The Pupils Getting Back to Their Roots with Etymology

By Bloom, Adi | Times Educational Supplement, August 21, 2015 | Go to article overview

The Pupils Getting Back to Their Roots with Etymology


Bloom, Adi, Times Educational Supplement


A new olympiad challenges students to trace linguistic past

For pupils with a knack for accurate spelling, there is the spelling bee. For maths prodigies, there is the International Olympiad. And now, for children interested in the origins of words, there is the etymology olympiad.

A new competition is encouraging pupils to compete nationally and internationally to see who is the best at reciting the Greek, Latin and Anglo-Saxon roots of words.

The etymology olympiad works in the same way as a spelling bee: children step up to a podium and are presented with complex, multisyllabic words. But, instead of spelling them out, they start to break them down.

Teaching children the etymology of words can help them learn to make sense of vocabulary they have not previously encountered, according to Dhruv Raj Sharma, founder of Logophilia, which runs the programme.

He hopes the competition will one day be as popular as the International Maths Olympiad, which this summer attracted contestants from more than 100 countries.

Logical thought

Mr Sharma came up with the idea for Logophilia (from logos, for "word", and philos, for "loving") after he began working as an English tutor in his native India.

"I was beginning to notice the irony that everybody was saying, 'This is all Greek and Latin to me'," he said. "But, if it was actually Greek or Latin, it would make sense, because these are very logical languages."

He therefore drew up a series of etymology-based lessons for secondary pupils, breaking words down into a series of thematically arranged roots drawn from Greek, Latin and Anglo-Saxon.

And, as Mick Connell of the National Association for the Teaching of English points out, such lessons can be extended to other languages, including Hindi, Urdu and Arabic.

So pupils could yell "bint" at one another, safe in the knowledge that they are in fact discussing the Arabic word for "girl". Similarly, they could learn that Indians have no problem at all with wearing pyjamas (Persian for "leg-garment") to school.

"As English teachers, we've been focused on children using their own words," Mr Connell said. "But it's possible that you could do wonderful dances of vocabulary in front of your kids.

"There should be a sense of delight in the possibility of language, in all its variety. How are children's vocabularies going to expand unless you offer them more words to make their own? …

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