Learning a language results in better knowledge of how it works. Begam et al argued that fluency in a language improves the students’ literacy skills, enabling them to think critically, analyze situations, and solve problems. However, developing strong literacy skills depends on learners’ familiarity with a language.

As Mohammed and Hasbi discussed, learners must have the ability to understand and use a language before they begin to read texts written in that same language. Formal education settings, especially international learning institutions, promote the delivery of course content in English (Begam et al. 53) but non-native speakers of this language face severe learning difficulties.

While the outcome of students struggling with learning and applying the inability to use English effectively in an educational context is poor academic performance, the real causes of the language acquisition issues receive less attention from researchers (Habók & Magyar 2358). Therefore, this self-directed research aims to present why students struggle with learning and applying English as a second language.

Research on English Language Difficulties 

Proficiency in English is not easily attainable for non-native speakers because of the following:

  • Language has several components that students must master

Strong skills in speaking, reading, writing, and listening to English content are the factors that demonstrate proficiency of students in this language (Begam et al. 53). Before students reach the point where they can listen to, speak, read, and write using the English language, however, they must know the associated components and develop appropriate skillsTherefore, a professionally designed English course should teach the language aspects as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Components of the English Language Course

Based on Figure 1, students begin learning English by knowing the relevant functions, grammar, and vocabulary. They then move to a more advanced stage, where they develop the previous knowledge by acquiring receptive and productive skills. In other words, English learners should be able to read, listen, write, and speak the language to qualify for college enrolment. Unfortunately, a significant number of students do not succeed in achieving these skills. For instance, despite learning English as a second language for 14 years (from primary school to secondary and college), students in Malaysia failed to become fluent (Begam 53). Vocabulary acquisition emerged as a key challenge here. 

  • Students do not get adequate time to learn and familiarise themselves with English before using

Mohammed and Hasbi argued that most learners begin speaking in English after learning it for five years. Unfortunately, curricula designs focus more on making children proficient in their mother tongue so much that the second language fails to receive attention.  The situation forces second-language learners to start reading in English before mastering it orally, hence the fluency gap.

Contributing to this discussion, Bridge Education Group stated that each student has a unique experience that affects how he or she learns a second language. Bridge Education Group added that students need five to seven years to get so fluent in English that they can use it in social and academic contexts. While this is the average language learning duration, the source stated that students with weaker skills in their first language and literacy may take up to 10 years to master the second language.

  • Mother tongue often interferes with the process of learning a second language

The outcome is difficulties in reading, comprehension, and accureducational purposes and social lives as it lays the foundation for advanced language learning stages such as writing, spelling, enhanced grammar, and vocabulary identification. Reading is vital for both educational purposes and social lives as it lays the foundation for advanced language learning stages such as writing, spelling, enhanced grammar, and identification of vocabulary. The ability to read influences listening, speaking, and writing. Reading skills also impact comprehension of written materials useful for professional interactions and engagements.

In cases where teachers and students use English as a second language, adequate teacher training could be necessary. Souriyavongsa and Rany further stated that the absence of English background, low confidence in their ability to apply English, inappropriate English proficiency curriculum, limited chances to socialize with native speakers of English,  and poor motivation for learning also escalate this problem.

  • Researchers adequately studied the unique factors affecting the learning of English as a second language

Habók and Magyar discussed that several studies cover language learning strategies that help students to learn effectively and attain advanced mastery after graduation but less. Still, less attention is paid to learners' attitudes concerning the methods of teaching a foreign language. Although compensation, cognitive and metacognitive approaches are most commonly applied in foreign language learning, Habók and Magyar established that students’ preferences vary with cultural contexts.

In particular, the authors stated that learners from China and Singapore prefer social strategies, while those from Europe respond positively to affective methods. Learners’ attitude determines their motivation to learn the language, outcomes, and future success. Also, the association between the strategies for language learning and general achievement at school has been overlooked.

Overall, poor preparation, limited knowledge of grammar and vocabulary, and time constraints cause learners to score low grades in both English and courses delivered using the second language (Begam et al. 53). The inability of students to read and understand test requirements means that they will not answer questions as directed and will fail. Poor English writing ability could even lead to worse outcomes in tests and examinations.

On the other hand, students incapable of listening and speaking the second language will avoid socialization and other interactions that may cause them to communicate with native speakers.  If the struggles with second language learning go beyond academic life into the workplace, it could contribute to unemployment.  Communication is a critical skill in international workspaces; hence a person who cannot speak and write English fluently has a low chance of getting a job.

The Real Culprit: Culture

The research demonstrates how cultustudents' academic outcomes affect language learning and students' educational outcomes. Language and culture share an inseparable relationship. Application of language leads to the spreading of culture, while cultural contexts grant meaning to the words used to communicate in a second/foreign language.

Language production relies on linguistic competency or skills in writing, pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar syntax. The produced language then helps to transmit the belief transmit community's thoughts and ideas and ideas of the community, based on cultural competency. Abdalla and Mohammed argued that a learner must acquire a language and its concerned culture because these two elements support the development of each other. Figure 2 illustrates this association.

Figure 2: The Interconnection between Language and Culture

The figure above shows that language is among the components of culture and that language helps to narrate the history and culture of the people that speak it. As shown by the arrows, culture influences language development, and vice versa. Culture affects language through communication as it decides who to tell, what to talk about, the communication process, encoding of messages, the meaning attached to the letters, and conditions for sending or interpreting the information.

One of the challenges is that the differences in Western and Eastern cultures significantly affect the fluency of English learners. Begam et al. linked cultural differences to grammatical errors, organization mistakes, and the inability to present ideas in English. MyEnglishPages.com explains that a student's culture can bar learning a foreign/second language due to the emergence of misunderstandings and confusion. Learning a language involves speaking and comprehending it. English proficiency, for instance, depends on the ability to use this language in the context of its associated culture. The cultural barriers, thus, cultural barriers, therefore, hinder learners from communicating freely with native speakers.

Also, reading comprehension requires mental representation of texts that only happens if the reader understands the proper contexts (Mohammad & Hasbi 523).  Exposure to enabling environments, socialization, and access to peers with proficient English abilities are necessary. Generally, cultural differences and mother tongue have a negative effect on the learning of foreign or second languages. Learners often transfer knowledge from their mother tongue and utilize it to learn a second language. If the mother tongue and target language do not share substantial linguistic features, the practice can minimize chances for internalization of the rules associated with the second language. Outcomes may include inappropriate grammatical patterns, inaccurate pronunciations, and inability to identify vocabulary items.

Another problem is that models for integrating culture into the teaching of language do not trigger deep reflection inside a classroom, leaving educators and learners with mere knowledge of the lifestyles of individuals in the country where the language and culture belong (Abdalla & Mohammed 24). In other words, the teaching approaches present cultural knowledge to the students and leave them with the task of integrating the aspects with the beliefs and assumptions of their own society. Teachers’ understanding of the culture of the second language is vital in this area. Guidance from the teacher enables learners to construct personal interpretations or reflections based on their experiences. The process enables learners to compare and contrast their culture with the one attached to the second language.  Open communication channels for teachers and students could also assist with the free sharing of cultural feedback. The outcome should be an active environment for creative experimentation for individuals and collectively.

Culture exposes learners to a rich range of perspectives to apply in different courses selected by undergraduates. At this point, educators should focus on strategies that help to avoid the use of symbols that learners of English as a second language cannot attach meaning to or could end up interpreting inappropriately (Abdalla & Mohammed 23). Understanding culture is what differentiates speakers that comprehend the meaning of words used in a second language from others that remain casual speakers. Learning a different language also necessitates changes in habits and values while influencing the learners’ identity and behaviors.


Students that study English as a second language or use it to fulfill the requirements of a college course face several challenges because attaining fluency in this language takes work. Some of th constraints associated with the difficulties include inadequate time to study the language, lack of motivation, and disregard for the learner’s attitude concerning the content delivery models.

The primary challenge, however, is the mismatch between the students’ cultures and that of the second language. Every language is connected to the history and culture of its native speakers. Therefore, students must be willing to learn the people’s culture to develop proficient learners’ in a second language. Educators can be of great assistance if they first understand the target language's culture, as this would ensure that they teach students effectively.

Learners' attitudes toward the different approaches should be considered when planning teaching strategies. The curriculum should also promote opportunities for cultural learning through socialization, the creation of enabling environment, and interaction with more fluent peers.