Understanding The Complexities Of The English Language

This is an essay by Christina Appleworth.

The English language can be very difficult to learn for non-native speakers. While widely spoken, the difficulties of English derive from the differences on terms of syllable structure and spoken against written forms of the language. New language speakers can also struggle to adjust to the complexities of English grammar, and to the range of different forms of slang and idioms that they may be presented with on a daily basis. When trying to understand and learn the complexities of the English language, it is therefore important to try to focus on an intersection of reading, writing, speaking and overall learning through practice.

General Difficulties

English can be an unusual language for speakers not used to the Roman alphabet, or to the differences between particular sounds. Non native speakers often have difficulties with consonants like b and v, and can also find it difficult to adjust to the complex syllable structure used within the language. These differences can be very subtle, and can take a lot of time to learn to a fluent level.


There are a number of different tenses within English that, while similar to other European languages, do not always follow hard and fast rules. The same learning problems apply to modal and phrasal verbs, which ideally need to be learnt through specific contexts and examples, rather than by rote. Prepositions are similarly difficult to master, and require long-term practice and immersion within the language as it is spoken and written on a day-to-day basis.

Slang and Idioms

New English speakers can find it difficult to adjust to the wide range of idioms that exist within the language, and especially when they are not immediately obvious. Difficulties with zero articles are particularly common. Varying types of slang and dialect between different regions are also problematic, in the sense that it is both difficult to understand the language as spoken, and to pin down the context of particular words.

Reading and Speaking Connections

One of the best approaches to getting to grips with the English language in all its complexities is to focus on mastering both writing, reading and speaking as discreet, but also overlapping forms. Many people learning English can write to a reasonable standard, but will need to focus much more on the differences in grammar, idiom, and slang that appear in spoken conversation. Looking at how a written piece will differ in conversation is therefore important, but should always begin from a strong focus on reading.

Putting Into Practice

Putting the English language into practice generally involves focusing on this intersection of mastering the language on the page, and by entering into social contexts and interactions with native speakers that will put these rules into a more informal meaning. Indefinite and definite article problems can be particularly helped by taking this immersive approach, and by focusing on varied learning methods and forms of practice. Ultimately, the best way to move from a frustration with the complexities of English to comfort with its form is to take this step of going from the classroom to testing it out in a social situation. However, it is also crucial to get to this stage by mastering reading and the rules of English before moving on to more complex contexts.


Writing on behalf of SNT International College Christina Appleworth reviews some of the complexities of the English language. SNT College specialise in English language courses to students of all levels.

Photo: Some rights reserved by CircaSassy.


  1. Christina Hamlett

    One of the things that my Vietnamese manicurists shared with me about learning the English language was that it helped to watch American soap operas. (I began noticing that if there are televisions in the salons, this is what’s usually playing.) It isn’t so much that they are interested in the story lines as it is that the actors are always in close-up shots, speak slowly and clearly, and tend to repeat the same information over and over, thus reinforcing vocabulary lessons. When my husband and I travel overseas, I found that I could apply this same technique to the foreign counterpart of “soaps” and, over time, start to figure out what the characters are saying.

  2. Chris

    What great information! I’m always advising my EFL students to watch American television series in English, with the advent of digital television, they have no excuse, as you can switch all the shows (Big Bang Theory, Extreme Home Makeover, Kitchen Nightmare) into original version and leave on Spanish subtitles if so desired.

  3. Anita

    a reminder of just how accomplished a bilingual or trilingual individual really is – to be able to do all this in two or three languages

  4. Fred

    I teach ESL and always ask students what they do to learn English, Especially the ones who have learned really well. The best students watch a lot of movies, and in the last few years students mention TV series a lot. I suppose more of them have become available recently. The most popular is, of course, Friends. I’ve met a few students who said that they learned English from Friends. And it makes sense: it’s enjoyable, natural conversation (more or less), made for native speakers. So now I always encourage students to watch a lot of TV or movies.

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