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As we all know, English is evolving. Constructs considered repugnant 100 years ago are widely-accepted today. Thousands of words in our vocabulary have fallen into disuse while thousands more have been adopted.

My question: is English becoming easier to learn or harder? This is especially relevant given that--for better or worse--learning English is fast becoming a requirement for many non-native speakers.

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closed as not constructive by Robusto, kiamlaluno, Hellion, Marthaª, RegDwigнt Feb 28 '11 at 10:35

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The question is quite subjective. Who speaks Spanish as first language has probably more difficulties to learn English than somebody who already speaks a Germanic language. –  kiamlaluno Feb 28 '11 at 2:33
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@kiamlaluno: I know English is always viewed as Germanic, but I would argue modern English owes almost as much to Romance languages. –  Orbling Feb 28 '11 at 3:09
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@Orbling: The point is that saying English is becoming easier/harder is subjective. People speaking different languages would give a different answer; even between people speaking the same language, you would get different replies. –  kiamlaluno Feb 28 '11 at 3:38
    
@kiamlaluno: I quite agree, I was just picking up a sub-point in your statement. –  Orbling Feb 28 '11 at 12:31

4 Answers 4

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I would say that English is in fact becoming easier to learn, because the pressure from the corpus of speakers is always toward simpler and more accessible communication, and the pushback from prescriptive linguistics on a number of points that have made "proper" English more difficult to learn (such as idiotic rules about how you should refuse to casually split infinitives and that a preposition isn't a good thing to end a sentence with) has gradually eroded.

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I think the points where old prescriptions differ from spoken English are too few and far between to make a significant difference in the immense mass of stuff there is to learn. :-) –  ShreevatsaR Feb 28 '11 at 4:52
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There have been attempts to take subsets of English and enforce a few rules to keep that "mass of stuff" manageable. They haven't really caught on (perhaps Wikipedia's Basic English effort will?!). –  Fixee Feb 28 '11 at 6:27

Just because thousands of words have fallen into disuse does not imply that English has become 'easier'. The purpose of any language is communication, and as society changes, the things that we wish to express also change. It is therefore inevitable that any language, let alone English which is so widely used, will be in a state of constant flux.

English is no easier to learn, today. If 10 words have gone out of usage, another 10 have come into usage. It is just as hard to write good, expressive English today as it was 100 years ago.

But the amount of English spoken around and written around the world, definitely exposes people to a lot of English. So, it might be possible to pick up the language more easily just because so many people use it. So, it might have become slightly easier to learn, just because of its immense popularity.

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Comparing Modern English with Old English, you can say Modern English has been simplified, especially because Modern English doesn't use most of the grammar cases previously used in Old English.
Simplifying it doesn't mean to make it easier, though. It also means that English now uses a single word (with different meanings) where Old English (or Middle English) used two different words.

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I don't think that the changes to the language themselves makes the language much easier or harder to learn.

If the language would have been unchanged for a long time, it would definitely be harder to learn, simply because it would be harder to use to form sentences that are relevant for the time.

You can look at the spelling in english, which hasn't changed much. It would be easier to learn english if the spelling was based on how words are pronounced now instead of how they were pronounced a hundred years ago.

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