Sounding out how you perceive the English language

renetta

Senior Member
Italy, Italian
What do you, as native or non-native speaker, find more difficult about the English language? What aspect do you think is more complicated to learn?

Thanks for replying to my question! It may seem a stupid question, but I think your answers will be interesting! ;)
 
  • Le Pamplemousse

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    The most common answer I hear from non-natives is the pronunciation. Since there are so many different sounds for the same vowel, if you see a new word, you may not know how to pronounce it. This happens less for me since I am a native speaker, but there are still occasions when I see a new word and think it's pronounced one way, when in reality it's something totally different.

    By the way, if you do a search, you may be able to find other discussions similar to this.
     

    Hakro

    Senior Member
    Finnish - Finland
    Pronunciation is difficult, but even more difficult for me has been the huge amount of idioms that are impossible to understand when you see them for the first time, and often they are difficult or impossible to find in dictionaries.
     

    Mr.Blue

    Senior Member
    Australia / English
    I think the most difficult thing in English for non-native ( foreign )speakers are pronunciation and using conjuctions and prepositions correctly with the word ,which is easy to us as native speakers to use correctly. Besides i agree with Hakro that idioms are hard to be understood except if we used them very often , and I think that there are some idioms dictionaries out there.
     

    GenJen54

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    Hakro said:
    ...even more difficult for me has been the huge amount of idioms that are impossible to understand when you see them for the first time, and often they are difficult or impossible to find in dictionaries.

    This is not only true for non-native speakers. The rate at which new idioms and slang are introduced into our language is mind-boggling. Ask any parent to interpret a conversation overheard by their teenager and they'll tell you it's fairly incomprehensible.

    I hear things from time to time on TV that I have no clue as to their meaning. Some things I just don't want to know.
     

    jdenson

    Senior Member
    USA / English
    renetta said:
    What do you, as native or non-native speaker, find more difficult about the English language? What aspect do you think is more complicated to learn?

    Thanks for replying to my question! It may seem a stupid question, but I think your answers will be interesting! ;)
    Some of the difficulties most often mentioned by my ESL students are:
    pronunciation, spelling, idioms, and phrasal verbs.
     

    nichec

    Senior Member
    Chinese(Taiwan)/English(AE)
    Ha! My answer is totally different. (does it mean that I'm real good in this language?:p ) The most difficult part for me so far is the different accents from various places of the world that use English. God! Aren't they different? It's like listening to an entire different language!:eek:

    The other thing that's hard for me is that when I talk to native speakers (which is a 24/7 thing nowadays) I find myself sometimes starting to "invent" some sayings or phrases that I vaguely remember hearing it somewhere spoken by someone....like I once started a thread asking is it right to use "an idea comes up to me", turns out I was mixing "an idea comes to me" and "I come up with an idea":eek:

    The last one is the spelling....I can talk very fast without any problem, but like right now when I'm typing, I have to keep checking my spelling to see if I make any mistakes....What a endeavour I've made just in order to "talk" to you guys:D
     

    Pivra

    Senior Member
    ...
    I hate words that begin with bunch of consonants.... sprint.....for example.....I've been speaking English since I was very young but still...I hate those words...(no offense to any english speakers... its a wonderful international language with less grammatical difficulties) I am learning Spanish too and it is 1000% a lot easier ('cuz I am use to the strong R... perhaps)
     

    Heba

    Senior Member
    Egypt, Arabic
    The most difficult part for me is the use of prepositions, I have been learning English since I was 5 and I still find it confusing .

    The pronounciation of vowels was difficult for me before going to college and learning the method of linguistic transcription. It is very helpful. So, it is not a problem anymore.
     

    KateNicole

    Senior Member
    English (USA)
    As a native English speaker, and a generally above-average speller, I hate words that have an "ie" or an "ei" combination in them, because I have such a hard time memorizing them correctly. Believe, conceive, etc. (and even as I write this, I don't know if I spelled them correctly. Ha!)
    And mistakes that I constantly notice in other native English speakers are using an adjective instead of an adverb (ex: "I finished real quick")
    confusing its and it's
    and the most annoying of all (in my opinion) is people who think that quotation marks can be used in place of italics when wanting to emphasize a word.
     

    Brenduchis

    Senior Member
    Spanish, Mexico city
    and the most annoying of all (in my opinion) is people who think that quotation marks can be used in place of italics when wanting to emphasize a word.

    Well I don't know who are you talking about but if it's about non-native speakers I think this problem is not because of the language but punctuation. If they are using quotation marks in that way they will probably use them in their own language in the same wrong way. I don't really know :/


    My major problem is the prepositions like... what's the difference between call and call up speaking about telephone or something like that. When do I use the preposition? This is my biggest problem.

    Another one is the punctuation. For example, in spanish (my native language) we use the period after the quotation marks like this: "Blablabla". But in english I saw they commonly use "Blablabla." before the last quotation mark. Sometimes I get confuse, sometimes I forget about it and write it as in spanish. This is really an important thing?

    The pronunciation is not a problem for me. I'm good at phonetic (even if it's for french, a french friend of mine told me that I had good phonetic and that I could pronounce huit perfectly fine and not all the people can do it). But I don't know if this is a major problem for people because of the vocabulary or because of the phonetic. Both are different things like someone said before, if a new word shows up you figure out the way it's pronounced but you're not sure if it's the correct way or not. At least you know your phonetic it's ok. So what'd be the problem here?
     

    KateNicole

    Senior Member
    English (USA)
    Brenduchis,
    I was talking about native speakers making that mistake. For example, in the library at my high school there was a sign that read:
    You may "not" check out a book without your school ID.
    You may "not" use someone else's ID to check out a book.
    Deliberately removing a book from the library without checking it out "is" stealing and you "will" be reported to school authorities.

    All of the words in quotation marks should have been italicized for emphasis. I see that odd mistake more often than I'd like to.
     

    Brenduchis

    Senior Member
    Spanish, Mexico city
    O___o really? .... That's really a bad mistake... and I totally agree with you... they should italicize them... woahh... I've never saw something like that in my life... how odd :/
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    All of the words in quotation marks should have been italicized for emphasis. I see that odd mistake more often than I'd like to.

    This is easy to say nowadays when computers can easily italicize and bold-face words ,even here on the Internet, when writing messages or preparing documents.

    Kindly remember, however, that some of us older folks grew up in the world of the typewriter and it was impossible to modify the font that was on the typewriter (prior to the IBM Selectric, but even that was too much of a pain to change balls for a single word.)

    Further note that even today, the style of most, if not all, news agencies is to NOT attempt to transmit italics because historically, there was no way to do it on the teletype-based news delivery systems or the newsroom editing systems that came into use in the early 1960's and their descendants today.

    Because of that, many, if not most newspapers, avoid italics for much, if not all, of their news copy. (Including Oregon's largest newspaper: The Oregonian)

    To my mind, there are far more important difficulties with the English language for non-native speakers (and even native speakers) than use of italics.
     

    KateNicole

    Senior Member
    English (USA)
    Sdgraham,
    Why not just highlight, or underline or even capitalize those words? I don't want to make you think that I'm losing sleep over this; I just want to explain to you where I'm coming from . . . Even if one did grow up with a typewriter instead of a computer, why not learn some basic "tricks" of wordprocessing if you are working in an educational institution where computers are used every day and attention should be paid to detail? Also, technology plays an enormous role in library sciences today, so most people that work in a library should have some familiarity with the functions of a computer. I don't think that was the issue. I think it's just an ignorant error (and I use the word ignorant because I think it's an error that's due to lack of knowledge, not carelessness or an accident) that some people make who don't understand that italics and quotations marks aren't interchangeable. I wasn't trying to profess that this error was compromising the integrity of the English language; in my original post, all that I said was that it annoyed me. Furthermore, the example that I was citing has absolutely nothing to do with a newspaper, and I think that most newspapers, whether they use italics or not, would consider it incorrect to use quotation marks in place of italics. I did, however, find your information on that topic to be interesting. :)
     

    HistofEng

    Senior Member
    USA Eng, Haitian-Creole
    As already mentioned: I can't imagine having to learn all the phrasal verbs if I were a non-native.

    The orthography/pronunciation is also rater difficult for many.
     

    coiffe

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English
    There have been some surveys done, and some show that articles, believe it or not, are the #1 problem according to some American teachers surveyed. The "top 5" are:

    articles
    prepositions
    phrasal verbs
    verbals (infinitives, gerunds, participles)
    conditionals

    Personally I find students really struggle with prepositions, and I think that's true in many languages, except perhaps German, which seems very clear to me on prepositions for some reason, at least in contrast to other languages.
     

    HistofEng

    Senior Member
    USA Eng, Haitian-Creole
    Maybe that person was referring to articles in non-English languages where there is the gender issue. Otherwise, I don't understand what would be overly confusing about articles in English, either.

    Me neither, but it's something I've heard a forumer from Croatia (Althuaf, sp?) profess difficulty with. And I consider his English great!
     

    Jane_zhang3

    New Member
    Canada Chinese
    Prepositions is the most difficult one.
    " In the evening" & " On summer evenings"
    " She called" or She called up"?
    " I came to him" Or " I came up to him"?

    :)))) Totolly confused
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    As already mentioned: I can't imagine having to learn all the phrasal verbs if I were a non-native.

    The orthography/pronunciation is also rather difficult for many.

    Pronunciation is indeed a problem.

    Note that in Japan, schools employ native English speakers for a year at a time, to help students become accustomed to native speakers.

    My wife spent a year in a small community between Osaka and Nagoya and she, a native U.S. speaker, was one of a group of several native speakers in the area that included an Australian, a Jamaican and a Canadian.

    It all seemed to work out, however.
     

    coiffe

    Senior Member
    USA
    American English
    Articles -- why there would be problems

    Oriental languages, many Slavic languages, and most African languages don't have articles. On the other hand, languages which do have articles or article-like morphemes often use them in ways that are different from English usage. For example, an abstract noun might be used differently. Instead of saying "Language is beauty," a non-native speaker might say "The language is the beauty." There are a lot of other types of problems. My Russian friends are always omitting articles when they're needed, or inserting them when they're not needed.

    Issues with articles: mass nouns vs. count nouns. Here are some common types of errors:

    *A bacon fell onto my plate.
    *Boy is made of snails and dogtails.

    When do you use cheese, a cheese, cheeses? Rice, a rice, rices? Air, an air (melody), airs (mannerisms)? And so on --

    Proper nouns may cause problems. When would you use "the" with a city? Why is The Hague The Hague? Sudan, the Sudan? Cameroon, the Cameroons? The Caucausus? The Crimea? But you say Cape Cod, not the Cape Cod, Trafalgar Square, not the Trafalgar Square. Would you say the Mrs. Sarkozy? No, but you would if you were contrasting her with another Mrs. Sarkozy.

    Non-native speakers have to learn these things.

    What about the indefinite article with predicate nominals? You say:

    a small dog, some small dogs
    a belt, some belts

    But to make the plural of "This is a pencil," you don't say "These are some pencils." You say "These are pencils." Or, "John is a teacher, and Bill is a teacher." But you don't say "John and Bill are some teachers," you leave out the some.

    Non-native speakers have to learn these things.

    What about a simple sentence like "I need chairs." Do you say, "I need chairs," or do you say "I need some chairs." What's the difference? How do you teach it? How easy is it for a non-native to learn that? If you say, "Chairs are useful pieces of furniture," shouldn't you then pose the request: "I need chairs"? Okay, so you say "All chairs are useful pieces of furniture," then does the request become "I need all chairs"?

    What about diseases?

    the flu, a cold, a headache, a backache, the gout, the plague -- why are some indefinite, some definite? What about influenza, pneumonia, malaria and cancer? Why are these neither? What about the mumps, (the) measles, and chickenpox?

    Then you have problems with locations: "I'm going to the store," and "I'm going to the bank." But "I'm going to church, I'm going to school ..." How do you teach that? Why do you suppose many non-natives would say "I'm going to a school" instead of "I'm going to school."

    There are many other problems as you break down and organize difficulties with articles. I'm not a grammar book. But these examples give you an idea of why articles can be a problem.
     

    palomnik

    Senior Member
    English
    As an ESL teacher, the most prominent problem my students have is phrasal verbs, followed by usage of English verbals (participles, gerunds, infinitives).

    Students from Slavic backgrounds have a lot of trouble with the usage of articles.

    Thirdly, I list the usage of past tenses in English.
     

    edval89

    Senior Member
    United States/English
    Another thing about the articles - I'm not sure how many of these differences between AE and BE there are - but I just learned the other day that in BE you say "Joe went to hospital." That sounds really weird to me, and yet "Joe went to school" sounds completely normal.
     

    KateNicole

    Senior Member
    English (USA)
    Another thing about the articles - I'm not sure how many of these differences between AE and BE there are - but I just learned the other day that in BE you say "Joe went to hospital." That sounds really weird to me, and yet "Joe went to school" sounds completely normal.
    I realized the exact same thing last year . . . right here on the forum.
    And Coiffe's definition makes perfect sense. I don't know why I never thought of it like that!
     

    mustang72

    Senior Member
    Swiss German
    I confess: Very often I have problems to understand what people are saying because I cannot separate the words. This happens most of the time when they either talk to fast or when they lower their voice. Most of the time I also need a few sentences to get used to the rhythm of the speaker. This makes it very difficult on the phone when strangers start talking to you.

    On TV I use Closed Caption alot and even when I listen to some phrases over and over again I have diffculties to hear the different words.
     

    HistofEng

    Senior Member
    USA Eng, Haitian-Creole
    Articles -- why there would be problems

    Oriental languages, many Slavic languages, and most African languages don't have articles. On the other hand, languages which do have articles or article-like morphemes often use them in ways that are different from English usage. For example, an abstract noun might be used differently. Instead of saying "Language is beauty," a non-native speaker might say "The language is the beauty." There are a lot of other types of problems. My Russian friends are always omitting articles when they're needed, or inserting them when they're not needed.

    Issues with articles: mass nouns vs. count nouns. Here are some common types of errors:

    *A bacon fell onto my plate.
    *Boy is made of snails and dogtails.

    When do you use cheese, a cheese, cheeses? Rice, a rice, rices? Air, an air (melody), airs (mannerisms)? And so on --

    Proper nouns may cause problems. When would you use "the" with a city? Why is The Hague The Hague? Sudan, the Sudan? Cameroon, the Cameroons? The Caucausus? The Crimea? But you say Cape Cod, not the Cape Cod, Trafalgar Square, not the Trafalgar Square. Would you say the Mrs. Sarkozy? No, but you would if you were contrasting her with another Mrs. Sarkozy.

    Non-native speakers have to learn these things.

    What about the indefinite article with predicate nominals? You say:

    a small dog, some small dogs
    a belt, some belts

    But to make the plural of "This is a pencil," you don't say "These are some pencils." You say "These are pencils." Or, "John is a teacher, and Bill is a teacher." But you don't say "John and Bill are some teachers," you leave out the some.

    Non-native speakers have to learn these things.

    What about a simple sentence like "I need chairs." Do you say, "I need chairs," or do you say "I need some chairs." What's the difference? How do you teach it? How easy is it for a non-native to learn that? If you say, "Chairs are useful pieces of furniture," shouldn't you then pose the request: "I need chairs"? Okay, so you say "All chairs are useful pieces of furniture," then does the request become "I need all chairs"?

    What about diseases?

    the flu, a cold, a headache, a backache, the gout, the plague -- why are some indefinite, some definite? What about influenza, pneumonia, malaria and cancer? Why are these neither? What about the mumps, (the) measles, and chickenpox?

    Then you have problems with locations: "I'm going to the store," and "I'm going to the bank." But "I'm going to church, I'm going to school ..." How do you teach that? Why do you suppose many non-natives would say "I'm going to a school" instead of "I'm going to school."

    There are many other problems as you break down and organize difficulties with articles. I'm not a grammar book. But these examples give you an idea of why articles can be a problem.

    Oh wow, thanks for showing me the light. I never thought the subject could be so difficult and confusing.
     

    nichec

    Senior Member
    Chinese(Taiwan)/English(AE)
    Pronunciation is indeed a problem.

    Note that in Japan, schools employ native English speakers for a year at a time, to help students become accustomed to native speakers.

    My wife spent a year in a small community between Osaka and Nagoya and she, a native U.S. speaker, was one of a group of several native speakers in the area that included an Australian, a Jamaican and a Canadian.

    It all seemed to work out, however.

    I think there's something about the Japanese (as a language) that makes it hard for the Japanese (as a nation) to sound nature in English. (that's just my own point of view, based on the people I know, but sure, some of them speak really well:))
     

    liliput

    Senior Member
    U.K. English
    I don't understand how articles could be hard. Could someone enlighten me?

    You have to know when to use "the", "a", "an", or no article.
    The rules for using "the" are not quite the same as for the equivalent words in some other languages and many students have trouble knowing when they should avoid using the article.
    Many students believe you should use "an" rather than "a" when the word begins with a vowel, but the rule relates to the sound, not the spelling, and so there are many exceptions, such as "uniform".
    Even many native speakers have the cringeworthy habit of saying "an hotel" instead of "a hotel".
     

    liliput

    Senior Member
    U.K. English
    My major problem is the prepositions like... what's the difference between call and call up speaking about telephone or something like that. When do I use the preposition? This is my biggest problem.

    As far as I'm aware "call up" is an AE phrasal verb which means exactly the same as "call". The preposition is totally redundant.
     

    liliput

    Senior Member
    U.K. English
    Here's my list of student favourites:

    The difference between spelling and pronunciation
    gerunds and infinitives
    prepositions
    phrasal verbs
    idioms

    Speakers of certain languages have trouble with specific areas, for example Spanish students have trouble with certain words because they have words which mean several things in English -

    hope/wait/expect/look forward to
    make/do
    like/as
    subject/matter/issue/topic/theme
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    The prepositions in/on/at. They work rather differently from their Portuguese equivalents (we have only two!), and are used in many idiomatic ways which have to be memorized.

    Phrasal verbs, because they have to be memorized one by one, and sometimes there's a similar one, with a different preposition, that means something totally different.

    The present perfect versus past simple distinction.

    Pronunciation has its difficulties, but it's been so long since I started that it's difficult to remember. The "th" sounds were the most difficult, I think, but I got the hang of them. Another tricky thing is learning to aspirate the voiceless plosives (c, p, t); but I did this almost unconsciously, so I don't really remember. The "short i" and the "short u" are particularly difficult sounds to get right. I also hesitate sometimes with the "short a".

    Vocabulary is always a hurdle. It seems you can never know enough of it to feel truly fluent, and not sound stilted or write in a formulaic way. Reading helps somewhat.

    Although English is a very straightforward language in many ways, it does have the occasional prescriptive formalities that can be a nuisance, like the rule that one shouln't use contractions in formal writing, even though they're invariably used in speech, or the "grammatical" rule that one should say "you and I" rather than "I and you".

    I confess that I find the American style of using quotation marks with commas annoying, and have never bothered to learn it. :eek:

    Latin plurals make the Baby Jesus cry. :p
     

    Brenduchis

    Senior Member
    Spanish, Mexico city
    As far as I'm aware "call up" is an AE phrasal verb which means exactly the same as "call". The preposition is totally redundant.

    O_O ohh... so I think my biggest problem isn't prepositions but phrasal verbs woah.. Thanks! <3


    Well... I don't know but I don't think idioms is a problem. Ok it is (duh XD), but this happens in all languages. In fact I think idioms are another language LOL..... I will take myself as an example: If someone from Argentina or Chile or even Spain talk to me with idioms in spanish (and you're aware that it's my native language), I'll never understand what they mean... and it's true. Everytime I talk to my friend from Spain is like.... oh yeah I have to talk to him in a neutral spanish so he can understand what I'm trying to say.. and it's kind of hard because there are some words I consider as "normal" in spanish language and they turn to be an idiom :/ so I think the same happens in english.
     

    Trisia

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    My top 5:

    1. Pronunciation (actually, accent is more like it.)
    2. Grammar. Just like that. My English has become quite intuitive, and I'm having a very hard time remembering (if at all) basic rules.
    3. Idioms
    4. Articles (see post 23 for an excelent explanation)
    5. Spelling
     

    Macunaíma

    Senior Member
    português, Brasil
    (...)the most annoying of all (in my opinion) is people who think that quotation marks can be used in place of italics when wanting to emphasize a word.

    Kate, in some languages like Portuguese you have to use quotation marks to emphasize a word, especially as you cannot italicize them when you're writing in hand. Some really idiotic people even raise their fingers as if mimicking "" while saying a word to indicate that they are being ironic. I find that really, really stupid!

    The aspect of the English language which is by far the most difficult for me are phrasal verbs: get in, get away, get away with; stand up, stand up for, stand out... In romance languages we have specific verbs for each of these. Phrasal verbs are difficult to learn, but on the other hand they are what makes the English language so expressive sometimes, as they create an image or bring out a meaning which in their romance counterparts are hidden in the etimology. English spelling is absolutely chaotic, but it's only a matter of memorizing, and besides, we can always count on dictionaries and spell checkers.
     

    Starbuck

    Senior Member
    USA/English
    Hi to All,

    When I was teaching ESL full-time, my students told me that the biggest problem was the 2- and 3-word verbs. Whether we call them phrasal verbs or anything else, the problem for them was not only learning which preposition went with which verb, but also the syntactic rules associated with these phrasal verbs.

    Just two examples of MANY:

    John gave back the book to Sue.
    John gave Sue the book back.
    John gave the book back to Sue.
    John gave it back to Sue.
    John gave back it to Sue. :cross:

    I wasn't up to the task.
    I wasn't up to it.
    I wasn't it up to. :cross:

    These are amazingly difficult constructions to learn.

    Starbuck :)
     

    ayupshiplad

    Senior Member
    Scotland, English
    As a native English speaker, and a generally above-average speller, I hate words that have an "ie" or an "ei" combination in them, because I have such a hard time memorizing them correctly. Believe, conceive, etc. (and even as I write this, I don't know if I spelled them correctly. Ha!)
    .

    Were you never taught the rhyme "i before e, unless after c" ? Saying that my old Modern Studies teacher used to spell receive 'recieve' because it "didn't look right" as receive apparently! (However, there are exceptions, such as ancient. It is English after all!)
     

    ayupshiplad

    Senior Member
    Scotland, English
    I'm really surprised no-one has mentioned the verb 'to get' yet. I imagine it would be hellish to learn, seeing as it takes many many many prepositions, and even some of those have a variety of meanings.

    E.g: 'get by' in the sense of moving past something or in the sense of coping.

    Certainly in any dictionary the word 'to get' seems to go on eternally!
     

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    Were you never taught the rhyme "i before e, unless after c" ? Saying that my old Modern Studies teacher used to spell receive 'recieve' because it "didn't look right" as receive apparently! (However, there are exceptions, such as ancient. It is English after all!)
    My English teacher taught us to add "...when the sound is ee" to this rhyme. Not as elegant, but if you remember it you won't get caught out by words like "ancient". There remain very few common exceptions: "seize", "caffeine",
    "protein", and "codeine".
     

    AWordLover

    Senior Member
    USA English
    My English teacher taught us to add "...when the sound is ee" to this rhyme. Not as elegant, but if you remember it you won't get caught out by words like "ancient". There remain very few common exceptions: "seize", "caffeine",
    "protein", and "codeine".

    Apparently this is an AE/BE difference.

    I learned the rhyme as "i before e except after c and when sounded as ay as in neighbor and weigh".

    As you say there are some weird exceptions that may be difficult for native speakers and foreigners.

    See wikipedia for a more complete listing.
    ---

    I'm glad that I don't need to learn English as a foreign language. I think the examples in previous posts highlight how hard it is to go from the basics to the nuances of English. I learn something new each day I look here in the forums.
     

    liliput

    Senior Member
    U.K. English
    Apparently this is an AE/BE difference.

    I learned the rhyme as "i before e except after c and when sounded as ay as in neighbor and weigh".

    As you say there are some weird exceptions that may be difficult for native speakers and foreigners.

    See wikipedia for a more complete listing.
    ---

    I'm glad that I don't need to learn English as a foreign language. I think the examples in previous posts highlight how hard it is to go from the basics to the nuances of English. I learn something new each day I look here in the forums.

    I've heard this rhyme but find that their are too many exceptions for it to be really useful. "Science" is another one. I didn't learn the rhyme at school but memorized the spellings, frankly I still have to think about some words before writing them.
     
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