One, it has more words than any other language in the world. Another reason, which is linked to the first reason, is that most of our words aren’t English in origin. About a third of our vocabulary comes from French because of William the Conqueror’s invasion at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 (something my senior students from Nevada should all know). Our words come from Greek, Latin, Spanish, German, Italian, Arabic, Hindi, Russian, Swedish, Japanese, Persian, and Native American languages. In fact, you could name any major language in the world and English has taken words from it. That’s why we often have multiple words for the same thing. And it’s why students who are learning English get tripped up with pronunciation. For example, if they read the word “tortilla” the way they learned to pronounce English words, they would mispronounce it because it’s not really an English word.
We also have exceptions to the rule. The famous spelling rule that everyone remembers from their childhood has
an exception written right into it. “’I’ before ‘e,’ except after ‘c’ and when the sound is ‘ay’ as in ‘neighbor’ and ‘weigh.’ Yet that even has an exception. The word ‘weird.’ There’s no ‘c’and no ‘ay’ sound. Weird.
Homophones pose another problem. When I say the word ‘there,’ students don’t know if they should write ‘there,’ ‘they’re,’ or ‘their’ until they memorize the different spellings. Even native speakers get tripped up with homophones. I have no sympathy for them though.
Homonyms are another area for trip ups. How do you pronounce ‘does?’ That depends on if you’re talking about the action ‘to do’ or if you’re talking about a group of female deer. Again, that’s something students just have to memorize.
These are all areas of trickiness within formal, standard English. When you throw in slang, things get even more difficult for non-native speakers. We know what ‘bomb’ means in standard English. But as I taught my students slang, I realized we use bomb a lot of other ways. We can drop a (non-literal) bomb. A person can get bombed
(drunk) though that’s not used as often as other terms. Here’s where it can get really tricky for a non-native speaker. If something is really bad, like a movie, it is ‘a bomb.’ But if something is really good, like a movie again, it is ‘the bomb.’ The difference is the article.
But these intricacies weave together to create the most beautiful and elaborate tapestry of language in the world.
English is like a lover. At first, you are excited by the hope of what it has to offer. (It is, after all, the lingua franca thanks to British imperialism and American business.) You must first focus all your effort on learning the basic information about your lover (Did she say her sister is older or younger? Do I put the adjective before or after the noun?). But as you spend more time with her, you learn more and more of the details that make her unique and
sometimes difficult, but that ultimately deepen your relationship and make you fall more in love. I keep falling
more and more in love with the English language. And I haven’t even mentioned idioms.