to be more difficult than other languages. Obviously for those of us who speak English as a first language this can be difficult to comprehend since, for us, speaking English is a piece of cake!

Sadly for our learners this is not the case and there are a few reasons why this is so.


English grammar is complex. There are a range of different tenses to wrap your head around for a load of different uses. Though there are clear rules for usage, we can in fact use many different tenses to say the same thing, which can make things confusing.


The amount of words in the English language is mind-blowing, so just learning the meaning of all the words in English is a challenge. What’s more, many (if not most) English words are borrowed from another language, so words do not seem to follow the same pattern because they have different roots, which makes learning them even harder.

In particular, learners of English as a Foreign Language seem to struggle with prepositions and phrasal verbs.


English can be particularly frustrating when it comes to pronunciation. Firstly, spelling rules don’t really exist. There is the popular saying that there is always an exception to a rule, but when it comes to English sound-spelling correspondence it seems like there are more exceptions than rules!

Plus, the variety of English accents is astounding so learning to speak in one way does not actually guarantee that you will understand or be understood by a speaker with another accent.


Slang and colloquialisms add another complication to learning English. Most people learn standard English but this is actually not the English spoken by the majority of people. There are many slang and colloquial words which are widely used and which add another level of vocabulary to be learnt.

And, of course, slang differs from region to region so which slang you are exposed to depends on where you are and who is teaching you.

Different Englishes

Just as slang differs from place to place, so too does the variety of English. Think of English from South Africa, Australia, the USA and India, for starters and then think of English from London, Manchester and Norfolk!

The variety of English you learn affects so many different aspects of the language that comprehension can be quite difficult if you are not familiar with the particular variety.

So these are the ways that learning English as a Foreign Language can be difficult. Keep this in mind when your students are struggling and it feels like you are banging your head against the wall!