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Is English Difficult Or Easy To Learn?

by Robby on April 9, 2010

English Harmony AuthorToday I got to read an article written by an English teacher Locke McKenzie where he expresses quite an interesting view on difficulty of English language compared to other European languages – mainly German.

–> Read the article HERE <–

The article was tweeted by Tim Ferris so I thought – must be something of value – and I spent some of my precious time :-) reading it.

Basically Locke McKenzie is saying that even though initially it seems that learning English is child’s game compared to learning numerous verb conjugations, noun genders and absurd tenses in languages like Spanish, German and Polish, it’s not that simple at all…

He describes his experience with German students in a classroom when trying to teach them which verbs are followed by gerund and which – by infinitive. For example – following English grammar rules the verb to enjoy is followed by gerund as in Locke’s example – I enjoy baking cookies. The students were asking him how they could know which words are followed by gerund on which he was forced to answer – there’s no rule…

This, and also various English grammar tenses which were difficult for the German students to grasp, made the article’s author to conclude with the following words, I quote: We have a mongrel language that has taken on words and rules unnecessarily, adding bits and pieces of whatever we like until there is no sense of order at all. Our language is slowly dissolving into nonsense. Poets and creatives should be appalled. It isn’t good for anything but business and politics, the only sectors where the more cryptically you talk, the better your chances of striking a deal.

With all due respect to the article’s author I really want to disagree.

I’m a foreign English speaker myself. My native language is Latvian – a language with two noun genders with no articles to denote them. Essentially it means that you need to memorize EVERY single noun’s gender to conjugate it correctly. There are six conjugations and noun endings change depending on the conjugation. And that’s when the real guesswork comes into action because on many occasions there’s no logical way of telling which conjugation is to be used, you just have to kind of feel it…

Same goes with Russian – which I happen to speak as well because my country was part of the former USSR. The same story with conjugations, also verb endings change depending on person and so on and on.

I also studied German during my primary and secondary school years. Well, I must tell you – it IS much harder than English! Those few things mentioned by article’s author as really confusing and therefore making English language a mongrel language – THOSE are child’s game compared to what a foreign speaker is facing when learning German!

I’d like to express a few points to refute what Locke McKenzie wrote in his article.

I love English language, I always have, and I don’t think it deserves to be branded a ‘mongrel language’…

1. Quotation: the German expression ich gehe, for example, has six English options, depending on the context: I go, I am going, I have gone, I have been going, I will go, or I am going to go.

Well, it’s actually wrong! By now I’ve forgotten most of German as I haven’t used it in ages, but I still remember the basics. And I can tell you that ich gehe has only two English options – I go and I am going. And I believe it’s not difficult at all for anyone to grasp the difference between those two – general action vs an action going on right NOW.

Moreover, I have gone translates as Ich bin gegangen – and mind this – you need to know which past participle collocates with verb sein, and which – with haben in order to form the I have gone form!

I will go becomes Ich werde gehen. That leaves as with only two tenses that aren’t there in GermanI have been going and I am going to go. Well, I have a rhetorical question – does learning usage of these two tenses pose more difficulties for a foreign student than learning all the irregularities of German tenses and grammar? I’m telling you – NO, because I’ve been there and done that – I’ve studied both German and English.

The German students from the article can’t be objective because they already know their language, is it not so?

2. The author often mentions some comparatively simple English grammar rule which even ignored isn’t that important, and draws conclusions that English grammar is extremely difficult if compared to German. Let’s take the verbs followed by gerund or infinitive. Standard English grammar requires using the verb to like with gerund – I like singing. But would it sound completely wrong if you said – I like to sing? Not really! OK, you wouldn’t say – I enjoy to sing, but is this exemption not child’s game compared to what you’re required to hammer into your brain if you were to learn every German noun’s gender – masculine, feminine or neuter? And the corresponding article and letter changes as you conjugate them?

3. The author of the article also tells about English punctuation as something extremely difficult. He gives an extract from William Strunk’s book: …clauses introduced by which, when, and where are non-restrictive; they do not limit the application of the words on which they depend, but add, parenthetically, statements supplementing those in the principal clauses. Each sentence is a combination of two statements, which might have been made independently. Restrictive relative clauses are not set off by commas… [which means] the relative clause restricts the application of the word to a single person.

The he goes on to say that it’s really difficult to understand and implies that punctuation in English is as difficult as the paragraph above.

Sorry, but I don’t buy it. It’s not a logical argument!

4. Another quotation: While most languages initially seem impossible and only begin making sense much later, my experiences have taught me that English actually becomes more confusing.

Well, here I have to stress what I’ve been telling a hundred times – any traditional language studies are WRONG!

Instead of focusing on grammar and written word any language student should learn the SPOKEN language first! That way anyone would learn the language naturally without dwelling into syntax and grammar rules. By learning most commonly used phrases and expressions one would learn to SPEAK the language.

I believe that ultimately any language can be simple. It’s just that the language teaching industry revolves around grammar, grammar and grammar once more and that is why students are confused and don’t get the basics.

Learning grammar first and THEN sticking the words together has an adverse effect on fluency – and that’s exactly what’s happening in thousands of language classes all around the world.

Why would the German students give a damn about Past Perfect tense – I have done? Wouldn’t it make a hundred times more sense to teach them a few handy phrases with Past Perfect in them (but without making them learn that this IS Past Perfect) – I’ve done it. I’m done eating. Are you done?

Why would we give a damn about Verben mit untrennbaren und trennbaren Präfixen? Would it not do if you learnt a few phrases instead and knew when to use them? Ich stehe um 7 Uhr auf!

As I said – with all due respect to Locke McKenzie this article is not intended to slander him.

I just really believe that English IS one of the simplest languages. As any other – it has its unique exemptions and so on, but we should be objective when comparing the difficulty of English grammar with grammar of other languages.

I’d love to read your comments on this, all opinions welcome!

Thanks for your time reading this article,

Best Regards,

Robby

  • cenk

    http://books.google.co.th/books?id=iEff_YCrGpgC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

    This is the googlebook version of the second book, it may allow you to peak more into it.

  • Cenk

    Hey Robby, I found this:

    http://books.google.co.th/books?id=V8ug-3vUy3IC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Read up to atleast pg 17

    skip to pg 168 and he mentions English and some others too.

    http://www.amazon.com/Language-Interrupted-Non-Native-Acquisition-Standard/dp/0195309804
    The preview is worth looking at.

    He also mentions the lack of grammar transferrance across generations did something. The average Native English speaker today might not even have 1 drop of Anglo blood!

    In this book, he elaborate the fate of each these major languages and just what happened to them.

    Now if I had a library….. these kinds of book cost a lot, some others even reached 120$ on Amazon for a small pamphlet from 1960-something.

    This google book seems to elaborate. While inflection is not always grammar, the amount of specification and detail of pronounciation can be lowered by adaptations. English is not the only one. Indonesian had it bad.

    Looking into Cantonese now,I kinda realize
    Mandarin is quite possibly one of the most simplified Asian tonal language outside of the writing. And Persian is genderless unlike Hindi etc.

    So it just shows that while many say that English may have been chosen as the world language because it was easy, the other way round may have been closer in the beginning. It becomes simpler as more non-natives
    (subjects of the empire) picked it up (forced to speak).

    I think the key to healing damaged Languages is more awareness of these tragedies and a desire to enrich their own language once again. Choosing to be creative and to invest more effort into talking for once.

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    Well, actually what you’re saying is making an awful lot of sense – up until now nobody has put to me this particular way that if German got rid of the gender system, things all of a sudden wouldn’t be much harder than in English because I have to agree that indeed there are plenty of specific prepositions going with particular English verbs and nouns so it can indeed be perceived as verb conjugation or noun inflection.

    Thanks for the discussion as well! ;-)

    Regards,

    Robby

  • Cenk

    Well, okay, but I think gender is to blame, a verb taking a case is like a verb taking a preposition, it is just another method and gender is the problem. A certain group of english verbs take an adjective just like some in verbs in german take the dative. Gender gotten rid of would neatly divide everything by 3 in complexity, neatly everything, adjectives and articles. The case system really is the difference between to-the or of-the vs dem or des, it’s the gender that makes it very hard. Weak nouns are masculine-animate in origin, just get ride of gender, no worry about 4th gender.
    Some irregular verbs can have a vowel change in the 2nd/3rd singular conjugation, but it would be traded off for no preterite to memorize, but they won’t let that happen. The academy wants more cake but won’t let go of their expiring one in the fridge. So if the simple past died like in 90% of all dialects and they used regular dialect plurals and no gender existed at all. I would think German would no longer have to be so difficult. That is what I was trying to point out, German does not have more methods or constructions, it is just gender multiplying everything by 3, making the language 3 times harder than English. Gender is an archaic carryover from the Pr-IE era and outside of gender, it’s mostly tradition.

    Thanks for the discussion on linguistics. Ciao

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    By “irregularities” I meant everything – inflection, exceptions, irregular verbs – everything (the good AND the bad stuff!)

    Basically if we compare the English language and German, there’s more things that change depending on the gender, case etc. in German – I guess we all have to agree on it.

    Bottom line – I’m not going to say German is more difficult – as I said, it’s a matter of perception – but I’ll never agree with the original author on English being more complicated than German.

  • Cenk

    Thanks, btw, what do you mean by irregularities? I think both English and German have the same amount of “tricky” exceptions and strange rules. The standard stuff such as gender and gendered articles and gender inflections and weak noun (which are starting to be ignored) are the bad stuff.

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    Personally I’ve had experiences with 5 languages and I can only judge their perceived difficulty based on what I’ve gone through myself.

    Latvian is my native language so obviously it’s easy-peasy for me.

    Russian is my second language so I “feel” its grammar without even questioning it – it’s the so called “gut feeling” I’ve also developed for the…

    English language which is my third language, but the point I’m making in this article is that it’s always been much easier to construct English sentences even prior to achieving fluency in this language – and the reason for that is the lack of inflection.

    I studied German for 7 years and I always found it hard to use the right articles and conjugate the verbs while at the same time I had no such issues in my English class. Yes, I agree that if I learned the German language in a natural setting mainly by speaking, I would have acquired all the grammar contextually (just what I preach on my blog here), but it just hasn’t happened for the simply reason that I haven’t had the chance to use German – I moved to an English speaking country instead! ;-)

    I also picked up some conversational Romanian – and it happened in quite the opposite way to my German studies – I learned it in real life by speaking with Romanians and as a result I picked up grammar and conjugations naturally so the perceived difficulty was next to none.

    So yes, I agree – it’s all a matter of perspective and lack or presence of inflection doesn’t necessarily signify complexity of the language in question.

    Still, I don’t agree that the author of the original article was correct in saying that English is more difficult than German.

    If we simply compare the number of irregularities in the language, there’s way more of them in the German language!

    On the finishing note – speaking of who’s causing the loss of inflection – sure enough, it’s the PEOPLE speaking the language!

  • cenk

    Sorry I made a mistake, some Austrian dialects do inflect adjectives but they are still easier than standard.

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    Hi Cenk,

    By the way – English verbs are conjugated, as a matter of fact:

    I do,
    You do,
    He, she, it doES

    Even more than than – back in the day they used to be conjugated an awful lot more:

    I do,
    Thou doST,
    He, she it doTH

    So basically over time the English language has become more simplistic as it’s been losing its infection, and that’s the point I’ve been trying to make in this article.

    I’m not really sure what you’re trying to say in your comment – are you agreeing or disagreeing with my opinion or you’re just complaining about the unfairness of other languages being way more difficult while English is being relatively easy?

    Regards,

    Robby

  • Cenk

    I wonder what English looks like with conjugation. Hmmm. Lets take the end of to be and attach it for “go” Gom, gore, gos, gor, gor, gor, weird. Past tense: wentem, wentre, wents, wenter, wenter, wenter. Sounds awkward. Gender… let have a guy read every noun from a dictionary while saying “the” and if he says “thee” not “thuh” it will become feminime. I think English should start to adopt measure words like Thai, not gender, so it can have something hard about it. Thai has 300. And everybody should be forc eds the learn every single animal group name and use it to a tee aswell. Heck, if they want their language to be really hard, they should set up an academy first.

  • RossJohn

    Benny is a guy who could speak more languages then you could ever hope to speak yet to don’t bother to understand his reasoning. What the hell was that thing above about Chinese syntax anyway? You must of seen the wikipedia articles claiming it has complicated syntax when in reality it uses constructions similar to that of English. You can’t imagine that such a language that is called hard could have simpler grammar than English! Chinese can’t be a pidgin, it must somehow make up for it’s near lack of inflection somehow! but not English lollol whatever. Is learning to add the prepositions after a noun instead of before it to indicate definiteness or indefiniteness in Chinese child’s play compared to learning the irregularities of past tenses in English? Whatever!

  • Rossjohn

    English is pretty much the most abused language. Other Europeans mock and snub their noses at people who speak English thinking they are inferior. English may be replaced by Chinese but nobody believes that since Chinese is “complex” despite being simpler! English will never be able to sit at the table and feel equal without bullying from others who feel better for having gender, dubbing english as primitive! If English has all the gender and case of German but kept everything else, then English would be harder of course, but they are equal.

  • Rossjohn

    To add, languages go in morphology cycles. Fusional to Analytical to Agglutinating. English like many asian languages is analytical. Analytical languages are easier to communicate in basic speech. But in the end English is just as grammatical

  • Rossjohn

    Chinese has even simpler grammar than English. Infact, Farsi, Afrikaans, and most Austronesian or southeast Asian languages are simpler. You mentioned Chinese syntax, what is so difficult about it? English relies on particles, auxilaries, and word order just like Chinese!

    It is blood boiling to hear these non-natives speak terribly whilst putting English down, but then claim Chinese is difficult despite having simpler grammar! To Ian, you are very naive. Robby, languages go in cylces, English is not unique but rather an acceptable target for ethnic Nationalists to bash. English is not a pidgin!

  • jemblue

    “We’re all crammed together on one tiny island.” Say what? There are a few hundred million of us anglophones on the other side of the Atlantic, too ;).

    I agree that English may seem easy in the early stages, but mastery is difficult. What I think is the hardest thing (besides our insane spelling, which in turn makes learning pronunciation difficult) is the abundance of verb-adverb combinations – to get on, to get over, to get down, etc. – which look like variations of the same verb but functionally are different verbs in their own right. Many English learners struggle to distinguish them, because in their own languages, each one is entirely different.

    (And yes, your “innit” thing is so weird!)

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    It’s what I call the “gut feeling” correct English which can only be developed by being constantly immersed in the language AND also being actively involved by a way of speaking etc.

  • Dawn

    I always remember one example phrase that drove my students crazy: “Visiting aunts can be a nuisance”! Also the use of modals, using Mandy Rice-Davies’ court speech in the Profumo scandal: “Well he would, wouldn’t he?” I tried, at advanced level, to get them to leave their grammar books at home, but they couldn’t give them up! At this level, there are no rules – only the “best fit” rule for context and syntax. That’s why so many students give up at upper intermediate level. Hey ho!

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    I wholeheartedly agree with you – it’s what I’ve been going on about on my blog for ages, and there’s only one thing I can add – SPOKEN LANGUAGE before everything else! ;-)

  • Dawn

    I taught EFL for a long time many years ago. I’m English too. All I can say is that we English don’t learn grammar like kids in other countries. In fact, we don’t learn grammar at all at school! Ask an average English person what an adverb or a relative clause is and they’ll have absolutely no idea! The points made above are true – English has few inflections, etc. So, to begin with students make good progress. Think of grammar as the machine that helps you pump out meaningful language, so others can understand you. As students progress to say upper-intermediate level, they start to realise that knowing English grammar is only a tiny part of the story! It’s not going to help you communicate in a subtle way or understand us fully. English is all about obfuscation – zones of exclusion. We’re all crammed together on one tiny island. We must be subtle and use the right language for the right context. That’s the difficulty right there, and why English is so fiendish to learn at an advanced level. We have one of the largest vocabularies of any living language. And it gets bigger and bigger every day! Don’t be too obsessed with grammar. Sure, it’s important, but be sure to read, read, read! To advance further you’ll need to be able to access our incredibly rich vocabulary and put it to good and appropriate use. Learn your phrasal verbs, read Harry Potter, devour our literature – whatever you have to do. It’s the only way to access the secrets of our language. But take heart! Even the English don’t speak the language well, innit?

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    Feel free to browse around my blog, there are quite a few articles I’ve written about vocabulary building:

    http://englishharmony.com/category/building-english-vocabulary/ 

    Regards,

    Robby

  • Wallace Alpinista

    I have liked this article , I am learning English , and my English course use only grammar and rules , I’d like learn more vocabulary .

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    Within the scope of this article I’m referring to lack of inflection of the English language compared to German. I don’t think it’s something that can be argued upon as it’s a known fact that German is a heavily inflected language.

    For the record – I never claimed English is very easy to learn FULLY.

  • http://englishharmony.com/ Robby Kukurs

    With all due respect, I don’t agree.

    You’re saying any language is BASED on grammar. Well, yes, grammar is what binds words together, determines how they’re organized and how sentences are structured. To say that a language is BASED on grammar is, however, an overstatement. 

    I personally think that grammar is inseparable from spoken language and we shouldn’t put emphasis on grammar at any stage of language acquisition. When we learn to speak correctly, we learn correct grammar along the way.

  • T Jav

    Whether or not English is difficult is somewhat of a moot argument.  The difficulty of learning a language depends on two primary factors – the native language of the learner and the learner’s individual aptitude for language learning.  Also, some people find certain languages easier to learn than others.  I do think many non-native English speakers call English an easy language simply because they are able to communicate in it relatively quickly. However, because English is a language full of colorful language (idioms too many to count, euphemisms, sarcasms, similes, etc…), I cannot believe that it is THAT easy to learn fully.  If it is easy, then either you’ve learned the language only partially OR you are particularly gifted at learning languages (at least English).

  • T Jav

    Unless you are going to have ample opportunity to practice the speaking aspect of English, it is far better to learn grammar first.  This way, you have a solid basis of knowledge about the language.  After all, the language is based on grammar and vocabulary, not a few random phrases.  That said, if a student CAN speak the language regularly, it is good for them to learn situational conversations.  After all, for anything someone says, there can only be so many (logical) responses.

  • http://englishharmony.com Robby Kukurs

    Thanks for your comment, but I really can’t see how it proves anything about difficulty of English as a language. The same could be said about pretty much every language!

  • Charia2626

    I have a degree in English and still constantly spell words wrong- so do many English speakers.u00a0 I catch educated people speaking the past tenses of English incorrectly.u00a0 To speak English without mistakes is impossible, and English has one of the most extensive vocabularies.u00a0 Let’s hear this guy speak.hmmmu00a0 The more English you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know!

  • http://englishharmony.com Robby Kukurs

    With all due respect I can’t see how the fact that you find Mandarin easy and Russian difficult proves anything about the English language. Judging by your comment you’re a native English speaker and that means you’re not in a position to brand English easy or hard.nnIf you could find a foreign English speaker who’ll claim that English grammar is more difficult and complex than Russian grammar and Chinese syntax, I’d really love to hear his/her arguments.

  • CM V

    You’re wrong. Just because English may be easy for YOU, doesn’t make it an easy language. For example, I learned Mandarin Chinese extremely fast, and I find it to be one of the easiest languages to learn. However, other people find it near impossible to learn. On the flip side, I find Russian impossible…even though you found it extremely. You see my point? There is no easy or hard language.. different languages are easy/hard for specific people…but to say that one language is easy or hard for EVERYONE, is misguided.u00a0

  • http://englishharmony.com Robby Kukurs

    Wow, that’s some comment!u00a0nnI agree with everything you’re saying, and it all makes an awful lot of sense.nnHowever, I have to point out that I never claimed English was a super-easy language to MASTER, and probably NO language is, for that matter.nnAll I was trying to say in this blog post is – English grammar is simpler than that of German, and I believe nearly all foreigners having studied both would agree on this.u00a0nnThanks for your comment!nnRobby

  • Darralab

    As a native English speaker, I would like to make my comments heard.nnIf English is so easy learn, then why do so many non-native speakers of English make so many mistakes?u00a0The contention that English is an easy language to learn is a commonly-held falicy. Although it is true that English is relatively easy to learn at the very beginning, the more one learns, the more difficult the language becomes.u00a0However, please don’t take my word for it, but rather listen to the experts instead.u00a0Two Expert OpinionsTwo of my non-native English speaking friends agree that English is a difficult language to learn. One friend (Slovene) is a linguist who is fluent in 20 languages. And my other friend (German) has a Masters degree in English and over 20 years of very close relationships with native English speakers. Both friends said that learning English is quite different than learning many other European languages.u00a0Very Rich VocabularyAlthough German has a complex grammar, once one learns the rules and exceptions (this might take a full-time language student well over a year), it becomes easier to learn new vocabulary. Moreover, German pronunciation and spelling rules are infinitely easier than that of English. Conversely, English can be spoken effectively (but not necessarily correctly by any means) with a very limited vocabulary and while ignoring rules in grammar – and the native speakers still understand what the learner is (sometimes trying to say) saying.u00a0Very Tolerant Audience (Native Speakers)Because many native speakers of English are very forgiving when people make mistakes in English, many non-native speakers falsely believe that they speak English quite well. Of course English can be mastered as a foreign language. I will not refute this. However, English has one of the richest, if not the richest vocabularies of any language in the world. To complicant things, although English is considered to be a West Germanic language (our language just would not work without those Geman prepositions such as durch – became through; u00fcber – became over; unter – became under, etc.) only about 25% of English words come from Germany; whereas more than 28% of English words come from Latin, and nearly as many English words come from the French language. This makes learning English vacubulary relatively complex in comparison to learning German vocabulary. This is because in German, words are often formed in a veryu00a0rudimentary manner, as compound nouns are very common in German. So it becomes comparitvely easy to guess what compound German words mean, while English vocabulary can often be very abstract. It must be stated, however, that Engish vocabulary is easier learned by French and Italian speakers, than speakers of Germanic languages.u00a0English PronunciationTake English pronunciation as an example:”Always another apple” – although this is not a logical sentence, the letter “a” at the beginning of all three words is pronounced slightly differently (i.e. three unique “a” sounds) – something that a native English speaker will be able to hear. However, many learners of English will not necessarily hear the difference. Hence, they will have to learn how to pronounce many words in English in school – as there are no strict pronunciation rules in English. Moreover, spelling is also very difficult (even for native speakers).On the easy side, English rules regarding plural are relatively straight forward when compared to German.u00a0English comma rules are very complex. Moreover, adverbal placement in English can be very tricky. u00a0Many German speakers have major problems with English verb tenses:u00a0For example, they might often say: He’s smoking – Instead of He smokes.u00a0And for some unknown reason, I have noticed that many non-native speakers of English somehow prefer to say I am instead of I’m – or We have – instead of We’ve got – in spoken English, i.e. they don’t feel comfortable usingu00a0contractions.It is true that learning German noun gender can be very difficult, there are patterns to follow, e.g. words enging in “ion”, “eit”, “e” are (usually in the case of “e”) fem.Language Name Endings: English vs. GermanArabic – ArabischDanish – Du00e4nischDutch – Niederlu00e4ndischEnglish – EnglischFrench – Franzu00f6sischItalian – ItalienischThai – Thailu00e4ndischNorwegian – NorwegischSlovene – SlowenischCroatian – KroatischIcelandic – Islu00e4ndischPortugese – PortugiesischRussian – RussischCzech – TschechischI count roughly ten diffrent endings for the English-spelled language, and only one for German, i.e. isch.In closing, I would say that German is difficult and the word that comes to mind is COMPLEX. However, English is the easiest languge to begin to learn and this gives one a false sense that the language is easy to master. On the contrary, English is a very sophisticated language and I hope one day to master it. However, I will spend the rest of my life learning the vocabulary, which grows by over 5,000 words per annum.

  • http://englishharmony.com Robby Kukurs

    I would love to say you’re definitely right; however, there is an opinion that perceived difficulty is a limiting factor and works as a typical excuse not to learn one language or another. Also the vast array of idiomatic expressions makes it pretty tricky to learn English close to a native level.u00a0nnAnyway – I have to admit I’ve always held the same opinion and I strongly believe that for someone who’s learning basics of a language English is definitely au00a0comparativelyu00a0easy language to learn!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ian-Isakilla/100001377758177 Ian Isakilla

    english is easy to learn, very few conjugations and easy grammar, try arabic or russian or chinese, now THOSE are hard!!!!!! lol lol

  • http://englishharmony.com Robby Kukurs

    Thanks for the comment, and I totally agree with you! The English language is pretty darn good indeed and I still hold an opinion it’s simpler than many other languages in terms of grammar and so on.

  • Sjbolton

    As a native English speaker I agree with McKenzie in so far as “English is a mongrel language”.u00a0 However, my opinion diverges beyond that.u00a0 English’s mongrel pedigree is its STRENGTH!u00a0 There is no language on the planet that was developed scientifically to eliminate or reduce exceptions or other confusing issues.u00a0 What we have with English is a mish-mash of western European languages (including Latin) resulting from demographic upheaval and other factors.u00a0 The stuff that WORKED for communication was retained.u00a0 Clearly I’m a bit of an English chauvanist (if one can pardon the ironic use of vocabulary proving my point).u00a0 It is not perfect but its pretty darn good!u00a0 Thanks to Robby for the article.

  • http://englishharmony.com Robby

    Hi César,

    Thanks a lot for your comment!

    I pretty much agree with you on that if you master a language in a natural way, German should be as easy as English. Yes, of course, if we learn expressions and word combinations without analyzing them in depth, they’ll settle in our brain effortlessly and we’ll be able to use them in both German and English with similar ease.

    However, my standpoint was a bit different when writing my reply article. The author of the original article argued that English WAS more difficult, so I met him on the same battlegrounds. I took the following position – OK, you’re saying English is more difficult? Well, I’ll prove quite the opposite! – which probably wasn’t the most objective point of view.

    But then it’s hard for me to be completely unbiased when it comes to discussing German grammar because of my experiences at school. And it really was like I said in the article – hammering grammar into my brain… If I had a chance to live in Germany or other German speaking country I’d most definitely acquire German fluency in a fraction of time I spent on German studies at school!

    BUT – I still think English is easy. Having said that I’m not saying other languages are difficult; I’m just enjoying that fact that English is kind of a language that you can start using at the very basic level just by sticking the words together. And without worrying about conjugations and such because there are none!

    Thanks a lot César, I especially like the way you explained the example with ‘im Stau’. I couldn’t put the concept of my approach towards English fluency better!

    Regards,

    Robby ;-)

  • César Hernandes

    Hello, Robby!

    I’ve read a lot of things in your blog and I totally agree with your way of thinking.

    However, unlike you, I’m a strong believer that if your goal is to achieve FLUENCY, no language can be labeled as more difficult/easier than another one.

    From what I’ve read elsewhere in your blog, you’re a strong believer that languages are things we acquire naturally by exposure (etc), and not by grammar books. I couldn’t agree more, but with all due respect, aren’t you contradicting yourself when you say, for example, that what you’re required to “hammer into your brain” when learning German demands more effort than when learning English?

    Take the phrase “stuck in traffic” in German. It’s “im Stau”, right? We say “im Stau” and not “in der Stau” because the dative case is required here. If we think about it that way, we’re definitely going to take much longer building the sentence in our heads. However, if we just learn the phrase “im Stau” without knowing WHY we use “im”, and repeat it several times, the correct grammar will settle in our minds without any effort.

    The same thing applies for using the gerund with TO or the ING form of the verbs, described in that guy’s article. If we simply learn the sentences as they are, the reason why the grammar puts together the words won’t matter at all!

  • http://englishharmony.com Robby

    Hi Benny,

    Thanks for giving me hard time… :-)

    But as I said – all opinions on board, and I really appreciate you took your time writing the lengthy comment!

    I know that there is no such thing as ultimate truth because everyone’s inclined to judge things through their perspective, and I must admit I’m no different. Apparently I slightly exaggerated the noun gender thing by saying there’s no way of telling what gender the particular noun is. Of course, as you said – there are patterns (not without exemptions though!) and one can master a language such as Latvian without memorizing every noun’s gender. But then you have to admit that an English language learner doesn’t have to do this at all! ;-)

    You’re saying that the work involved in getting familiar with those patterns and any others could theoretically be the same as for getting used to English’s own difficulties.

    You could be right (even I still want to disagree on this) if we count in idioms, collocations and phrasal verbs as those difficulties. But then – don’t those other languages have all the same?

    Speaking of the grammar tense comparison between German and English – you’ve made your point well! It does depend on the context indeed, BUT still it’s not that difficult to understand English tenses as it’s described in the original article. On top of that the author gives an impression (maybe it’s just me who gets it this way?) as if all six English tenses can be translated as simple Ich gehe. But it’s just not right – in German they do have perfect tenses – Ich bin gegangen – and future tenses Ich werde gehen…

    OK, probably the real truth is somewhere in between the original article and what I’ve said in mine. Maybe the difficulties foreign students have with mastering English tenses do indeed balance out learning conjugations, genders and noun and verb endings.

    But personally I don’t agree with that and I still think that if we just take and compare the grammatical structure of all these languages – English, German, Spanish, Polish, Russian – English is the simplest in terms of how many variations every noun and verb can have…

    I’d like to finish off with re-stating something we had in common – if you learn a language with joy and you’re really motivated, the seemingly difficult grammar aspects won’t even bother you! And the opposite – if you’re just forced to learn a language (like me learning German at school…) you’ll find all the possible excuses why that language is difficult and so on and on…

    Thanks a lot Benny for the contribution into this discussion, and by the way – fair deuce with your achievements in language learning! I checked your websites and I’m really impressed with your lifestyle! ;-)

    Thanks,

    Robby

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    Hi, I’m just relearning German now and I have to disagree with your disagreement about “ich gehe” not having those translations! :)

    If you say “ich gehe Morgen ins Kino”, to my understanding that could be read as either “I’m going to the cinema tomorrow” (i.e. future is implied) or “I’m going to go to the cinema tomorrow” (future is clarified), or even “I’ll go to the cinema tomorrow” (slightly different context, e.g. spontaneous decision, not expressed by werden in German).

    Usually if the context is clear that it’s the future, “werden” wouldn’t be used and the present tense is preferred, so “will” would occur in English more than in German. Also, “ich gehe ins Kino seit 5 Jahren” would be “I have been going” OR “I have gone to the cinema for 5 years” (once again, it depends on the intended meaning). Once you add “seit” it’s impossible to use the two translations you gave (I go / I am going) with “ich gehe”.

    As the author of the text states, it depends on the context. He is absolutely right that you can form various different tenses from that example. You can’t just translate the first two words of the sentence, ignoring the context ;)

    You also said that “The German students from the article can’t be objective”, but you were doing the same thing with Latvian! In Irish (Gaelic), we also have masculine & feminine without any help from articles as in German / Spanish etc., but that doesn’t mean that you essentially you have to memorize “EVERY” noun’s gender. There are very straightforward patterns; word endings, vowel formations, categories like workers/objects in nature etc. I don’t know any Latvian but I’d be extremely surprised if it didn’t follow similar patterns. The work involved in getting familiar with those patterns and any others could theoretically be the same as for getting used to English’s own difficulties, depending on a huge amount of factors, especially the learner’s motivation.

    I agree with you that ultimately any language can be simple, but then you contradict that by stating how difficult German is and clarifying that English is one of the easiest ones. I was an English teacher and I agree with several points of that other article in how English is harder than a lot of people with casual knowledge of it make it out to be.

    However, I overall disagree with both you and the author of the other article. I think randomly assigning ANY language as easier or harder is pointless and ultimately unhelpful.

    In the end, I’m with your final thoughts that focusing on grammar points rather than your motivation to speak the language and the context that it’s spoken in will always make any language seem hard – English, German, Spanish, Japanese etc.

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