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English is GREAT - Part 1

The story of English starts more than a thousand years ago. Richard goes to the British Library to hear – and see – how the language has changed over the years.

Task 1

Which of these things do Richard and Roger discuss at the British Library?


Task 2

Type in the missing words or numbers.


Task 3

Can you turn these SMS messages into correct English?


Task 4

Choose the best phrasal verb to complete the sentence.




Language level

Advanced: C1
Upper intermediate: B2


Hello SANDHYA03,

I'm not sure exactly what you mean. Do you mean you cannot see the video player window? Or that you can see it but the video does not start?

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Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Old Chinese is like a different language. We had to spent time to learn it at school. In modern Chinese, one meaning is usually expressed using one word made up of two or more characters. Old Chinese usually uses only one character to express the same meaning. It was really efficient, wasn't it? Or maybe the spoken language was different from the written one. Since today we only have chances to read old language than to hear them. So we suppose there is no difference. One thing for sure is that it was really hard to get those information on books made of bamboo slips. Maybe our ancestors had to squeeze many information into very limited spaces, so they had to simplify their words by making them shorter?

I can't read Shakespeare. I have tried and given up. I still need to improve my contemporary English. Maybe after I become extremely proficient in my present learning, I will progress to old English? But it is quite unlikely, I have to say.

I hope it won't change much. I find those text messages are quite hard to grasp. Some of the words are substituted by things have the similar sound, like for by 4, but some are simply shortened like holidays by hols.

I think English language is difficult to write because writing, and reading is difference, that's way most people can't write english properly.

Wow! I have never thought of English to be so gorgeous before. The Great Britain library is also magnificent. I wish I could visit there, sitting by the window and reading an old book some day. By the way, I have some questions about your culture. Are those books witten in old English(like the old one shown before the two main characters) accessible to ordinary citizens? Do British kids learn old English at school as we learn old Chinese in China? If so, how do their teachers explain old language to them?
Thank you!

Hello DoctorHiStreet,

Those are good questions! Actually, Roger answered one of them when he said that Old English is 'very, very difficult to read, only a few people can do so.' But of course it depends on how old the language is - the further back you go, the harder it is.

As for your other question, I think it's extrememly rare for British children to learn Anglo-Saxon old English at school, although almost all of them will study the language of Shakespeare. Old English is usually taught first at University to students studying English, but I'm afraid I don't know how common it is.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, sir,
Can I say "My dream university" in written English?
Thank you!

Hi DoctorHiStreet,

You can say anything (as long as it makes sense) in written English! The only question is whether or not it is appropriate, and this is not really about whether it is written or spoken, but whether it is formal or informal, who the reader is and so on.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

In the sentence We have documents here that _______ a thousand years.
Why is it that 'go back' in stead of that 'goes back'?

Hello Tom,

The antecedent of the relative pronoun 'that', i.e. what 'that' refers to, is 'documents', which is plural. Therefore the verb 'go' is used in the plural instead of the singular 'goes' form.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi teachers,
I have two questions regarding to the video. First, when it comes to the sentence " we capture a snapshot of what the language is like". I do not undersdand the words CAPTURE A SNAPSHOT in this combination. Is it phrase or... When I looked up in the dictionary I failed to understand the meaning of words together.

Another one is about the adjective "versatile". In this context (it tells us it’s very versatile-the English language) it tells us it is adjustable, isn't it? My question is can I say that:
1. I am versatile person (like adjustable, adaptive) for example to the all weather seasons.
2. I am versatile person (like many-sided) I can play many sports, be good at school, be good with creative things and so much more.
Are these phrases common in English or we have another one when we want to say something more about ourselves?

Thank you