English spelling is, in the opinion of most linguists, a disaster. The problem results from a number of factors. The first is how English was developed. Many words in English came from Germanic languages that have their own pronunciation and spelling rules. Another section of the language comes from French, which uses spelling derived from Latin. Still other words come from a variety of languages including Arabic and Spanish. In many languages, a word's spelling can be deduced from its pronunciation; this is often not the case in English.
2. Phonemic Richness
The number of sounds in the English language is far greater than almost every other language. Because its history is dotted with influences from other languages, the sounds that English speakers make can be difficult to detect. For the Japanese, for example, the difference between the R sound and the L sound can be impossible to hear even after considerable practice. Linguists have determined that the phonemes people can speak must be learned early in life or the brain will not be able to correctly determine what is being said. Those who learn English after childhood generally have considerable trouble speaking perfectly because of all the sounds they must learn.
3. Word Stresses
In many languages, knowing the right syllable to stress is a consistent rule across the language; accents in Spanish, for example, are used to determine where to place stress on words that do not conform to the standard rules. In English, however, it is impossible to know where to stress a word simply by reading it, and misplaced syllables can make a word unintelligible. The rules of stress vary based on what language a word derived from, and there are a number of exceptions even if the original stress placement is known. Learning English requires spending time with native speakers perhaps more than any other language.
Linguists often argue about what the most difficult language to learn is, but most agree that mastering English is one of the most challenging tasks. Achieving a level of understandability is relatively simple, but fully mastering the language takes longer than with most languages.
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