Language barriers: taking the stress out of mastering English

Learning a new language is a big deal at any age. Mastery of their mother tongue is a child’s passport to understanding the world and interacting with others. Later on, grasping a second language – or a third, or fourth – can have an impact on employment and relationships that’s literally life-changing.

With almost a billion native and non-native speakers combined, English is one of the world’s most widely spoken languages – and it’s certainly the most important in terms of international communication.

Young woman studying on tablet

English is the standard for global commerce, science and mass entertainment. It’s spoken by air traffic controllers, diplomats, politicians and trade bodies. It’s ironic, then, that the world’s most frequently-taught language is among the toughest to learn. 

Its rich, complex parentage includes Anglo Saxon, Norse, French, Latin, Greek and old Germanic influences.

And that means that English – in both written and spoken forms – is peppered with irregularities, idioms and exceptions that can seem bewildering to a non-native. 

Similar sounding words are a minefield – like ‘buy/by/bye’, ‘to/two/too’ and ‘their/they’re/there’. Why is the pronunciation of ‘rough’ so different from ‘bough’ and ‘through’? And why can I ‘watch a movie’ or ‘see a movie’ – but not ‘see television’?

Picking English as a second language can be dictated by the circumstances of work or relationships. And it’s a required subject for tens of millions of overseas school students each year.  Either way, English language learners (ELL) can be in for a choppy ride. The learning process can be dogged by embarrassment and lack of self-confidence. It’s particularly difficult for children in English-speaking schools whose parents don’t speak the language at home. And it takes real courage attempting to pronounce an unfamiliar word aloud in front of other fluent speakers – whether it’s in a classroom or tutorial or when spending time with friends.

We recognise that it’s important to help schools, colleges and universities deliver their content to the widest possible international audience. Whether that’s by using on-screen text-to-speech or offering dictionary definitions and real-time translations, we’ve got lots of features to help make language learning more accessible and manageable for students for whom English isn’t their first language.