Essay on Difficulties of Teaching English as a Second Language

Published: 2021/11/09
Number of words: 1763


The English language is the most widely spoken language globally. Opportunities in business, global trades, technology and education are markedly improved after learning the English language. Additionally, Derakhshan and Shirmohammadli (2015, p. 102) described the fundamental role of English as a communication channel. In cases where English is not the first language, teaching of the language has proved problematic since most of the students hardly use the language in real-life situations. In order to mitigate the challenges of teaching the English language as a second language, teachers are encouraged to be innovative in their teaching strategies (Nunn, 2011, p. 56). Finding the best and appropriate method to teach these students is always the biggest challenge for the teachers. Speaking, listening, writing, reading and all other skills of students should be paid enough attention by teachers since the teaching profession is a multidimensional process.

The need to operate and communicate in an unaccustomed culture and language makes it essential for immigrants to English-speaking nations to learn the English language. Nonetheless, learning the English language can prove to be an arduous challenge to some of the immigrants and over time, they may have made very little headway. Similarly, students of English as a second language (ESL) can achieve significant proficiency levels of the English language (Derakhshan and Shirmohammadli, 2015, p. 102).

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Statement of the problem

Unfortunately, learners are not the same since not all of the immigrant students make substantial headway in their learning of the English language over time. This can prove to be a significant barrier of success and can hinder the life led by the immigrant learner in an unfamiliar culture. These immigrant students seek to join the culture of the English-speaking country they are taking their education from and frustrations may crop up from the social marginalization they experience as a result of not being proficient in the English language, this is especially true for female students. This marginalization makes everything worse since the student now magnifies the perceived reasons behind their failure. Embarrassment and shame can result from this sense of failure and consequently limit the learner’s ability to acquire the language and therefore her experiences both social and immigration are affected negatively. A student may not be able to know how to resolve challenges faced when learning the English language let alone knowing the causes of his/her slow progress. Similarly, ESL directors and instructors may not know the causes for ones slow progress in learning the English language nor have the solutions to the difficulties. Therefore, it is imperative for directors and instructors in the ESL programs to assist students who do not meet the expected target scores for ESL learners, in order to ascertain the reasons behind their difficulties and be in a position to make recommendations and implement strategies to assist the learners to surmount their learning barriers where necessary.

Literature review


To be successfully integrated into the society of an English-speaking country, it is crucial to learn the English language in order to gain the ability to communicate effectively. That notwithstanding, a number of immigrants might experience insurmountable challenges when learning the language and in the course of a long period of study show very dismal headway. An unfamiliar culture and language will always be trying and difficult for immigrant students and they must learn how to communicate and operate in these arduous circumstances except for students who immerse themselves in self-sustaining ethnic societies (Farooq, Uzair-Ul-Hassan and Wahid, 2020).

However, even under these difficult circumstances, some ESL students go on to achieve significant proficiency levels in the English language. Unfortunately, considerable English proficiency levels are not achieved by all those who immigrate to English-speaking countries, such as the United States. In fact, majority do not make what would essentially be referred to as modest progress. The effects of failing to attain high levels of English proficiency are very notable while the causes behind this failure may be difficult to decipher. Risks to success in other important endeavors can be posed by challenges in mastering the new language in the case of immigrants; subsequently this may cause unhappiness and loss of livelihoods for people (Tariq et al., 2013, p. 24).

It is imperative for directors and instructors in the ESL programs to assist students who do not meet the expected target scores for ESL learners, in order to ascertain the reasons behind their difficulties and be in a position to make recommendations and implement strategies to assist the learners to surmount their learning barriers where necessary. There might be a number of explanations as to why learners are no making the required progress when learning a new language since effective learning of the English language is comprised of different resources, practices, abilities and skills. It is crucial to ascertain the reasons behind the slow progress of that student in order to arrest further decline as well as make the student gain much needed confidence in his/her abilities which goes a long way in motivating the student to continue pursuing the new language (Widianingsih and Gulö, 2016, p. 143).

Second Language Acquisition (SLA)

Second language (L2) acquisition is described as the learning of an entirely new language besides one’s mother tongue and this acquisition can occur in class or outside according to Ortega (2014). This learning process is known as Second Language Acquisition (SLA) while the target language is the language that is being studied. In regions where English is not spoken as an official language, English is learned as English as a Foreign Language (EFL) while in regions where English is spoken naturally, English is learned as a second language. When a language is non-native and it is either taught or learned in a region where it is not spoken naturally, it is referred to as a Foreign language (FL).

Adult ESL student and SLA

A number of individual differences may influence learning a second language which may include (1) psychological and social issues, (2) anxiety, (3) language skills, and (4) motivation, attitudes, and personality. An assumption is always made that adult students carry a wealth of experience to the classroom, both in life and in education. On the other hand, these adult students may bring with them to the classroom their multi-layered personalities and complex psychology.

According to Wu and Wu (2014), the social aspects of practice and learning are profoundly affected the personality of a student. Additionally, target language practice and participation in the learning process are also affected by student personality. For instance, a student can be severely inhibited from fundamental social aspects of learning and practicing the English language due to the fear of risk and anxiety since language learning is a social phenomenon. The student’s quality of life can be negatively affected when the lack of expected progress combines with the expectation to be able to make progress. At this point, the immigrant ESL student may feel marginalized in a community he/she wishes to be a part of and mean that the success of the student takes a major hit.

For female students particularly, it is frustrating not to get the opportunities to practice the new language naturally and to experience social marginalization. This marginalization makes everything worse since the student now magnifies the perceived reasons behind their failure. Natural acquisition and practice of the English language are further inhibited by the embarrassment and shame that result from this sense of failure. Another person’s willing participation is required to top up what is inside him/her if the ESL student will be able to overcome the learning challenges he/she faces (Hird et al., 2000, p. 21).

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Motivation is required if one is to beat the challenge of learning a second language. A crucial meaning is taken on the challenges associated with learning the target language particularly if the ESL student is an adult. For instance, profound undesirable effects on self-esteem, social interactions and employment, and academic pursuits can arise from weaknesses in learning the English language. A study conducted by (Leung et al., 2014) found out that a student’s successful language acquisition, classroom behavior, effort, and attitude are affected by a partner’s motivation, group dynamics, learning environment among other social factors.

Among adult students learning ESL, it is very clear that motivation plays a very fundamental role. According to Chang et al., (2010, p. 15), motivation can be defined as how hard one is able to push to himself to achieve something, and the amount of time one is willing to expend in the realization and actualization of something. The amount of effort put in by the student in order to learn a second language is influenced by attitudes and affective states encompassed by motivation as observed by Kanno and Stuart (2011, p. 238). This may differ dynamically based on the language activity’s task or context.


Chang, C.W., Lee, J.H., Chao, P.Y., Wang, C.Y. and Chen, G.D., 2010. Exploring the possibility of using humanoid robots as instructional tools for teaching a second language in primary school. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 13, pp.13-24.

Derakhshan, A. and Shirmohammadli, M., 2015. The difficulties of teaching English language: The relationship between research and teaching. International Journal of linguistics, 7, p.102.

Farooq, M.S., Uzair-Ul-Hassan, M. and Wahid, S., 2020. Opinion of second language learners about writing difficulties in English language. South Asian Studies, 27.

Hird, B., Thwaite, A., Breen, M., Milton, M. and Oliver, R., 2000. Teaching English as a second language to children and adults: variations in practices. Language Teaching Research, 4, pp.3-32.

Kanno, Y. and Stuart, C., 2011. Learning to become a second language teacher: Identities‐in‐practice. The Modern Language Journal, 95, pp.236-252.

Leung, C., Davison, C. and Mohan, B., 2014. English as a second language in the mainstream: Teaching, learning and identity. Routledge.

Nunn, R., 2011. Improving method-in-use through classroom observation. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 49, pp.55-70.

Ortega, L. 2014. Understanding second language acquisition. Routledge.

Tariq, A.R., Bilal, H.A., Sandhu, M.A., Iqbal, A. and Hayat, U., 2013. Difficulties in Learning Englsih as Second Language in Rural Areas of Pakistan. Новый университет, 4, pp.24-34.

Widianingsih, N.K.A. and Gulö, I., 2016. Grammatical difficulties encountered by second language learners of English. Proceedings of ISELT FBS Universitas Negeri Padang, 4, pp.141-144.

Wu, R. and Wu, R., 2014. Challenges of Adults in Learning English as a Second Language: Focus on Adult Education in China. Journal of Language Teaching & Research, 5.

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