Get a 40% off forever discount with the ready, set, speak sale! Ends soon!
Get a 40% off forever discount with the ready, set, speak sale! Ends soon! Blog
Learn English with Free Daily
Audio and Video Lessons!
Start Your Free Trial 6 FREE Features

5 Common Problems English Learners Face (And How to Overcome Them)

5 Common Problems English Learners Face (And How to Overcome Them)

As a common lingua franca for business and tourism all over the world, it’s no wonder why English is one of the most widely spoken foreign languages around the globe. While English is the most popular foreign language, that doesn’t mean that is the easiest.

How difficult English is to learn will depend largely on the native language of the student. The closer a student’s native language is to English, the easier time they will have learning the language. Conversely, the further one’s native language is to English, the harder time they will have in mastering the language.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in English

In this post, we look at five of the biggest challenges students of English face, and we also share some practical tips on how to overcome them.

1) Phrasal verbs


Phrasal verbs are a common base for the English learner. In linguistic terms a phrasal verb is a verb that is used in conjunction with a particle, and often a preposition, to form a short phrase. Individually the words in these short phrases don’t make sense, it’s when they appear together that they take on their meaning.

Some examples include: to “carry on” (continue), to “check out”, to “get by”, or to “give up”. These types of phrases can be very difficult for non-native speakers to remember and use correctly in a speech.

Often times the only way to cement phrasal verbs into your vocabulary is to memorize them. A great way to do this is to utilize a flashcard based spaced repetition tool. Spaced repetition allows you to focus your time and energy on the flashcards you have the most trouble remembering, and it’s a great technique to help you learn more efficiently. Anki is a free spaced repetition flashcard deck that is worth looking into. On Anki, it’s easy to customize your flashcards to include pictures, audio, and anything else that might help you remember the trickiest phrasal verbs.

2) The gap between listening and reading

Girl Reading

There’s a lot of languages out there which are fairly phonetic, meaning words are spelled the way they sound and vice versa. If a language isn’t spelled exactly how it’s spelled, often times there are a set of clear rules or exceptions to common pronunciations.

In English, this simply isn’t the case. The word you hear can differ greatly from the word you read. Students of the language are often thrown off by spellings such as “red, read (past), and read (present)” or “there, their, and they’re”. The importance of learning a language holistically through reading, writing, listening, and speaking, is often stressed in the language learning community, and this couldn’t be more important for English learners. For English learners, the gap between what you hear and what you see on a page can be frustrating.

The best way to overcome this obstacle is to simply get used to using the language. Learning tools which include audio and accompanying transcripts (like EnglishClass101), will be very helpful here. Try listening to an English audio resource (like a podcast). Listen to it several times without looking at the transcript for the episode. Then try your best to write down what you think you heard. This will not only help you get used to the different spellings of words, but it will also help you develop your listening skills.

You can also take the exercise and do it the opposite way. Read the transcript of an episode and do your best to read out loud with the correct pronunciation. Listen back to the native audio to double check what you said.

3) Listening comprehension


You can have an excellent command of a foreign language, and be able to express yourself with relative ease. However, this does not necessarily mean that you will be able to understand native speakers when they talk. A common problem for students of English is listening comprehension. There are a few reasons for this.

Depending on where a student learned English, they may not have been exposed to native speakers. If they learned English in their native country their teacher likely spoke English with a foreign accent.

Another common issue is which variant of English a student learned. Students in and around Europe are likely to learn English with a British pronunciation, while others may learn American or even Australian. The difference behind the diction and pronunciation can vary widely between continents.

Listening comprehension in a foreign language is a lot like a muscle. If you want your skill to grow you have to exercise it. The best way to do this is to listen to native audio or even better real-life native speakers. The more time you spend actively listening (that is trying to squeeze out all the meaning you can from the English you here), the more comfortable you will become with listening and comprehending what you hear.

4) Tenses


English has a lot of verb tenses. Twelve in the active mood to be exact. Other languages, like say Russian for instance, have significantly less. Native speakers of these languages will have a tougher time picking up on the subtleties between the different tenses in English.

One great way of overcoming this obstacle is to engage with the language in the context of a conversation or situation. This means, versus simply reading through a list of examples in a textbook, try engaging with English in a way that is more natural. A great way to do this is by watching an English tv show or movie with English subtitles. The situation in a particular scene will provide a lot of context as to the language and words that are spoken. This will help you see firsthand how the tenses are used, and how they aren’t used.

Another useful tool is EnglishClass101 audio or video episodes. The episodes are built around a recorded conversation between native speakers. The context is given for each lesson, and more often than not the episode covers some realistic situation you’re likely to encounter in everyday life.

5) Patience


Patience is something all language learners have to grapple with, whether their learning English or another language. The language learning journey is full of ebbs and flows. Sometimes it feels like progress comes quickly and you see real improvement in your abilities. Other times, it feels like you hit a brick wall and no matter how hard you work you don’t see any progress.

A great language learner keeps pushing through the hard times as well as the rewarding ones. You can learn the English language. Sometimes it just takes a bit of perseverance. Keep your head up! When you hit plateaus try changing up your method of practice or study. Sometimes routines get dull and you need a fresh way to engage with the language.

Final thoughts

Learning English isn’t always easy, but the reward of learning a new language is always worth it. Hopefully, this article will help you identify and overcome some of the most common problems learners face when studying English. Best of luck!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in English