Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 4 Issue 37 | March 11, 2005 |

   Cover Story
   News Notes
   Food for Thought
   Eating Out
   Time Out
   Slice of Life
   Dhaka Diary
   Book Review
   New Flicks
   On Campus

   SWM Home



Do you want to become a more effective reader? Follow the stages given on these pages, repeat the exercises again with different newspaper and magazine articles, and you will see a definite improvement in your reading skills.
First, find an article you think looks interesting.
For example, 8th October's Why is English spelling so difficult?

Before you read…
1. What do you think the article will be about.

Spend 5 minutes brainstorming all the words you think you will find in the article (not the, and, an etc). So for this article…

2. Why do you want to read the article?
Write down five questions you would like the article to answer.
For example…
1. Why does the spelling and pronunciation of a word seem to be unrelated?
2. Where do English words originate from?
3. When was the first dictionary published?
4. Which words aren't 'English'?
5. Why is English spelling so difficult?(!)

Read the article…
Set yourself a time limit, say 8 minutes, and read the article as quickly as you can. Try to find the answers to your questions and check whether any of the words you predicted appear in the article.

English is the second most frequently spoken language in the world and has the largest vocabulary of any language. Half of all business deals are conducted in English. Two thirds of all scientific papers are written in English. Over 70% of all mail is written and addressed in English. Most international tourism and aviation is conducted in English.

Isn't it unfortunate that many people find English difficult to spell?
To understand why this is so, it helps to look at its history. The original inhabitants of Britain spoke a Celtic language but over the centuries, Britain has been invaded many times. Its conquerors always left some of their language behind them. During the 5th Century A.D., the Angles, Saxons and Jutes invaded and pushed the native Celtic speakers to the edges of the island, in to Wales, Cornwall and Scotland. Cornish died out in the 18th century but Welsh, Scottish and Irish Gaelic are still spoken. Their Germanic language was called Englisc from which we get English. Christian missionaries introduced the Latin alphabet that we still use today, from Southern Europe via Ireland.

In 1066 the Normans, from France, conquered Britain. French became the language of the court and the aristocracy, and Latin the language of the church and the law. This increased the English vocabulary. Many words in English have a" French" and a "Germanic" equivalent, e.g. stomach, belly. The Germanic form of plurals (house, housen; shoe, shoen) was eventually displaced by the French method of making plurals by adding an "s" (houses; shoes). A few words have retained their Germanic plurals: men, oxen, children.

King Henry IV, born in 1399, was the first king of England since the Norman Conquest whose mother tongue was English. By the end of this period, the dialect of London had become what we now call Middle English, Chaucer's language. At this time spelling varied throughout the country, depending on the local pronunciation, so we can often tell where old documents were written by their spelling.

When Caxton brought the printing press to England in 1476, books became cheaper and started to be published in English, rather than Latin. This brought standardization to English but although the spelling and grammar of modern English became fixed around the 16th Century and the first English dictionary was published in 1604 the language has continued to change. Through contact with many people from around the world, numerous words have entered the language.

The Industrial Revolution and the rise of the technological society created a need for new words to describe things and ideas that had not previously existed. Words like protein and vaccine were often taken from Latin and Greek roots. Then there was the British Empire. At its height, Britain ruled one quarter of the earth's surface, and English adopted many foreign words. Hindi, and the other languages of the Indian subcontinent, provided many words, such as pundit, shampoo, pyjamas, jodhpurs. Besides the vast contributions of French and Latin and Greek, virtually every language on Earth has contributed to the development of English, from Finnish (sauna) and Japanese (tycoon).

All these contributions and additions have mixed to make a very rich language soup, allowing us to express ourselves very well. When you spell an English word it probably isn't English at all, that's why it doesn't follow the rules. Very often, English has accepted the new words with their original spellings, but didn't adopt the original pronunciations, or pronunciations were changed by common usage, but the original spellings were never changed to match. We also know that English is pronounced in many different ways. Even people from different parts of Britain use different pronunciations, not to mention Americans, South Africans, New Zealanders, Australians, etc. So how can we really reach an agreement as to how things should be spelt in the 21st century?

Now read the article again…
1. Note down any ten words that you do not know or are unsure of their meaning. Try and write an estimation of the meaning of these new words. When you have finished, check the meaning in a good dictionary.
2. Write a 60 word summary of the article. Keep to this word limit as it means you will have to produce concise language and isolate the main points.
For example…

60 words (perfect!)
3. Try to identify the main point for each paragraph and write a heading. This will check your understanding of the article's flow, and improve your ability to identify a writer's main ideas.

4. Try to identify the various tenses used, and reasons why. If you see any constructions you are not familiar with, note them down and research them in a good grammar book.

5. Write a paragraph about the article stating your opinions of the ideas and reasons discussed, for example if you feel the above article doesn't explain why you find English so difficult to spell, say it! State what you think.

Finally, do it again! You should try to do this regularly, using various resources such as this magazine, daily editions of the newspaper and other publications such as The Economist or websites such as http://www.bbc.co.uk

Visit the British Council library at Fuller road for these publications and read articles on the British Council's Learn English website at http://www.learnenglish.co.uk

Happy Reading!

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2005