Centre for Continuing Education

The Story of the English Language Course

History. See the future. It’s in the past.

What has happened to make the English language of over a thousand years ago largely unintelligible to English speakers today? Why is our grammar so different from those of some otherwise closely related European languages? Why is our vocabulary so large? We will trace the influences that have been at work over time to alter the language, both spoken and written. Influences that have resulted in such huge changes, from Old English to the language of Chaucer, from there to the intelligible but sometimes rather different language of Shakespeare, and so to the English in its many variations that is spoken around the world in the 21st century.


This course aims to inform and interest competent speakers of English on how the English language has developed over centuries into the various forms it takes today.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • identify how the vocabulary, the pronunciation, spelling and grammar of the English language has evolved since the so-called Anglo-Saxon invasions of Britain in the 5th century CE
  • describe the natural processes of change that the language has undergone, from an almost incomprehensible (to us) version (“Old English”) to its present state, and that it has continued to change and evolve without ever settling to one “correct” version
  • discuss how the language in the times of Chaucer, of Shakespeare and the Bible, Milton, Austen and the Victorians came to take the form in their respective periods
  • discuss how the climate of prescriptivism, having developed in the 18th century, is passing, and that a more sensible approach to change in the language might be articulated.


Meeting 1: The background of English

  • Language families – the Indo-European languages
  • Britain before the English – Celts, the Roman occupation
  • Germanic invasions and the foundations of the English language

Meeting 2: The Old English Period (ca. 450 – 1100)

  • Old English (Anglo-Saxon) vocabulary, pronunciation, spelling and grammar
  • Translations and analysis of Old English texts

Meeting 3: More invasions

  • The Scandanavian influences on Old English – vocabulary and grammar
  • The Norman Conquest – French influences on vocabulary
  • The Middle English period (ca. 1100 – 1500) Middle English spelling and pronunciation; changes in grammar

Meeting 4: Middle English and beyond

  • Middle English texts including Chaucer
  • Early Modern English (from ca. 1500) - Spelling and orthography; foreign borrowings

Meeting 5: Early modern English

  • The language of Shakespeare and the Authorised (King James) Bible
  • Later 17th century; 18th century grammarians and prescriptivism; Johnson’s dictionary; foreign borrowings

Meeting 6: Modern English since 1800

  • Words and meaning: changes in meaning and new vocabulary
  • Grammar in the 19th century
  • Vocabulary and grammar issues in the 20th century and beyond
  • Variations – British, Australian, American; vocabulary, spelling, spelling
  • The future of English

Intended audience

Suitable for those who are competent English speakers, looking to discover more about the development of the English language over centuries into the various forms it takes today.

Note: this training course is not designed to assist non-native speakers develop their English speaking skills.

Delivery style

Delivered as a series of interactive workshops where active participation is encouraged.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Free, expert advice
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion

What others say.

  • The lecturer was an engaging, knowledgeable teacher. I learnt so much and enjoyed the experience.
  • Excellent course presenter, deeply across the subject and responsive to questions, on which they always followed up. The content, relaxed style and workbook were perfect for the course. I looked forward to the weekly sessions and learned much.
  • The course materials were well put together and fit the format and timing of the course quite well. The tutor was very knowledgeable about the material. They were also very good in allowing enough discussion that the attendees felt they were contributing without getting lost in time or off the subject matter.