Challenges Encountered by Learners of English as a Second Language

Updated on May 8, 2019

Learning a second language is never easy. Learning English as a second language is even less easy. Particularly if you are learning English outside of an English-speaking country. For instance, English language learners in African countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Zambia, Malawi, and some other African countries face a lot of challenges because English is not the native language of these countries. Just as there are problems faced in learning English as foreign language, so there are challenges in learning English as second language.

These English language learners often face the following challenges.

1. Unqualified Teachers

This is the most significant and the most overlooked problem. What makes this problem so difficult to solve is that, since many communities are English language learners, they cannot determine who is a good English teacher and who isn't. Whatever the teacher says, whether correct or incorrect, will be taken as correct by the learner.

This has led to a lot of confusion among learners because different teachers tell them different things. One of the main causes of this problem is the difficulty teachers have translating from their native languages. For instance, the word ‘cup’ is pronounced by different teachers as either [kap], [kop], or with a vowel sound that does not exist in English. For instance, the sound /Λ/ does not exist in the sound systems of many African languages, so even teachers sometimes have problems pronouncing it.

2. Limited Learning Environments

When I talk about limited learning environments, I'm not referring to the weather, the availability of furniture in the classrooms, or the location of the school. While all of these factors can affect learning, in learning English, what happens outside of class matters most. In most cases, students only make an effort to speak proper English in the classroom when they are under supervision. Moreover, students don’t always hear people around them speaking proper English. As a result, it becomes more difficult to learn correct English.

Learning materials refer to items that aid in the learning process. Books may be a necessary material, but books are not enough by themselves. Audio tools are also needed. As observed above, if a student sees a sound symbol in a book, how does he/she know how to pronounce it? The fact is, students of English Language graduate into teachers of the English language without ever getting to hear the correct pronunciation by a native speaker.

Students also study haphazardly. They have books to read but they can’t tell how certain words are said. How would a student know how to pronounce the word ‘ewe’? He/she must hear the right pronunciation from his/her teacher or from a native speaker of English. Students tend to learn from movies they watch but they often learn the wrong things because movies contain slang and dialects that are not appropriate in many forms of communication.

4. Students Don't Take Their Study Seriously

In this case, students often think that the same English they speak at home or on the street is the same they will write in their exams. However, because communication doesn't have to be grammatically correct in order to be intelligible, students don’t always always abide by the rules they learned in school and therefore do not get fully educated and/or pass their tests.

It is also the case that students don’t study English as much as they study other subjects. In most cases, students study English only in the classroom when the teacher is teaching. After the class, they drop their books and wait for the next class. They don’t study pronunciation, they don’t study essay writing, and they don’t make an effort to learn new words. They bring every little problem to the teacher during classes, even things they could just look it up in the dictionary. When learners make mistakes and are corrected, they often say “It is not my language after all.” This greatly affects their ability to learn English.

Other Problems

Even with qualified teachers, adequate materials, and exposure to native English speakers, there are still a number of problems that any ESL student will face.

1. Over-Use of Native Language in the Classroom

Students learn another language best when they're forced to use it. Teachers must be vigilant about requiring students to communicate in English and only in English—even if they're just talking to each other. If you know the students' native language, pretend in the classroom that you don't—as that will force them to make requests and respond to questions in English. This problem comes from the cultural demands of the family and society.

2. Students Become Too Dependent on the Teacher

Part of learning anything means figuring out how to solve problems on your own. If a student goes to the teacher with every little problem s/he runs into, then the student will never be able to learn the language on their own. If students insist that they don't know how to say or do something on their own, they need to be reassured that they actually can with positive feedback and encouragement.

3. Strong Students Dominate the Class

No matter how well students are sorted, there will still be differences in how much students know and how quickly they can learn. Setting the pace of the class to to keep up with the strongest students will leave the weaker ones behind. Weaker students shouldn't be forgotten in classroom discussions and activities.

The Solution

For students who are willing to put in the effort, there are a number of steps they can take to improve their English language skills.

  1. They must be extra careful to be sure to use correct materials recommended by a reliable teacher of English.
  2. They must make a deliberate and conscious effort to learn with or without a class teacher.
  3. The student should get audio materials so he/she can hear the correct pronunciation of sounds and words.

What do you think is the biggest obstacle to learning English as a Second Language?

See results

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Jacob Ado Ama


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      • amaado profile imageAUTHOR

        Jacob Ado Ama 

        5 weeks ago from Jos

        Thank you Moh.

      • profile image


        5 weeks ago

        helpful. Nice work yoow

      • profile image


        3 months ago

        Please Joy reframe your question. I didn't get it well.

      • profile image

        Onomavwe Joy 

        3 months ago

        Pls apart from the above mentioned causes ,in d case of the Nigeria pidgin can i also include it as a cause

      • amaado profile imageAUTHOR

        Jacob Ado Ama 

        3 months ago from Jos

        Well, Jeffrey Manex, it depends on what you want to look at: content, structure, theoretical perspective etc. But common of all, you may want to look at things like structure :does it have well formed title, abstract, literature review, methods, discussion, and summary? And are they properly presented? You need to examine the positive and negative aspects of the article:is it informative? I am sure if you discuss this items, you would have made progress.

      • profile image

        Manex Jeffery 

        3 months ago

        how can i summarise and analyse your article in the critique form?

      • amaado profile imageAUTHOR

        Jacob Ado Ama 

        3 months ago from Jos

        I am glad you found useful. Take this for now. I will send in more.

        Unqualified teachers: the strength could be that as much as there are unqualified teachers, there won’t be adequate learning.

        The problem of unqualified teachers could be problem of government negligence. If the educational system is inadequately funded, certainly, only half-baked teachers will be produced; in which case the government shares the blame.

        Limited learning environment: students are not exposed enough to English speaking, they rely more on their mother tongue. In some churches and mosques for instance, communication is in native languages. That certainly limits learner’s exposure to English language. Again, talking about the weakness of this point, the government has a hand in it; the religious centers too, and traditional institutions; they all contribute to limiting the learning environment. As part of the limitation of this point, again, conscious and desperate learners can get around it by ensuring that they are not limited by those factors.

        Inadequate learning materials: In learning phonology, for instance, audio visual facilities are important but they are hardly available. That affects the teaching and learning of phonology. However, students could have access to the facilities but are not motivated to using them in learning. Poor maintenance of the facilities could also contribute to the problem of inadequate learning materials

      • profile image

        ferdinand saraki 

        3 months ago

        My lecturer wants me to make a review about your paper as my assignment for the Language and literature. can you help me point out the weakness and the strength of the points stated in the article.

      • amaado profile imageAUTHOR

        Jacob Ado Ama 

        4 months ago from Jos

        Rofiat how may I help?

      • profile image


        4 months ago

        please i Did a Research on problem encountring in learning English as a Second language

      • amaado profile imageAUTHOR

        Jacob Ado Ama 

        5 months ago from Jos

        Sorry for the delayed response Anhar. Hub Pages does not publish articles in issues and volumes. You can use the publication date, title, publisher and author in your citations. You can include the website address if need be.

        I hope this will be useful. Thank you.

      • profile image


        5 months ago

        Hello sir

        How I can find the volume and issue number of your article ?

        Because I did a research and I used some information with your name but the tutor asked me to highlight the numbers of your article. Thank you

      • amaado profile imageAUTHOR

        Jacob Ado Ama 

        5 months ago from Jos

        Thank you Anita for that observation. I am a Nigerian, so I understand that very well. The editors probably did that. Its meant to be that English is not their native language.

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        Sunil Kumar 

        6 months ago

        I am an Indian sir. As you know, Hindi is the official language hare. Hence I am facing a lot of difficulties to learn it. Thanks sir

      • profile image


        6 months ago

        Hello, in your article you listed Nigeria as one of the countries whose official language isn't English. Pls that's wrong, sure Nigeria has about 500 different ethnic groups with their various languages; but they were colonised by the British. As a result, the official language of Nigeria is English language. There are even Alot if children there who can speak only English.

      • profile image


        7 months ago

        please could you help me please i need some resources concerning the challenges that affects the quality of learning english

      • profile image

        Adegoke Emmanuel 

        10 months ago

        As a bilingualist what are major problem encountered in using English language

      • JanisaChatte profile image


        12 months ago from Earth

        I completely agree with you and think that it is a combination of these issues that prevent students from learning successfully. In many countries, students spend years learning English or another language and can barely make a sentence in that language. I think that a student needs to be motivated and willing to put in the effort in order to be able to learn a language.

      • profile image

        Abdelmoneim Hassan Adam 

        16 months ago

        Un-qualified Teacher, inadequate learning materials, poor learning environment, and lack of commitment to learning interact with each other and result in impede language acquisition. Unfortunately, all those barriers you can find them in developing countries such as KSA and Sudan.

      • NatashaL profile image


        3 years ago from USA

        I would also add that adult English learners may be confused if their native language uses a structure significantly different from English. For example, my Russian learners had more trouble with certain concepts than my Spanish-speaking learners did.

        Many learners genuinely do want to learn English as well as they can. One problem I encountered, though, is that some students didn't want to practice outside class, and didn't want to do homework. So naturally, they were behind when we moved to a new topic the following week. I'd often have to spend valuable class time reteaching the same concept.

        I had to tell some of my more enthusiastic students who would correct their classmates during group review, "I appreciate your enthusiasm and willingness to help, but please let me correct anything that needs to be corrected. I don't want anyone to be confused." During individual review, however, I asked students to work together and ask one another before asking me.

      • teresapelka profile image

        Teresa Pelka 

        4 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

        I learned on my own till I went to high school. There was an advantage, because I was free to develop my own way to learn. On the other hand, I don't even imagine progressing without school.

        Feel welcome to comment on my Language Mapping, maybe it could be helpful

      • crazyteacher profile image


        4 years ago from Virginia

        I teach students learning English. I think it is very stereotypical to put that they have a lack of commitment to learning. Of the over 80 students I teach, very few have a complacency toward their education and I see just as many of their American peers who truly lack such commitment! My students, especially those who were born in another country are very hard workers. Their parents want their child to learn and support teachers. They expect their child to work hard and be respectful. Now, are there exceptions to this rule. Definitely, but again percentage wise it is equal to our less than that our their English speaking counterparts.

        The biggest challenge that faces these students is high stakes testing, stereotypes like these and lack of training for our teachers.

      • profile image


        4 years ago

        Thanks for this article. I'd also like to convey that it can always be hard if you find yourself in school and starting out to initiate a long history of credit. There are many college students who are only trying to live and have long or good credit history can often be a difficult thing to have. kdkebadfcgfd

      • profile image


        4 years ago

        Wow, marvelous blog structure! How long have you been running a blog gcdcaebdgbgb

      • profile image

        Shampa Thakur 

        5 years ago

        Reading is good "Passive" way of improving vocabulary, but when you are resorting to making lists, that is "Active" method. Problem with active method of learning words is that it is cumbersome and boring, and you doing retain and unless you use it in writing sentences to apply the word, very little chance is that you increase your lexical size.

        Improve Your Vocabulary - VocabMonk is an active learning tool which is personalised and makes sure you grasp the learnt words by applying it. It is lot of fun too as you can play vocab challenges with your friends.

        Give it a shot!


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