Vocabulary Activities: New English Words


A wug lives in a house. What would you call a house that a wug lives in?

Like everything else in nature, language is a work in progress. According to the Global Language Monitor, currently there is a new word created every 98 minutes or about 14.7 words per day. And with the increased mobility and globalization (oh, and the Internet and the instafamous and ‘switch and swipe’ generation who have spawned a new crop of ‘amazome‘ words), the speed at which new words are coined is getting faster and faster.

These changes have affected grammar structures as well.  E.g. Over the past few decades, three new ways of reporting speech have appeared:

So David Crystal goes, “Who would of thought it?”

So David Crystal is like, “Who would of thought it?!”

So David Crystal is all, “Who would of thought it!”

And while some new words or patterns grate on our ears and have a rather short life span, others seem like they might stick around.

Who would OF thought it?

‘Who would of thought it? The English Language 1966 – 2066’ is yet another fantastic talk given by David Crystal illustrating the main changes in pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary and comparing the changes that have taken place in the past fifty years with those that are likely to take place in the next fifty. If you haven’t watched this talk, you can find the recording here, and catch up with dozens of sessions and interviews of IATEFL Birmingham conference here.

Some of us might not like how the language is changing but it’s not much different from the times when the Bard was introducing his ‘household words’.

Here are a few examples of activities you may consider using with your students to show how language may evolve.

Guess the Word

1. Board a list of words/phrases and get students to guess them. You may introduce an element of competition. Split students into teams and get them to guess the words. The team that gives the most plausible answer (the other team agrees that that’s the meaning of the word/phrase) or the right answer, gets 1 point.


Check out Shanthi’s post 10 New English Words To Use In Your Next Conversation in English for more words.

One category of words that I particularly like using is portmanteaus (blend words), which are what you get when you mash both the sounds and meanings of two words together to get a new one. See some interesting words by Boredpanda here.

2. Each student (or a small team) gets a sheet of paper with a word/phrase. Their task is to write down its meaning. Pass the sheets round. Each time the students get a new word they either give their vote to the definition they like most (+1) or write down their own definition. 

Go ahead, make up new words!

In this fun (and short!) talk from TED, lexicographer Erin McKean ‘cheerleads’ her audience to create new words when the existing ones won’t do. She lists out 6 ways to make new words in English, from compounding to “verbing,” in order to make the language better at expressing what we mean.

Before students watch the video, ask them to think of some new words and how these new words made their way into their language.

Play the video and have students write down 6 ways of making new words (or examples of new words). Discuss the ways and their examples, and get students to try their hand at translating the words mentioned in the talk into their language (see the transcript here), or other words (see activity 1 above). This can serve as a springboard to discussion of untranslatable words, but that’s another post for another day.

Bye for now and happy teaching!

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