Roots and English Words

One of the reasons that I have chosen to teach ESL as a second career is because of my lifelong fascination with words.  Words have brought me so much joy in my life.  Reading has always been one of my favourite activities, first in print, and more recently in audiobooks.  When I listen to music, I’m only drawn to songs with interesting lyrics.  The harmony and melody are very important, but I’m only really interested when the words of a song are meaningful in some way.  I only took Latin for 1 year, but I’ve always been grateful that my early teachers took time to point out the patterns in the English language.  They helped to notice prefixes (word beginnings) and suffixes (word endings), and to recognize the roots of many common words.  When we know a little bit more about the origins of a word, we can understand much more about its meaning, as well as pronunciation and usage.  As I studied to teach ESL, I was fascinated to learn that most of our food and government vocabulary came from the Norman French when they controlled England.

I hope that this webpage will help you a bit in your journey to understand new words.  Often, the new word will have some clues that will help you to guess at the meaning.

Roots and English Words.

5 comments on “Roots and English Words

  1. Ellen,
    I love that about ESL teaching as well, that students ask why we say things a certain way and we have to explain why the words are the way they are (such as why the “ch” in “chef” is /sh/, but is /k/ in “mechanic”). It gets much more into the behind the scenes of the language than first language teaching, I’ve found.
    -David

    • Exactly! I often explain that most of our food words come from French, so we pronounce them the French way: cafe, saute, chef, these anomalies keep English very interesting!

      • I had a Nepalese student who was very confused when I told him that the “j” San Jose was pronounced like an “h”. English loves to accumulate exceptions and that’s the stuff that doesn’t usually make it into English textbooks.

      • I tell students that English is like a “hot pot”. This analogy is easier for Asian students to understand. We collect all kinds of “ingredients” from everywhere around the world, and then mix them together.

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