Barriers to Language Learning and Acquisition

brick_wall11254935255Learning a second language isn’t easy. There is a lot that can get in the way.  It isn’t as automatic or sure as we’d suppose.  Depending on the person, there can be some high barriers to learning another language.

I’m teaching a unit on this in a certificate course and thought I’d make my own list. (yes, could have flipped open my Gass and Selinker but then I wouldn’t be learning anything, would I!?) I’d love it if you could read and add something I missed or tell us which you think is the most important to spend time diminishing. I put them into 5 categories.

Barriers to Language Acquisition and Learning


– peer group

– socio-economic status

– L1 education and literacy

– parental/family support

– access and support

Psycho / Emotional

– affective factors (anxiety, social bias)

– self belief

– motivation (low intrinsic and extrinsic forces)

– attitude towards language and learning

– social disposition / character


– psycho motor skills

– cognitive functioning

– L1 development / childhood developmental factors

– physical impairments (deaf, blind etc…)

– psychological fitness

– age and health


– type and method of instruction

– improper materials and curriculum

– little access to input (native speakers / audio material)

– school and classroom culture

– lack of learning skills, strategies

– teacher/student relationship

– planning and use of time


– language transfer and interference (L1-L2 closeness)

– cultural values regarding risk taking, openess

– government policy and investment

– dislocation, movement, war

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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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9 Responses

  1. Hi David,

    A few things I’d add to your list, in relation to teaching adults:


    – childcare issues, need to care for sick or elderly relatives

    – job demands, e.g. shiftwork patterns that can interfere with ability to attend classes

    – lack of time


    – Religion (for example, women who need or want women-only classes)


  2. Sandy says:

    Hi David,
    I think this would fit under pedagogical, although I’m not sure:
    -the time of the lessons i.e. classes at 7 in the morning v. at 2 in the afternoon may affect how much you learn

  3. ddeubel says:


    Yes of course, that’s a very subtle observation. Never thought of it but I do know when teacher training – there was a big difference teaching in the morning (more enthusiastic, motivated learners) than teaching in the evening when teachers had already been teaching all day.

    My methods had to be very different in both cases.


    I can see how childcare etc… could fall under “responsibilities” or outside obligations.

    Religion of course! some cultures are just promote language learning more as part of their own cultural ethos…

  4. Sharron says:

    Students in Puerto Rico report being embarrassed
    by English teachers in front of their classmates.

    They also fear being ridiculed by bilingual peers who may
    correct their English when they attempt to speak
    with other English speakers.

  5. Ahmed Jubaer says:

    Actually,many of the students learn a second mainly a foreign language for passing in the exam only. So, they are being neglected from learning that language properly. This idea is for Bangladesh as well as some others country.

  6. ddeubel says:

    Good point Ahmed, this is more an institutional barrier – that I guess falls under the “cultural” category. I agree totally with you. So many spend so many year learning English 1. in a classroom 2. for testing / to pass a test only and both these really are barriers. Garbage in – garbage out….

  7. fauzana says:

    excellent points for me..actually im going to further my studies in educational psychology so i need to do some research for my own…your article really help me..just want to say thanks!!!

  8. Thomas Zachariah says:

    Thanks, David! Under the pedagogical barriers, I want to add one more, they need to learn it as a skill, not as a subject. Because communication is primarily a skill to connect.

  9. ddeubel says:

    Thanks Thomas. That’s a valid point but it might fit under type and method of instruction. But good time for a rewrite and rethink of this list. I’ll be making some changes and additions.

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