when you begin to learn a new language, there are some core words that are useful in daily life. we have covered some of them in our discussion of classroom terms and actions and talking about animals but now we will look at various other groups of things and actions you can talk about. we will look at words related to time, home, body, clothes, technology and shapes & math. i recommend you go back through the words you’ve already learned at this point and start building your own dictionary. create a small table of words in alphabetical order or grouped by type – they both work and i prefer the second option but it’s up to you. add a column for english, another for the word in your most comfortable language and a third for any notes you might want to make. fill in all the words you already know and update it as we go forward. i didn’t suggest this from the beginning because repetition is more important than organization at first. but now you have learned a few hundred words and it’s more and more difficult as time goes on to keep track of them.
at this point in your learning, it’s also important to begin regular vocabulary practice. make flashcards of the words with their translations on the other sides and practice with a partner. if you do it alone, you will cheat. we all do it. it’s human nature to think “oh yes, i knew that!” when we didn’t really know it at all. but with someone else asking the questions we can’t do that. translate both to and from english and try to do at least a few hundred words at a time. there are automated online games for this but it’s more fun with a real person if you have a friend who’s also learning english or, because it’s a two-way translation exercise, someone who speaks english and is learning your native language. you can practice together even if you’re learning in opposite directions.
when we talk about time, we use the numbers you’ve already learned – one, two, three, etc. but there are other time words that are very useful.
morning, afternoon, evening, night (times of day)
dawn, sunrise, noon, dusk, twilight, sunset, midnight (daily events)
sun, moon, mercury, venus, earth, mars, jupiter, saturn, uranus, neptune, star, comet, asteroid (in space)
spring, summer, fall, winter (seasons)
january, february, march, april, may, june, july, august, september, october, november, december (months)
second, minute, hour, day, week, month, season, year, decade, century, millennium (periods of time)
after, before, during, while, later, late, early, on-time (relative times)
wait, come, go, think, dream, count, expect, arrive, leave, schedule, reschedule, book (time actions)
when you see a time written, it may be in twenty-four-hour time (with the afternoon being written as hours above twelve) or twelve-hour time. if it’s written in twelve-hour time, it will have “am” or “pm” after it. when you speak these, you can read the letters like “four-sixteen-p-m” or as words like “seven-twenty-two-in-the-afternoon”. the letters don’t represent english words – they’re a latin abbreviation and most english-speakers don’t understand what they stand for. it is common to see times written as just numbers (1422 or 819pm) or with a period between the hour and minute pieces (19.14 or 2.35am). dates are usually written year.month.day when they’re numbers (2020.2.20) or month day, year when in words (august 22, 1925). when spoken, the number is converted to an ordering number (august-twenty-second-nineteen-twenty-five).
english really only has one way to ask about time. we use what time is it? in every context. in the same way, what’s the date? or what’s today’s date? is the only way you are likely to hear the question. what season is it? and what month is it? are also common but not nearly as frequent because most people know the answer already but are curious about the date and time. it is useful to practice with friends asking about dates and times. you can use some of these questions then build your own.
what time is it?
what’s today’s date?
when’s your birthday?
when’s your favorite holiday?
which season do you like?
what time of day do you like to work?
when do you go to bed?
when do you get up?
which day of the week is the best?
what’s your favorite month?
are you usually late or early?
what time do you like to be outside?
we’ve already looked at words used in the classroom but the other place you probably spend a lot of time is your home. home is an interesting word because it usually doesn’t need a preposition in english. this isn’t always true so be careful of these common situations.
i’m going to work.
i’m going to school.
i’m going home.
i’m at work.
i’m at school.
i’m at home.
the key is that home when it’s a destination doesn’t need a preposition but home as a location does. with practice, this will start to feel natural. english is evolving and the prepositions are likely to disappear eventually. you will hear people say i’m home more and more often now but it is still considered colloquial and informal but in a few years will probably be ok to write in formal situations, too.
home, house, apartment, building, condominium, hotel, parking-lot, parking-space, street, road
room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living-room, dining-room, guest-room, play-room, porch, hall, office
door, stairs, entrance, exit, closet, dresser, nightstand
bed, desk, chair, lamp, light, lightswitch, floor, carpet, rug
pillow, sheet, blanket, quilt, duvet, pillow-case, mattress
dish, pot, stove, oven, sink, dishwasher, microwave, counter[top], cabinet, shelf, drawer
spoon, fork, knife, chopsticks, ladle, plate, bowl, cutlery
teapot, coffee-pot, kettle, cup, mug, glass
wake, sleep, dress, undress, change, wash, clean
work, study, shower, bathe, brush, comb, cook, put away, do dishes
beside, next to, near, far, on, by, in front of, behind, across from, in, under
practice these words by asking about numbers and locations of different items. here are some example questions.
how many rooms are in your house? what are they?
what is in your bedroom?
what does your kitchen look like?
what do you use at breakfast?
what is your morning routine?
what do you do before bed?
what rooms do you spend the most time in?
what kind of home do you live in?
what kind of home did you grow up in?
tell me about your dream home.
it’s very important to be able to talk about your body in case you ever have to see a doctor in an english-speaking city. but it’s something we talk about every day, too. from compliments (you have beautiful eyes) to descriptions (what color is your hair?) to telling stories (i hit my leg on the table this morning!), body parts are some of the most common words in any language. we’ll start with the basic ones, of course.
body, human, person, corpse
top, bottom, side, left, right, front, back
head, ear, eye, hair, nose, mouth, cheek, jaw, tooth (teeth), forehead
neck, shoulders, chest, breast, back
arm, armpit, elbow, wrist, hand, first, palm
finger, knuckle, fingertip, fingerprint, fingernail, thumb
stomach, waist, abdomen (abs), hip, pelvis
leg, knee, shin, calf, ankle, foot, toe, toenail
in english, there is a difference between “body”, “human”, “person” and “corpse” that is important to understand. all four words mean the same thing but the context changes. when you talk about a body, it is technical or medical. you have a “body” and it is likely you will discuss only a single part of it when using this word. “human” is a formal word but it is used both as a noun or an adjective (“she is a human” or “they’re human”). “person” is about the whole individual. “i met a person on the train” feels natural but “i met a human on the train” sounds unusual, though it is technically correct in both meaning and grammar. “corpse” is only used to talk about dead humans and animals.
you can practice these body parts by pointing and asking what’s this? or asking what’s connected to [body part]?. try starting at the top of your head and working your way down to the floor, naming each part on the way.
now that you know the parts of your body, it’s useful to know what you put on each of those parts, too. there are so many different types of clothes, it’s impossible to learn the words for all of them at once so we will start with the most common. if you often (or even sometimes) wear clothes from another culture with special names, you should add those to your personal dictionary, too, with their english names so you can talk about them.
dress, shirt, suit, skirt, tshirt, tank-top, sweater, top, bottom
pants, jeans, leggings, shorts, diaper
swimming-trunks, bikini, bathing-suit
glove, sock, mitten
shoes, boots, sandals, sneakers, slippers
coat, jacket, dressing-gown, robe, scarf, headscarf, shawl
boxer-shorts, underwear, panties, briefs, bra, tights
hat, cap, toque, beanie, umbrella
purse, glasses, sunglasses, watch, wallet
bracelet, necklace, chain, ring, earring, belt
pocket, zipper, strap, fly, seam, hem
hanger, hang, laundry, washing-machine, dryer, basket, fold, put away
just like body parts, you can practice talking about clothes by asking what’s this but you can ask more interesting questions.
what do you wear at night?
what do you wear when you go out for dinner?
what do you like to wear on your feet?
what do you wear in the winter?
what do you wear in the summer?
what do you wear on special occasions?
some words in english are always plural. “pants” and “shorts” don’t have singular versions at all so you can only “put on your pants” but never “put on your pant”. other words can be singular or plural – you can lose a single “glove” or “sock” but they are usually talked about as “gloves” or “socks” because they come in pairs. the usual rule about plural clothes in english is that if an item has two pieces but those pieces don’t separate (like pants, leggings, shorts and tights) it will always be plural but if the items separate (socks, gloves, shoes, boots) they can be singular.
most of us use technology every day. we have already looked at a few of these words in the classroom but we often have more at home, things we don’t typically bring with us. we’ll review them all, though, to make sure our list includes the usual items we interact with.
computer, desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, watch
printer, scanner, copier, router
wireless (wifi), internet, signal, connection, cell[ular], sim[-card]
web, browse, search, find, result, page, site, engine, blog
click, drag, swipe, tap, press, type, select
copy, paste, cut, insert, delete, move, push, pull
read, write, speak, listen, talk, interact, experience
text, image, graphic, photo[graph], picture, video, movie
social-media, post, scroll, like, love, [live]stream
comment, reply, share, subscribe, forum, message, chat
[e]mail, compose, reply, archive, delete, forward, sort
minimize, maximize, move, resize
screen, keyboard, trackpad, mouse, cable, charger, plug [in]
battery, charge, low, full, empty
byte, kilobyte, megabyte, gigabyte, terrabyte, storage, memory
headphones, joystick, controller, bluetooth, mic[rophone], speaker
app, game, program, download, upload, install, remove, uninstall
virus, malware, scam, junk, error, turn on, turn off, restart
the easiest way to practice talking about technology is to pick an item and ask how you use it on a regular basis. what do you do with your tablet every day? or do you use your phone very much?. you can also practice with situations like if you want to find directions, what do you do? or what’s your favorite game?. everyone has a personal relationship with technology and uses it differently but it’s not difficult to think about how you use your own. try writing a description of a whole day from getting up to going to sleep – write about your interactions with technology, one at a time. you might be surprised how often you use it!
shapes & math
shapes sound very simple and they are but it’s important to know the words to describe them. math has many technical terms and, if you study it, it is useful to learn them all but these are everyday math words.
circle, square, triangle, box, line, rectangle
sphere, cylinder, cube, prism, cone
pentagon, hexagon, octagon
round, oval, ellipse, straight, curve, angle
acute, right, obtuse, sharp, point, flat, thick, thin
edge, side, front, back, top, bottom, inside, outside, middle, center
diameter, circumference, radius, area, volume, size, space, footprint
length, width, height, depth, surface, coordinate, grid, position, axis
add, subtract, multiple, divide, sum, product, difference, fraction, decimal
calculate, function, examine, approximate, guess, round
figure [out], graph, render, sketch, error
fraction, solve, integrate (integral), differentiate (differential), slope, point
maximum, minimum, average, median, mean, mode, expect, normal, surprise
this is language but it is useful to practice starting by identifying shapes then doing some simple math problems but describing the process in english. imagine you are teaching a child how to figure out their math homework and talk about it in detail to a partner.