Is English Really a Boring Language? (ESL Teacher Explains)

With English the primary or official language in more than 60 countries (Source: Nations Online), it should not really come as a surprise that it’s the most spoken language globally, counting native and non-native speakers. But is it known as a beautiful language or easy to learn? Or is English really just a boring language to learn?

From its mundane and inconsistent grammar and spelling rules to its inexplicable cultural identity, English can be boring for native and second language learners alike. Yet despite this, English is still the number one language studied around the world, making it most popular of all.

As a US public school teacher for almost 20 years with a specialty in English as a second language (ESL), I have experience with what makes students think English is boring, but also garnered best practices for teaching (and learning) English to combat that and make it fun. Read on to discover the secrets!

What makes English Boring?

I must admit that learning English is boring to most students first and foremost, because of the grammar rules that seem to all have an exception or two. Then there is the confusing spelling patterns (and seemingly randomness to lots of English words).

As a high school English teacher, I personally find English grammar, especially the diagramming of sentences, quite interesting, but I understand that this is not the norm. Yet, mastering grammar is necessary for English proficiency!

Grammar Rules

English has some strange rules, that might seem quite different than many other languages. One such rule is the use of ‘me’ versus ‘I’.

‘I’ is a subject pronoun, whereas ‘me’ is an object pronoun.

I like to tell students that ‘I’ comes first alphabetically, so remember to use it first in the sentence; and ‘me’ is used in the second part of the sentence.

However true to form, in English this is not always the case, such as with complex and compound sentences. This is not usually too difficult for native speakers to grasp (over time), but very challenging for non-natives to apply appropriately.

There are also rules with making singular nouns plural that can get quite tricky.

Initially all English language learners learn that you can add ‘s’ to a noun to make it plural (more than one). This is also what native speakers learn in primary grades.

However, as vocabulary advances, students are presented with more complicated ways to make plural nouns than simply adding s.

Example 1: Words that end in ‘x’, add ‘es’ instead of ‘s’

Example 2: Singular nouns that are also plural, such as ‘deer’, don’t change

If you found any of this boring as an English speaker, just think what a learner will feel. Some of this twists and turns so much that a student feels like they have to do mental gymnastics just to say the simplest of things.

Spelling Inconsistencies

English spelling can certainly seem boring. When I was in elementary school, our teachers would give us a spelling list each week to memorize.

Every Friday, we’d have a test. Now if you’re a grammar/spelling nerd like me, you’d find this fun. However, most of my friends found spelling practice quite boring, and spelling tests quite frustrating.

Inconsistencies in spelling really just have to be memorized and that is the English boring factor for most people.

Learning when to add -ed to make verbs past tense; when to double a consonant before adding -ing to the ending; and when to put ‘i before e except after c’ (but not in seize, weird, glacier, forfeit, albeit, and more!) are all spelling features you must learn when studying English.

How to Make English Grammar & Spelling Un-Boring

The best way to overcome the boring part of grammar and spelling is to practice it in fun ways-ways that don’t seem like practice.

I recommend watching fun English tv shows for practice with grammar and spelling. Notice I said ‘fun’ shows. The reason for this is that you’re more likely to find more commonly used (and thus, useful) vocabulary than what will be available on dramas or highly specialized/technical shows.

By listening to popularized English-speaking tv shows, you’ll hear natural use of grammar and for the most part that will be all you need (unless you deliberately desire strict technical English language, learning grammatical patterns in common conversation will be enough.)

Listening/watching Friends or How I Met Your Mother episodes will help make grammar un-boring. And using the closed caption function, also in English, will support spelling. If you prefer to have it on DVD for your convenience, you can purchase Friends and How I Met Your Mother at Amazon, too.

Why Learning Any Language is Boring

It’s not just English, by the way, that’s boring. Learning any language is/can be boring. There are several boring factors that are common to any language: lack of motivation and unrealistic time expectations to name two.

Lack of Motivation

Motivation is key to learning anything new, including second language learning. And unfortunately, research shows that the older we are, the less we are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated to learn new things.

The good news, however, is that other research shows that just like children, adults are motivated by fun more than not in learning new things such as a foreign or second language (Source: Science Direct, August 2014). This means that with forethought into what makes learning actually fun-for-you, then motivation for learning can be aligned.

To read more on this, check out the article I’ve written on motivation.

It Takes Longer Than We Think

I know we all have seen those claims that you can learn a language in 6 weeks, 2 months, or even a year, but in actuality, that’s not usually the case. Those claims have high expectations, meaning you’ll be doing nothing much else and most of us can’t dedicate the amount of time required for such fast, quick results.

So, going into learning English expecting to pick it up fluently and expertly in a short amount of time is not wise. Therefore, it’s not only quality, but also quantity that matters in order to read, write, speak, and listen fluently if non-native, and expertly if native.

And taking a lot of time….is boring.

How to Make Motivation and Unrealistic Expectations Un-Boring

At the beginning of each year, I’d give my English students an interest survey in order to find out what motivates them. Then, I’d use some of those ideas to help guide my planning.

For example, if I had a class that was more social, I’d create lessons that utilized group projects. If I had a class that enjoyed technology and video games, I’d incorporate lessons that utilized our Chromebooks more.

To make learning a language more engaging, and thus, successful, teachers need to select methods and tools that align with their students’ interests. If you are learning on your own or using an unstructured method, you need to use tools and strategies that are engaging to you.

It’s the only way to combat boredom and stay motivated!

Here is a short list of ideas to get you started. I will list them for the English language, but you can insert any target language in its place…

  • Play video games in English
  • Listen to music in English
  • Write poetry in English
  • Read joke books in English
  • Role play in English
  • Try to describe how to do your favorite hobby in English
  • Describe your favorite vacation in English on YouTube

These should get you or someone you know started down the path of fun while learning English. This can be your super-power against the ‘boring’ language that English can be.

Why English Is Boring to Natives

If you ask native English speakers which language is most fun (opposite of boring), you’ll often hear Japanese because of its connection to anime and manga; many will rattle off Mandarin because of the artistic writing system and love of Bruce Lee movies; possibly even Spanish comes up due to its festive culture with mariachi, telenovelas, and Día de los Muertos.

But rarely will any native English speaker say their own language, English, is the most fun. Native English speakers simply don’t think about English being un-boring.

English Class is Always the Least Favorite

A clip from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, of Sloan’s boring English class

Not a lot has changed in American English classes since the well-known scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (available at Amazon) to the chagrin of both students and teachers. As much as teachers profess to want to engage their students in Shakespeare and expository essay writing, tactics show a lack of innovation and creativity. Thus, English class is often boring.

Because of the tediousness of writing not only grammatically-correct papers but also papers that are on topic and original, most students not only dislike their English classes, but often rank it at the bottom of the list of favorite school subjects.

English Seems Redundant

English is also boring to native speakers because it seems redundant, and by definition of taking ‘English’ every year from kindergarten to graduation (and sometimes, beyond if college is part of the plan), well it is redundant.

Unlike math and science that are repeated also but add new skills each year such as algebra one year, geometry the next, and biology one year, physics the next; English is often the same, especially from middle school onward.

As a teacher of English for middle and high schoolers, the content and skills covered was much the same. Sure, I had higher expectations from my 9th graders than my 6th graders, but they were both writing about the same genres (expository, informational, narrative, and literary) and in some cases, even the same text material (both my 6th and 9th graders read Homer’s The Odyssey).

Repetition is boring, and it takes proactive creativity to make it un-boring. This may be more of a problem with the U.S. public school system and the constraints on teachers than the English language itself. The problem is, this is how most all student experience their native language during their education careers.

How to Make English Classes Un-Boring for Natives and Non-Native Speakers

As I mentioned above, it takes proactive creativity to make English class un-boring (i.e. fun). This also takes a lot of extra work from English teachers, often already ‘overworked’, so most times it just doesn’t happen.

I’ve already mentioned using interest surveys to create motivating lessons for my students. But what does that actually look like when applied?

Well, it often meant my students played games in class. I’d use Jeopardy as a template and create questions on Hamlet or figurative language for my students to demonstrate their learning.

Other times I’d have my students create their own plays using similar literary themes and act them out for the class (or take their show on the road and act them for other classes around the school).

In other words, it meant English class for my native and non-native English speakers was more than simply hearing me lecture or repeating teaching methods from other teachers.

Again, this is not often what happens in the public or even private school systems at least in the United States. The test focused mentality of the curriculum and mandates for test performance from school districts make much deviation from test prep hard to do.

Teachers in many locations have their pay tied to student test performance, so ‘fun’ and ‘un-boring’ fall by the way side.

English Culture is Inexplicable

What is meant by ‘English culture is inexplicable’? Well, English culture is hard to explain. It’s such a derivation of other cultures that it’s often more piece-meal than singular.

Also, it is spoken as the official language in many countries with its own dialects, accents, colloquialisms and such that each perspective matters and alters what’s meant by ‘English’. And this disunity can actually make it seem boring.

Let’s take a look, then, at three different countries with English as its official language for comparison.

American English

For all intense and purposes, my perspective here is from American English.

Some features of American English are that it’s shorter than its counterparts (e.g. “flavor” vs. “flavour”); is popularized due to the entertainment world; is well-known for political and business prominence’ and is often simpler by reducing sentence lengths.

There is a wide-range of notable American English accents across the U.S. from Boston to Alabama and Fargo to Dallas, but none sound as great as its Aussie and British cousins, and this is perhaps the one thing that every American English speaker agree on!

Aussie English

Crocodile Dundee (linked to Amazon) is certainly a caricature of Oz, but the humor is well-intentioned.

Aussie English is definitely less boring that American English. Aussie English differs in its twang; it’s “G’day mate” instead of ‘hello’ and ‘bud’; its fast speed; the pronunciation of vowels; and inflection at the end of sentences.

Aussie English is more similar to British English in both accent and spelling. To most American English speakers anyway, Aussie English is definitely less boring than US English.

British English

British English is more like Australian English in their accents and spellings. They also have similar vocabulary and slang like ‘jumper’ for sweater and ‘flat” for apartment. They both also use ‘bloody’ as an emphasis word, like ‘where the bloody are ya?’

British English sounds more proper to American English speakers, but there are actually variants to the British accent. There is the Cockney, London, Midlands, and Welsh to name a few.

How to Make English Culture Un-Boring

Now the hodgepodge differences of English culture can also be looked at on the flip-side. With the right lens, and attitude, it can be what makes it un-boring!

English isn’t considered artistic, festive, or colorful, but you can certainly take the best, or most un-boring, parts of each of these main English-speaking cultures and add that to your English learning program.

For example, let’s just look at holidays, a decidedly un-boring category. You can celebrate the U.S.’s 4th of July, the UK’s Boxing Day, and Oz’s Australia Day as you learn English in a fun way!

The Final Talking Point about Boring English Language

Though some may not readily think of English as a fun language to learn, it’s certainly the most popular and studied language around the world. That’s makes it pretty useful to know!

English has some boring aspects such as grammar and spelling patterns, but all languages have un-fun parts to them. Truly, it’s up to you to make learning English (or any language) fun.

Finding the things in a culture and country is definitely a motivator for learning a language. It is usually the most un-boring part of the whole process. Fall in love with the people and culture and you will fall in love with the language. Then learning it and even the sound of it will take on a whole new feel.

With the right motivation, expectations, and perspective, English can be a fun language to learn! Good luck, friend….cheers, mate… Bye Y’all!

Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a licensed teacher for elementary through high school in 3 states. She is a former adjunct professor at the undergraduate level and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. She was a mentor for many education interns, department leader at various levels and organizations, has taught and coordinated professional development for teachers and educators, and professionally tutored in a multitude of subjects.

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