How the History of the
English Language will Help
You Learn English
The rich history of the English language means that there are
likely to be a number of words shared with your own language, whatever
that may be.
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English isn't an easy language to learn – it isn't phonetic, it has a
huge vocabulary, and lots of exceptions to the grammar rules.
But the fact that it is spoken all over the world means that it is an
international language, and one that is constantly evolving.
The roots of modern
are with the languages of northern Germany
People from these areas invaded the British Isles and settled there,
bringing their languages.
= the English language before about 1150.
Old English was not actually one language, but a group of dialects
which were different from each other, and which became very regional.
These languages are almost impossible for modern English speakers to
understand naturally, although as many as half of the words in use in
English today have their origins in this Old English language.
With the Viking invasions from Scandinavia
and the Norman
(French) victory in 1066, new groups of settlers came to Britain.
They brought their languages and vocabulary, and the English language
as we know it today began to emerge.
The growth of the Christian religion also brought influences from Latin
= an old form of English that was used between
about 1150 and 1500.
English in the early medieval period is known as Middle English
Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales" is an example of a text written in
this form of English.
When medieval literature became popular, and certainly with the
invention of the printing press, the language started to become a
little more standardized.
London had more of an influence over the rest of the country, and
different variations of English started to die out in favor of a
By the early 15th century the language had evolved into something quite
close to what we know today, and by the time Shakespeare wrote his
plays in the 16th century, the language had changed into something very
similar to today's language, albeit with some differences in
vocabulary, pronunciation, and pronouns.
Apart from the Germanic
influences on the English language, the Renaissance brought classical
influences to the cities of Britain and more new words were borrowed
from languages such as Latin
and other European languages.
As travel became more common, words also appeared from Indian
= the English language in the form it has been used since about 1500.
The English language is now spoken all over the world and it is still
Some of the differences between American and British English are
becoming blurred, and influences from countries where English is an
official but second language are also changing the grammar and
English is a living language and the grammar has changed in the past.
It will continue to change. What you are told is incorrect grammar now
may be perfectly acceptable in 50 years' time.
How can this help you?
If you are studying English, it will help you if you have learned
another language first.
Why? Well, you may find there is more in English that you recognize
after studying another language it is linked to.
Also, some knowledge of the roots of a language can sometimes help you
understand the origin of a word.
Thirdly, some knowledge of the history of the English language will help you
understand the rich variety of English literature that is available.
Texts such as Shakespeare's plays, Chaucer's work, early poets such as
John Donne, etc, can all help you understand more about English culture.
So don't neglect the history of the English language. It may be more useful and more
interesting than you think.
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