Book Review: Greek and Latin Roots: Keys to Building Vocabulary

Authors: Timothy Rasinski, Nacy Padak, Rick M. Newton, Evangeline Newton

Genre: Specialist non-fiction

My GoodReads rating: 4 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 4.44

Target audience: English teachers and etymology nerds

Topic matter: The classical roots of English vocabulary

In-depth thoughts: If my affixes series didn’t make it abundantly clear, I’m a big fan of teaching (at appropriate levels) etymology along with vocabulary. A solid background in prefixes, suffixes, and bases helps EFL students learn words quicker and easier. This is the philosophy of Rasinski, Padak, Newton, and Newton, the authors of Greek and Latin Roots: Keys to Building Vocabulary.

Image courtesy Shell Education
Image courtesy Shell Education

This is a must for any English teacher, EFL or otherwise. English looks random and chaotic on the surface, so the more systems teachers can provide for their students, the better. Greek and Latin Roots does a very thorough job on how and why teachers of every grade and ability level should focus on classical roots when teaching English, with numerous activities and even a couple of sample lessons. They also provide a brief history of the development of English, useful for placing certain words and constructions in context. (My only quibble here is they have the usual breathless “Shakespeare invented so many words!” history without considering the context in which he was writing, but this is a book on teaching vocabulary and not a comprehensive history of English, so it’s easily ignored.)

As Greek and Latin Roots is a book for teachers, it might not be immediately useful for students, except for the appendixes. Appendix A has recommendations for student resources, both digital and dead tree. The recommendations in Appendix B are intended for teachers, but students might still find the word lists and puzzles helpful. Appendix C is a goldmine: a good, foundational list of classical word roots, arranged alphabetically. Finally, Appendix D has a collection of English’s many loan words from other languages categorized by language or language family. (There’s also Appendix E, but that’s a professional development section intended specifically for teachers who want to hone their craft.)

If you’re a word nerd interested in the history of English words rather than how to teach them, David Crystal has some recommendations.

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