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?
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
Why do you want to read the article?
Write down five questions you would like the article to answer.
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?(!)
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
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.
it unfortunate that many people find English difficult to
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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
the British Council library at Fuller road for these publications
and read articles on the British Council's Learn English website
(R) thedailystar.net 2005