Origins of English Words

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 12195

If you've heard or read languages other than your native tongue, you've noticed similar words. Languages borrow from each other and constantly change. They can even teach us about history, so read on!


English / Language Arts, World

learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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What language is this man speaking?

Opening Lines of Beowulf in Old English, Justin A. Jackson, Hillsdale College:

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Many things in the world appear like they are standing still.

The mountains, for example, look like they have been standing there forever. As we look closer, we find evidence that they are moving. In a thousand years, or ten thousand years, they will look different than they do now.

The same goes for language. The English that we speak today is a little different from the English that people spoke a hundred years ago. It is almost completely different from the English people spoke a thousand years ago. In fact, the recording you heard in the section above was written just about one thousand years ago — and it is English!

You will compare examples of English as it has been spoken at different points in history. That way, you can tell for sure if our language is changing or not.

  1. Listen to four examples of English. Each of the recordings uses exactly the same text: The Bible, Book of Genesis, Chapter 1.
  2. As you listen, write down at least three things you notice about the changes in English over the centuries.
  • Can you make out any words at all in the first two videos?

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Share your notes with your parent or teacher, then discuss these questions together:

  • How do you think languages change over time?
  • Have you heardofany new words, or words you think are new? Where do you think they came from?
  • How can we find out where our words came from?

All languages are changing and developing, picking up new words and dropping old ones.

In the Got It? section, you will take a look at the history of some familiar words and find out where they came from.

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