The History and Spelling of English

The English language has such convoluted and variegated origins as very few other languages do in the rest of the world. The intermingling of Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Frisian, Romans, Norman, Cells and the French Just to name a few, has led over the course of almost 3,000 years to the development of a language with extraordinary vocabulary richness and spelling complexity. To this day we keep on adding new vocabulary, especially thanks to the sciences and technology fields. Having a working knowledge of the history of the English language will definitely help in explaining the ay English is the way it is to the students in an PELF class.

Knowing for example that English derives from the Germanic group of languages and that it had a strong Latin influence will enable the teacher to limit the stress on vocabulary and phonology when teaching students who speak a Germanic or Latin based language. It will be the opposite when teaching students whose native language does not even adopt the Roman alphabet, like the Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Thai and so forth. Learning how to properly write, read and speak in English can be quite tricky because it is not a honesty language like Italian or Spanish and because of the complexity of the spelling caused by its tumultuous development.

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Students who speak Latin or Germanic languages will have the upper hand on the ones who don’t simply because of the resemblance of many English words to their own. I have always been interested in the etymology of words and having studied Latin, Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese and German in the past I have become more and more aware of the importance of knowing where words come from. Latin in particular has been of read help in science classes and in perfecting my command of the English language.

Students who speak at least one of the above mentioned languages will be able to deduct the meaning of many words in English; however we shall not forget that false cognates are always lurking around the corner. These “false friends” should always be pointed out when encountered in order to avoid using them improperly. Students who speak Arabic, Chinese, Japanese etc. On the other hand will have greater difficulties learning English simply because their native language is completely efferent. The first challenge for them would be learning the Roman alphabet and then they would have problems hearing and producing certain sounds.

Their sentence structure will most likely be very different however they will have minimal if not no issues at all with false cognates. These are only a few of the issues that students will encounter when learning English as a second or foreign language. Being able to properly spell words in English is a challenge for foreign students as well as for English speaking people as I notice every day. This is because of the complex origins of the language which has adopted vocabulary, phonetics and other details from other languages, mixed them up and then finally standardized them after almost 3,000 years.

I can’t stress enough the importance of proper spelling because, in my opinion, it shows how much one cares about effectively and efficiently communicating with others. Spelling is usually not a problem for me but as a good teacher I would write down troublesome words in my lesson plan and always have a jugular dictionary and a etymological dictionary in class in order to clear any doubts about the spelling of a word and also to be able to explain to the students where the word comes from and why it is spelled the way it is.

I think that if they understand the origins of a word they will be less likely to misspell it the next time and they will also get some interesting historical information out of it. Knowing the history of the English language and having the appropriate tools to explain why it is the way it is, is essential to the productivity and effectiveness of the PELF class.

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