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Challenges Encountered by Learners of English as a Second Language

Updated on January 15, 2017
Joined: 4 years agoFollowers: 6Articles: 7

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 other African countries face a lot of challenges because English is not the official language of these countries.

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.

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?

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    • profile image

      Shampa Thakur 2 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!

    • crazyteacher profile image

      crazyteacher 2 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.

    • teresapelka profile image

      Teresa Pelka 23 months 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

    • NatashaL profile image

      Natasha 7 months 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.

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