Compared to many languages in the world, English is fairly young, appearing less than 1500 years ago. People from many different lands with many different languages invaded and settled in Britain. These various languages affected the development of English.
Latin, French, and German are some of the most common sources of English vocabulary. More words were adopted from other languages that English speakers encountered through trade or colonization, such as Chinese, Hindi, and Arabic.
Even today, English borrows words from other languages all the time. Some of these “loanwords” change pronunciation over time to fit with English pronunciation.
Many native English speakers don’t realize how many other languages the words they use every day come from. For example, this sentence…
I’m going into the city to hear a guitar and piano concert, and then I’ll have some coffee or tea with sugar.
…contains words borrow from French, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Chinese, and Arabic.
So if English vocabulary is challenging for you, the reason why is clear: learning English can feel like learning bits of many different languages at once.
Here are a few more examples of the diverse words that came to English from other languages around the world.
If you’d like to learn more about loanwords in English, check out this explanation from a linguistics professor.
Of course, many languages today borrow words from English. This article from the Boston Globe explores the controversies around English loanwords.