Articles

Op-Ed

The 5 Most Common Challenges ESL Learners Face (and How to Solve Them)

By Max Korneev
December 28, 2020

For those whose primary language is anything but English, the road to reaching fluency in the latter is anything but smooth. The English language is considered one of the hardest to learn for a number of reasons. From baffling spelling and pronunciation to peculiar grammar structures (the phenomenon of phrasal verbs especially comes to mind), there is no shortage of reasons why English as a second language (ESL) learners struggle to pick up the language.

With English being the most-spoken language around the world (if you account for its native speakers and those that speak it as a secondary language), the benefits of understanding and speaking the language far outweigh the initial inconveniences of learning to speak it.

Here are some of the most common challenges ESL learners face and how to overcome them:

The Most Common Challenge ESL Learners Face: Learning the Language without a Goal

This is the most important challenge to overcome. In order to be successful in learning English (or any language), you have to have a personal goal for why you want to learn the language. The more emotional the reason, the better. For example, if you want to learn English “because I’d like to meet new people who speak it,” then that is going to be less motivating (long-term) than a reason like “so I can give myself more opportunities in life.” If you are passionate about learning this language, then you will stay committed to learning it. I would suggest sitting down and writing out a list of all of the reasons why learning English is important to you. Then, choose the most important and meaningful one to guide you throughout this journey. Trust me, it will make all the difference.

a stack of books commonly used by students
Clarissa Watson, Unsplash.

Ultimately, it’s important to be patient with yourself during the process of learning English. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as the saying goes. But, if you recognize the challenges you might face and prepare for them in advance, I have every confidence that you will be speaking English in no time.

Bored by Traditional Learning Methods

A lot of times, children and adults are introduced to a new language in a classroom setting which comes with a rigid way to learn the language. Now, classroom learning is very important, but there’s something else that, in my opinion, supersedes this method of learning: it’s finding a topic you already enjoy (like film, video games, politics, the environment) and then using that as a catalyst to form your own “lessons” around. For example, when I first started to teach myself English, I was really into playing the computer game Starcraft. I used to read short articles about recent game developments or other news about it to practice my English. Since I already wanted to read about this content, I was more interested in keeping up with my English studies. It’s important to find something you are really curious about and use that as a way to get yourself used to reading and listening to English speakers on this topic.

Feelings of Embarrassment

When first learning a new language, it can be very overwhelming! It’s natural to feel embarrassed when practicing (especially around people who are fluent in English already). These feelings arise because you (and many other ESL learners) feel like you can’t express yourself properly. Things that would normally be easy to ask for, like “can I have a cup of water?” becomes infinitely more difficult when you have to think about each of the words and how to combine them in the new language. To conquer this fear of embarrassment, it’s important to practice as much as possible. The easiest way is to do so alone, in your room or another comfortable space, where you can actually speak the language out loud. Reading to yourself (again, out loud) is a great way to practice hearing the sounds and formulating the words with your tongue and mouth. That way, once you feel more confident in your ability to speak, you can do so with others! The other important thing to remember is that this is the second language (or possibly even third or fourth) that you are learning – so, don’t be embarrassed by adding one more to your repertoire; it’s incredibly impressive!

Not Enough Time

Most people who want to learn a second language feel that they won’t have enough time to dedicate to learning. So, they never end up doing it at all! The best way to actually get started in learning English is to set aside 10-15 minutes a day to practice. If you do these short lessons and then “reward yourself” (ex. by allowing yourself to watch some TV afterwards), you will have an easier time committing to practice. This “temptation bundling” can be super effective in at least getting your language learning off the ground.

Lack of Interaction with Native Speakers

For those who want to learn English as a second language but only regularly interact with people who speak another language, it can be quite challenging to continuously practice your new language without a partner. Luckily, there are a variety of ways to find someone to help you practice with using the internet. From Reddit communities to Facebook groups (our EWA group has over one million followers), there’s no shortage of ways to find a person to practice learning English with. Plus, you might make a great friend along the way!

About the author: Max Korneev is the CEO and co-founder of EWA: Learn English, a language learning mobile app that inspires people to learn English by doing things they already love to do — from watching movie and TV show clips, reading best-selling books, playing games, or even translating memes. The app uses these pop culture references to create intrinsically motivating language courses. Boasting millions of worldwide users and a huge social media following, EWA: Learn English consistently delivers new topic-based courses to make learning English truly enjoyable and fun to do!

Featured Image: Jr Korpa, Unsplash.