The Origins of English




Before coming to class as a homework assignment, watch the following web-lecture about the origins of the English Language. Should you have difficulties following the speaker, then there is a transcript of the lecture at the bottom of the page so you can read along.

Web-lecture The Origins of English:  Click here for Presentation 1

The history of English part 1: Click here for Video   Part 2: Click here to watch Part 2

You will now form groups of three, these will be your travel companions throughout this journey and together you will work on the end-product.


Warming-up.  In the web-lecture, you heard about the origins of the English language and how different this was to the original language of the Britons. The Welsh language, which is still spoken today, has its roots in the Celtic language spoken by the ancient Britons. To demonstrate how different this is to English we will now have a small competition. Wales is famous for having one of the longest place names in the world. This place name is notoriously difficult to pronounce, however recently a very brave weatherman did a very good job of pronouncing this name. Now watch the following clip and listen carefully to how he pronounces the name: Click on the link to listen to the weatherman: Click here for the weatherman;   At the bottom of the page open the document 'Welsh place name' open the document and put the place name in the correct order.

Step 1:  In the introductory phase of this lesson, you have learned about the political and social factors causing changes in the language. We will now watch a film that gives a further explanation on the origins of the English Language and how English has evolved. Click here to watch the film.

Step 2: As you have heard in the film English has its roots in many different languages. English continues to evolve as a language. The English language has an enormous vocabulary and even native speakers will never be familiar with all the words. To prove this, we will watch a clip of the tremendously popular British TV show ' Call My Bluff' which has been running since the 1960's. We will not watch the entire episode but the first ten minutes so you gain a good idea of how the quiz show works. Call my Bluff.

Step 3: Now it's your turn to play the game. Open the 'Call My Bluff' document at the bottom of the page and follow the instructions. However, you will not be playing just an ordinary version of the game but will be playing the Old English Version.

End of lesson 1: Pair & Share: Tell the person next to you the 2, 3, 4 most important things you have learned this lesson.


Step 1: As you heard in the web-lecture Old English developed from a set of North Sea Germanic dialects originally spoken by Germanic tribes known as the Angles, Saxons and Jutes. Frisian, a dialect spoken in the northern part of the Netherlands is similar to Old English. The Frisian language like the English language has changed over time, however, some similarities still remain. Eddie Izzard, a British comedian puts this to the test and attempts to buy a cow in Friesland by using Old English. We will now watch the clip and see if he is successful: Click here to see Eddie Izzard

Step 2: Now open the document 'Old English and Dutch words'. In your groups try to figure out the Dutch equivalent of the Old English words, do you see the similarities?

Step 3: We will now go on to look at Old English in some more detail. We will first start with a small competition. Look at the sentence here below, who will be the first group to give an accurate translation of the following sentence from Old English to Modern English? The winner of this competition will gain first pick in the final assignment, details to follow later, so do your best. A hint: it has to do with the geography of Britain. Ready, start TRANSLATE! 

Ehtahund mila lang and tu hund mila brad.

Step 4: We will now look at the wonderful epic poem Beowulf. Should you have difficulties following the speaker, there is a transcript of the lecture at the bottom of the page so you can read along. Click here to watch the Beowulf Web-lecture

Step 5: As you heard in the web-lecture kennings are used a lot in Beowulf. A reminder: a kenning is a figurative expression that replaces a name or a noun.  For example, whale road- means sea or ocean At the bottom of the page is a document with a list of kennings from Beowulf. In your groups try to come up with as many definitions of the kennings as possible. 

Step 6: Can your group come up with any modern day versions of kennings, for example, cannon-fodder? First make a list of modern day kennings, then let's see how creative you can be. Come up with your own versions of kennings for the following words: TEACHER, LOVE, HOMEWORK, HOLIDAY, INTERNET, SCHOOL CANTINE, MOBILE PHONE.

End of lesson 2: Pair & Share: Tell the person next to you the 2, 3, 4 most important things you have learned this lesson. 


Step 1: Using the following link: Beowulf TEXT choose a passage from the original text of Beowulf, each group will choose a different passage, the winner of the first assignment will have first-choice. Your task is now to translate the passage into Modern English. Should you get stuck on words you may use the following link which translates Old English to Modern English: Translator. Your teacher will help where necessary. When translating pay attention to your spelling and make sure your use of English is grammatically correct.

Step 2: After having translated your passage, divide the text equally among the group members. You will be the storytellers, remember how a good storyteller brings their tale, use your voice effectively and where possible props, costumes, and sound effects. Divide the tasks equally, make a list of what you need and who will be responsible for these. It is your task to make this wonderful epic come alive.

End of lesson 3: Pair & Share: Tell the person next to you the 2, 3, 4 most important things you have learned this lesson. 


You will no longer be entering a classroom but the mead hall, now take your place next to the fire and thrill us with the heroic deeds of our hero Beowulf. 

You will be taking it in turns to sit on the Story Tellerís throne or on the sheepskin rug, surrounded by your eager listeners, while you recount your own epic saga by crackling firelight.

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