Learning English is difficult because in most subjects we are taught to learn rules. And while there are certainly some rules to speaking English, our language is a language rife with rule breaking. With new classes, I often explain that nothing I say will always be correct. But that rules usually will get you more than halfway towards your learning objectives.
The second biggest difficulty is vocabulary. With every country English speaking nations conquered, parts of the local language were incorporated into the main language. I give the example of the word Big. And then I ask what else means big? “Large, huge, massive, enormous, giant, extreme, etc.” Even though each of these words might be used in a different context, and have only slight differences in meaning, it can be a headache for students. I often assign homework of finding other ways to express the same idea.
Fear: Students suffer from fear of making a mistake, fear of being embarrassed, and sometimes personal shyness. So sometimes I have to be bigger than life and make mistakes so that they understand that mistakes will happen and it’s no big deal. I tell students that it is more important to understand and be understood than it is to be perfect. We can always correct and adjust, but we need to start with understanding each other.
Finally, another big problem is time. Learning takes time. I often mention the 10,000 hour rule. That to become an expert in anything, you need about 10,000 hours of practice. It can be sport, art, dance, music, etc. Once they realize that it will take time, they either freak out or relax and have fun. Usually it’s the latter.
I have never sat down with my students and asked them what makes learning English difficult, but I imagine this is what they might say if they had already learned English and could have this conversation.