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Why is it Hard for Immigrants to Learn a New Language?

The American dream, whether real or imagined, is the impetus for people all around the world. Their hope is to come to America and build a better life for their families. They come to America to get a world-class education. And, despite the obstacles, millions have realized this dream. However, the realization of the dream starts with learning the English language.

To this end, Vocational ESL students spend many hours poring over English-language materials to fulfill the requirements of living and working in the United States. Students must excel on standardized college-entry exams. Professionals must pass standardized exams related to their professions. It’s not easy but it’s a price they are willing to pay. Once in the U.S., with the ability to work and earn a good living, their new lives have economic ramifications that extend far beyond America’s borders.

Why is it Hard for Immigrants to Learn a New Language?

Learning a new language is challenging for most adults. However, living in a new country without fluency in that country’s language can be very difficult. Below are some of the more common reasons that immigrants find learning English challenging.


One of the most prominent reasons students find it hard to learn English is the grammar. The English language is replete with rules and exceptions to the rules. They are learned through memorization and practice which means there are a lot of exceptions to remember.

There are many verb tenses to learn. There are present, past, future, perfect, continuous, and conditional verbs. There are specific times when they must be used. During their use, the subject and verb must agree. A student can follow a conjugation pattern for regular verbs, but there are many exceptions for widely used irregular verbs.


In a language full of homonyms and synonyms, there may be a few moments of frustration for the student. An animal is a “moose,” but a dessert or hair foam is a “mousse.” There are many of these types of words. If a student doesn’t comprehend which of the homonyms is being used, they could possibly misunderstand the entire sentence.

Alternatively, Vocational ESL students can look for familiarity in English that corresponds to their language. Having the same grammatical concepts in both the native and English help students learn faster. However, sometimes there is none. Some languages have masculine and feminine nouns which are formed by using the feminine or masculine definite or indefinite article, and an “a” or “o” ending. In English, we have a girl and a boy. In Spanish, there is “una muchacha” and “un muchacho.”


A student can learn the meaning of a word without knowing that there may be more than one use for that word. Misunderstanding a “homograph” can also lead to the wrong interpretation of a sentence. These are the same words but with different meanings. For example, “brief” means something very short. “We will have a brief meeting at noon.” However, in the legal world, a principal “brief” can be a 52-page, double-spaced document. Again, learning these involves more use of memorization.


This is one aspect of language learning that presents a challenge for most Vocational ESL learners, wherever they are. Many also want to speak with an American accent. Some languages pronounce every sound of a word, whereas that is not always the case in English. In English “office” has two syllables and is pronounced: off—fiss. If a student pronounces all of the sounds, it would be: off–fih—see. There are three syllables in some cultures. In such cases, these new rules must be learned to pronounce words with a silent e. “Practice” is another confusing word for some ESL learners who pronounce “prak–tiss” as “prak–tih–see.”

Some sounds and alphabet letters do not exist in other languages. Therefore, the Vocational ESL student must learn how to form the sound with his mouth. This is many times easier said than done. In Spanish, the word “estudiar” (s–stew–dee–r) means “study.” However, when some people interpret estudiar and like words in English, they add an additional “s” sound. Thus, “study” becomes “s–study” and they must learn to remove the additional “s” from many “st” words.

Alternatively, there are letters of the English alphabet that have different sounds in other languages. For example, in Turkish, the “v” has an English “w” sound while the “w” has the English “v” sound. Hence, the Turkish rendering of the English statement would sound like “I vent to vork and it was wery nice.” Sometimes, it takes time to reprogram one’s brain to master unfamiliar sounds.

Idiomatic Expressions

An idiomatic expression is a phrase whose meaning is different from the direct interpretation of individual words. So, if a native speaker told you to “break a leg” before your recital, you would not need to give him a side eye. They were telling you to do a great job. On the other hand, if something “costs an arm and a leg,” it is very expensive. Most languages have their own expressions and some of them are very similar to the ones in English.

The Impact of Foreign Languages

The English language continues to grow. This means that new words are added to the dictionaries every year. And the English language adopts “loanwords,” or words from foreign countries integrated into the English language. Many loanwords are so commonly used that they are familiar and can easily be understood. Take, for example, the homonyms “chow” and “ciao.” “Chow” is a Chinese word that means “eat” and “ciao” is an Italian word which means “goodbye.” Their meanings are similarly used in America.

The Age Factor

Age is another reason why many older immigrants find learning English difficult. It may be hard for them to understand the linguistics and pronunciation of English. They do have a point. In an environment where children are constantly exposed to language, they learn organically. The brain also learns faster due to a higher level of “neuroplasticity” which gives them the ability to learn new information. This neuroplasticity decreases with age and can impede one’s ability to learn easily.


Many immigrants have an understandable fear of moving beyond the comfort of their native speaking community. This makes it very hard to practice English. They don’t want to be seen as an outsider or getting what they’re trying to communicate wrong. However, the more they try and correct themselves, the more they’ll improve their English skills.

How Do You Learn English as a Second Language?

So, if you don’t have a study partner, it’s easy to find a community of supportive Vocational ESL learners with whom you can communicate and grow your knowledge of English. Thus, one of the best ways to learn English as a Second Language is to attend a Vocational ESL program, also known as VESL.

Trying to learn English on your own can be difficult. If your reference materials are outdated, the information you are learning may not be very helpful. With a VESL education, you get the aspects of learning another language that make your studies so successful. You will master reading, writing, speaking, and pronunciation.

Despite the many challenges the Vocational ESL student will face, the VESL programs offer a systemic and effective approach to language learning. You will see the difference a VESL education makes with instructors who are interested in your success.

Want to Learn More?

Our Vocational English as a Second Language (ESL) training program is designed for student success. Interactive College of Technology offers live online and in-person English classes that fit into your busy schedule.

Our Vocational ESL classes are set up, so your English develops skill by skill. Four levels of rigorous courses help you to comprehend the English language by combining lecture, lab, class discussion, and group activities. This effective method ensures Vocational ESL students are provided English language skills as well as cultural transference.

You receive all Vocational ESL program materials to keep. You’ll also be provided with a personal email account, resume writing, and job placement assistance, media center access, and more! Our campuses are located across Georgia and Texas.

Let’s learn English together! Contact us now to learn more.

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