Biology lab in Nkroful in Ghana

Well done for actually starting to read this post after a title like that! So what is etymology and why is it important? The online Oxford Dictionary  www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/etymology defines etymology as "the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history." When I was teaching Biology in Ghana most of my students did not have English as a first language, they then had to learn a whole new language, as Biology seems to be possibly the science with the most scientific terminology. I tried to explain to my students the origin of some of this terminology so that when they saw similar words they would stand more chance of being able to work out their meanings. Examples of this are the words "phytoplankton" and "zooplankton": "phtyo" refers to plants, "zoo" refers to animals and "plankton" are small organisms which float, so "phytoplankton" are small plants which float in the water, while "zooplankton" are small animals which float in water. Now we know the meaning of the prefix "phyto" we can work out that "phytomining" (in the GCSE Chemistry syllabus) refers to the use of plants to extract minerals from the earth.

As this is an eleven plus website, let's look at the relevance of etymology to the 11 plus. Children preparing for the 11 plus need to develop a vocabulary as wide as possible in order to do well in the eleven plus, especially in the CEM test where there is a significant number of questions which involve choosing the word which is most similar or most opposite in meaning to the word given. During an English comprehension today we came across the word "spied" meaning "saw" and I explained this is where the word "spy" in the game "I spy" comes from. I look at prefixes with my tutees and show how adding "un-", "im-", "in-", "dis-" and other prefixes can be used to give a word the opposite meaning. Etymology is also useful in understanding mathematical terms: the word "perimeter" comes from the Greek "peri" meaning "around" and "meter" meaning "measure" so the perimeter of a shape is the distance around the outside of it. "Kilo" comes from a Greek word meaning "a thousand" so a kilogram is 1000 grams and a kilometre is 1000 metres; "milli-" comes from the Latin "mille" meaning "a thousand" and is used in mathematics to mean "a thousandth" so one millimetre is one thousandth of a metre.

Hopefully my approach makes tuition more interesting, makes the meanings of words more memorable and helps my tutees work out meanings of words for themselves.