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How hard is it to learn English?

02 May 2018. Published by Nigel Collins, Partner, Head of Japan Desk

As English is by far the number one language of business and politics, many non-native speakers have no choice but to overcome this challenge

This article in the FT caught my attention as it is very challenging for many Japanese and other non-native speakers to learn English. In my opinion, the number of very good English language speakers from Japan is definitely increasing. I can speak some Japanese which has given me a deep insight into Japanese culture, but I am regularly put to shame by the language ability of many Japanese business people.


Few interesting points lifted from the article above:


  • English looks an easy language to learn. Anything that is not obviously male or female is “it”. Adjectives remain the same regardless of the gender of the associated noun: a brave woman, a brave man, a brave new world. Apart from the -s in the third person singular present tense (“she sings”), verbs do not change, no matter what their subject is (“he ran”, “they ran”). The word “friend” remains the same whether you say “he’s my friend”, “hello, my friend”, “I kicked my friend” or “it’s the house of my friend”.
  • However, there are aspects of English that are devilishly complex. The spelling fails to provide consistent guidance to pronunciation. Consider “cough”, “through”, “bough”, “though” and “hiccough”. There are the irregular past tenses: arose, became, fell, swore, and many more. There are also phrasal verbs — verbs followed by prepositions, with wild swings in meaning. Learners have every right to feel put out when they put up someone for the night, only to discover that they can’t put up with them. They may want to put off learning English for another time.

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