If you are involved in planning – especially if you work in a company – you need to refer to years, and important times in the year.
Here are essential words and phrases so that you can talk about years in English, time periods, and also historical time.
Types Of Years
a leap year = this is a year when there are 366 days rather than 365 days. The extra day is on 29 January. A leap year occurs once every four years.
“When’s the next leap year, do you know?”
a light year = the distance that light travels in a year
= a long distance or great amount (better than something else)
“They’re light years ahead of us in terms of green energy.”
an academic year / a school year = the period of the year when students go to university or school (usually September to June).
“When does the school year start in your country?”
a calendar year = from January 1st to December 31st
“There are 52 weeks in a calendar year.”
the financial year (also known as the tax year or fiscal year) a 12-month period starting 6 April and ending 5 April of the following year (in the UK)
“Personal tax allowances will go up in the next financial year.”
Time Periods In A Year
a quarter = three months
A year is divided into four quarters, known as the first, second, third and fourth quarter – or Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4
“The business did really well in the first quarter.”
a semester / a term (British English) = the school year is divided into three terms or semesters
“The exams are in the summer term.”
a fortnight = two weeks
“I’ll see you in a fortnight!”
annual = happening every year
“It’s time for our annual party!”
Note: we can use time periods as adjectives:
an annual party (= a party that happens once a year)
a yearly holiday (= a holiday every year)
a monthly meeting (= a meeting every month)
a weekly schedule (= a schedule every week)
a fortnightly appointment (= an appointment every two weeks)
a daily catch-up (a catch-up every day)
BC = before Christ
“Julius Caesar got to Britain in 35BC.”
AD = “anno domini” / after the birth of Christ
“Or was it 35 AD?”
century = 100 years
“I was born in the last century.”
Note: When we talk about centuries, we look forward. So the year 1990 was in the twentieth century, while 2019 is in the twenty-first century.
00s = hundreds
In the 1900s (nineteen hundreds) travel took a lot longer than nowadays.
a decade = a period of ten years
“He spent decased working for that company.”
We can also refer to decades like this:
“The fifties were a great era for rock and roll.”
sixties (1960 – 1969)
“I would have loved to have been in London in the Swinging Sixties.”
“The seventies weren’t famous for cool fashion.”
the millenium = a thousand years (such as Year 2000)
“Who was the first baby to be born in the new millenium?”
Your Career Path
Your career path is your career journey – how you got to where you are now. So you can say something like:
“When I left University I went into …. manufacturing / programming, etc.”
“I started out in marketing, but then moved into sales.”
“I fell into teaching, really.” (fall into = started a career in something by accident)
“I’ve been in engineering ever since I graduated.”
A “job for life” is quite rare now. Most people can expect to have five or more jobs or even careers. Here are some ways to talk about career change.
“I decided to get out of … (banking) in 2010.”
“I changed career because I wanted to work part-time.”
“I wanted to move out of the corporate world.”
It’s a good idea to mention your career successes on your CV, but you can also talk about them to give people a better picture of what you do.
“A highlight of my job was when I raised a lot of money for charity.”
“After a couple of years, I got a promotion and I was made head of the department.”
“I was involved with a really interesting project that …”
“I was accepted onto an MBA course, and I’ve never looked back.” (never looked back = continued to have success)
How do you talk about the times “in between” jobs? Here are some useful phrases to talk about career transition:
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I took a year out.”
“After my maternity leave, it took a while to get back into work.”
“I drifted from one job to another after school.” (drift = go from one place to another without real purpose)
“I’m in-between jobs at the moment.” (in-between = when you’re waiting for the next job)
“I’m in the middle of a career change.”
Explaining Your Job
How do you explain your job when people ask “What do you do?” Some people talk about an “elevator pitch” – a summary which is short enough to last the average “elevator” (or “lift”) time. In his talk “How to know your life purpose in 5 minutes“, American film producer Adam Leipzig suggests answering these questions:
1. Who are you
2. What do you do (What ONE thing do you love to do? Or, what one thing would you feel qualified to teach other people to do?)
3. Who do you do it for?
4. What do those people want or need?
5. How do they change as a result?
Here’s an example.
Person A: “So what do you do?”
Mark: “I help business owners focus 100% on serving their customers.”
Person A: “Really? That sounds interesting. How do you do that?”
… and then the conversation continues.
These were the answers that “Mark” gave to the five questions:
1. I’m Mark.
2. I help people solve technological problems with their websites.
3. I help small business owners and larger companies.
4. They need websites that work properly, look good and attract customers.
5. As a result, they can take care of their customers without worrying about the technology.
The most important and interesting part is your answer to question five. Try it for yourself to discover your life purpose. It might not be the job that you currently do!
How can you address people in English when you meet them? What are the different greetings when you meet men, women or VIPs? What titles should you use?
In British English, the greetings are different in formal and informal situations, and whether you’re greeting one person or a group.
Here’s a list of greetings that you can bookmark!
Addressing a group
Ladies and gentlemen
This is a more formal greeting for a group of men and women.
If you group is all women, you can use this form of address. It can be used in neutral and formal situations.
Use this greeting if you’re addressing a group of men only. It can be used in neutral and formal situations.
This is a more informal greeting for a group of men. You’ll also sometimes hear it for men and women.
(Excuse me) Everyone!
If you want to get the attention of a group of men and women in an informal situation, you can also call out “Excuse me everyone!”
Names and titles
Use someone’s first name when you’re friends and colleagues.
Title and last name
Use a title (Mr, Mrs or Ms) and the last name when you’re in a more formal situation, or for people you don’t know. You could also use this form with your boss (until she / he asks you to use their first name).
Last name only
Some men might use this form with a younger (male) colleague. For example:
“Lewis! What are you doing?”
Here are some occasions when you can use the title only, or the title plus last name:
Doctor (for a medical professional)
Professor (for a university lecturer)
Father (+ first name – for a priest)
How to address a man
There are many ways you can address a man depending on the situation.
This is quite formal. You can use it when you don’t know the man, and often in shops / other service-type situations. For example:
“Can I help you sir?”
This is common between male friends. For example:
How to address a woman
This is the equivalent of “sir”. For example:
“Can I help you madam?”
Women can use lots of ways to greet each other. For example:
Ducks (in north England)
Flower (in south west England)
Love / Lovely
(It can sound strange if a man uses these greetings to women.)
How to address VIPs
If you ever meet a very important person, here are some things you should remember.
The first time you speak to the Queen (and you have to wait for her to speak first) you should use the title Your Majesty.
After that, you can address her as “Ma’am” (rhymes with “ham”).
On paper, the Queen is referred to as HM. (“Her Majesty”.)
Other members of the royal family
Address all other members of the royal family as “Your royal highness”.
On paper these people are addressed as “His Royal Highness” or “Her Royal Highness” – both abbreviated to HRH.
You can address an ambassador as “Your Excellency”.
World religious leaders
Address both the Pope and the Dalai Lama as “Your Holiness”.
English speakers value politeness over almost everything else. You can speak the most perfect English, but if you appear rude, other people won’t want to talk to you.
Politeness helps us to deal with other people easily and smoothly. It helps us get on with strangers in a crowded place (like in the underground) and it helps us get what we want (say “Please” and your transactions get easier). Politeness is something we learn as children, and we expect to see it in other people, too.
But one problem is that if English isn’t your first language, it’s difficult to know what’s polite and when to use a polite expression. So here are some quick tips to help!
1. Don’t make orders
We rarely use the imperative form. So instead of saying “Do this!” we’d say “Can you do this, please?” or “Would you mind doing this?”
Using modal auxiliaries helps you to make requests:
Can / Could you…
Would you mind (+ ing)…
“Could you help me with this project?”
“Would you mind moving your suitcase?”
2. Ask for permission
If you want to do something that might inconvenience someone else, ask before you do it!
Do you mind if I…
Is it OK if I…
“Do you mind if I turn on the air conditioning?”
“Is it OK if I turn off the photocopier?”
3. Show respect for other people’s opinions
You can also seem too direct when you give strong opinions. Supposing the other person doesn’t agree? Then it would be difficult for them to share their opinion with you. So English speakers use a range of “softening phrases” to appear less inflexible.
kind of / a bit
“It’s kind of hot in here. Can I open the window?”
“It’s a bit too late to go out now. Shall we stay in?”
may / might
“It might not be possible to give you a day off next week.”
4. Make it easy for the other person to say no
When you are less direct with other people, you give them space to refuse a request or say “no” without losing face. One way to be less direct is to use past forms:
“I was wondering if we could talk about a pay rise.” (past continuous)
“Did you have time to look at my report?” (past simple)
“I wanted to ask you a favour.” (past simple)
5. Remember and use the “magic words”
The “magic words” are the words that get you what you want. This is the sort of thing we learn from an early age:
Child: “I want an ice-cream.”
Parent: “What’s the magic word?”
Parent: “Please can I have…”
Child: “Please can I have an ice-cream?”
The magic words for politeness are:
Please – when we want something
Thank you – when we receive something
Sorry – when we inconvenience someone, do something wrong, or can’t help someone
Excuse me – when we interrupt someone, or want to ask a stranger a question
One way to improve your English is to learn English idioms – and then use them. Idioms add interest to what you say or write, and they make you sound more like a native speaker.
Take, for example, the idiom “water baby”. This is someone (often a child) who loves being in the water. When you hear or see the idiom, you get the idea of a child who sees the water almost like a second home. So you could say to someone “Her son loves being in the water” or you could use the idiom and say “Her son is such a water baby”.
Like other languages, English has thousands of idioms which you can use in many different situations, or to talk about your feelings and opinions. So how do you learn them?
1. Learn idioms in context or by theme
It’s difficult to learn vocabulary through lists. Instead, make sure you understand when you can use a particular idiom by learning it in context or by theme.
For example, on this site we have an Idioms section which is separated into different themed pages.
Make sure you have an example of how the idiom is used, whether it’s common or old-fashioned (English-speaking people rarely say “It’s raining cats and dogs,” for example) and in which situations you’ll hear it. This is important, because if you use the idiom in the wrong situation, it won’t sound natural.
2. Don’t try to learn too many at once
Idioms can be complicated. For that reason, don’t try to learn more than five at any one time. Don’t forget: you’ll need to practise your new idioms (like any new vocabulary) so limit what you try to do in any one study session.
3. Understand the feeling
We often use an idiom to convey a feeling or emotion. So for example, we say that someone has a “heart of gold”. Because gold is a precious metal, we can imagine that someone with a heart of gold is a good person. (In fact, it means that a person is very kind.)
Idioms can also give you an image or a mental picture. For example, imagine that a person (Joe) is “under someone’s thumb”. You get the mental picture that Joe is ruled or controlled by the other person.
4. Listen out for idioms
If you hear two words used together in an unusual way, it might well be a new idiom. Some of the time you can guess the meaning through understanding the feeling and the situation, but you might also need to make a note of it, or ask the person who has spoken it.
Have you ever said this?
“My accent is too strong.”
“I’m embarrassed when I speak because I sound … (Spanish / Italian, etc.)”
If you’re worried about your accent, there are a few things you can do to reduce it and improve your English pronunciation.
Choose, listen and analyse
Choose the accent you want to work towards. English has lots of varieties, so decide which one is best for you. British English? American English? Australian English?
Then find a podcast, radio program, audiobook or YouTube video of people speaking in that accent.
How do they pronounce vowels or consonants? What can you change to sound more like them? Try to copy what they say, paying attention to these particular sounds.
But this isn’t all you should do!
It’s not all about individual sounds
Very often, people can tell your first language by how you pronounce certain vowels or consonants – or if you have difficulty with them.
But there are other more important things to do to reduce your accent and to make your English sound more like a native speaker’s. These are:
We don’t emphasise (stress) every sound or word in English. Within a word of more than one syllable, only one syllable (and sometimes two) are stressed. The other syllables are unstressed. So we say underSTAND and not UNderstand or unDERstand. (Read this out aloud and you’ll know what I’m talking about!)
Within a sentence, usually only meaning words are stressed – the grammatical words are unstressed. In fact you can hardly hear them, because they normally contain the “uh” (schwa) sound. In the sentence below I show you what I mean:
there’s uh MAN in thuh ROAD
THERE’S A MAN IN THE ROAD
(This will make you sound like a robot!)
Because “man” and “road” are stressed, the other unstressed words have to fit before and between without taking up any time. So if you tap your hand on the table on “man” and “road” (try tapping every second), the smaller words and sounds have to fit into those beats.
2. Linking between words
We link the end of one word and the beginning of the next word. We don’t end on each word. So for example, we don’t say
there’s. uh. MAN. in. thuh. ROAD
there’z-uh MAN-in thuh-ROAD
There are lots of different ways we link sounds. Sometimes the sound will change (“did you” = dijoo); sometimes we’ll lose the sound (“bad dog” = badog) and sometimes we’ll add a different sound (“he is” = he-yiz).
This is when we make our voice rise and fall in a sentence. It’s important because we use it to show our attitude towards something.
For example, if you say “Thank you” and I reply with “You’re welcome” I can sound more happy if my voice rises on “wel”. If I just say “You’re welcome” without going up or down, I sound less happy.
Intonation is also important to show our attitude in question tags. When our voice falls at the end, we show that we’re sure about something. When our voice rises, it shows that we aren’t sure.
Question tag intonation can be very difficult to master, but it’s something you can learn by listening and copying.
10 Quick Tips For Accent Reduction
Here are some ideas to help you improve your pronunciation.
- Read out loud.
- Record yourself speaking (listen, analyse then record again).
- Learn where to stress.
- Pay attention to the attitude you show through your intonation. Practise saying the same thing in a different way to change your attitude.
- Don’t talk too fast.
- Be methodical. Set a pronunciation goal (for example, to master b versus v); meet it, then go on to the next.
- Check the pronunciation of new words in a dictionary (paper or online).
- Ask people for feedback. Native speakers are much more likely to correct your pronunciation than your grammar.
- Be aware of how words change their sounds when they’re next to other sounds.
- Keep your mouth relaxed. You might need to use different muscles in your face than you do with your first language. Some face stretching exercises can be useful before you start.
Follow the verb “look” with an adjective to describe someone’s emotion or state:
He looks happy.
She looks excited.
You look tired.
Remember to use do / does; don’t and doesn’t for negatives and questions.
You don’t look very happy.
Does he look sad, in your opinion?
You can also use “look” in the present continuous tense to talk about someone’s health:
“You’re looking good!” (= You’re in good shape!)
“He’s looking ill.” (= He appears ill.)
We use “be like” to talk about similarities (both physical and in character).
(Remember to change “be” to the correct form of the verb:
I’m like my sister.
David is like his father.
She’s like her mother.
Who are you like?
My sister and I aren’t like anyone else in our family.
You can also vary “be like” with other describing words:
He’s a lot like … (his brother)
He’s really like … (his brother)
He’s very like … (his brother)
He’s just like … (his brother)
He’s a bit like … (his brother)
He’s quite like … (his brother)
Remember to use the verb “to be” as the auxiliary for questions and negatives:
He isn’t like his mother at all!
Is he like his sister?
We can also use “be like” to ask for a description of places and things.
– I saw the new office building today.
– What’s it like? (= What is it like?)
– It’s beautiful!
– I saw the new Brad Pitt film last night.
– What was it like?
– Pretty good! He’s great in it.
Use “look like” to talk about a person’s physical similarity with another person.
I look like my mother.
You look like your sister.
He looks like his grandfather.
(Remember, with the verb “look” in the present simple tense, you need do / does; don’t / doesn’t to make questions and negatives.)
Do you look like your sister or your brother?
Does he look like his mother?
They don’t look like their parents.
Be careful with these questions
What is he like? = asks about personality
– What is he like?
– He’s nice. He’s friendly and chatty.
Who is he like? = asks about physical similarity or similar character to another person
– Who is he like?
– He’s quite like his mother. They both have brown eyes.
– He’s like his father. They’re both quite ambitious.
What does he look like? = asks for a physical description
– What does he look like?
– He’s tall and slim.
Who does he look like? = asks about physical similarity with another person
– Who does he look like?
– I think he looks like his mother.
How to Pass The Cambridge English Speaking Exams
If you’re taking the University of Cambridge ESOL exams KET, PET or FCE, a good result in the speaking test will help your overall result. In fact, if you find the reading, listening or writing part difficult, a good result in your speaking can balance out the other marks.
Here are some tips for getting the best results in the speaking.
At KET level
In the second part of the speaking test, you have to ask and answer questions with your partner. Often, you have to give numerical information, such as a price.
Make sure your pronunciation is correct. For example, £1.30 is pronounced “one pound thirty” (with the stress on “thir” and not “ty”.) If you say “one pound thirty” (with the stress on “ty” and not “thir” it can sound like £1.13.)
Know how to pronounce 100 (hundred) and 1000 (thousand) and fractions of numbers, such as £10.50. (It’s “ten pounds fifty, not “ten fifty pounds”!)
There’s often a question about times of the day.
7am – 7pm is “from seven am to seven pm” or “from seven o’clock in the morning to seven o’clock in the afternoon”.
For more information about telling the time, see our page on talking about your job and daily routines.
Sometimes you need to give a website address.
Remember www = “double you double you double you” and .com = “dot com”.
Know how to make questions from the prompts. Often there’s a question about money.
music lesson / £ ?
“How much is a music lesson?” Or “How much does a music lesson cost?”
For more information on how to ask about prices, see our page on asking questions.
Be careful about how you make questions with auxiliaries like “can”.
see lions / zoo?
“Can we see lions at the zoo?” (Not “Do we can see lions…” or “We can see lions?”)
For more information on how to ask questions with modals, see our page on how to use can.
Conversation tip: Try to keep the conversation going. If your partner asks you something and you don’t understand, ask a question.
What did you say?
Can you repeat that?
Can you say that again?
At PET level
To do well at PET, you need to contribute to a conversation. This means you need to have ideas. For example, in Part 2, don’t limit yourself to “I don’t agree because it’s boring…” Instead, give some examples why you agree or disagree with your partner. Make sure that what you say helps to extend and develop the conversation. Don’t just say “yes” or “no”.
You also need to be organised (especially in the photo) to give enough detail without repeating your ideas. Use linking words (“so”, “but”, “and also”, “then”, etc) to help connect your ideas.
Interesting vocabulary and grammar will help you. It doesn’t matter if you get difficult grammar wrong, but if you try (for example, a conditional sentence or present perfect) the examiner will be pleased!
Use a range of adjectives, and think of ideas where you can show off your English vocabulary. Try to avoid “boring” vocabulary such as boring, interesting, nice, and beautiful. Use synonyms so you don’t repeat the same things.
Don’t get stuck on words that you don’t know. Sometimes in the discussion or the photo you can see something but you don’t know the word in English. Don’t pause too long – go on to the next thing. You can also point to the thing if it helps.
Your pronunication is assessed not just on individual sounds, but also stress and intonation.
Conversation tip: In part 4 (the conversation), move your chair so you face your partner and not the examiner. This will help you look at your partner and have a “real” conversation.
At FCE level
You can impress the examiner with some more complicated grammar and vocabulary. Use a range of infinitive forms (“she seems to be studying” or “they seem to have had an accident” such as in the photo comparison, conditionals, passives and phrasal verbs.
Expand your ideas and speak without too many pauses. For the photo comparison try to give two or three comparisons before you go on to the second part of the photo question (how the people are feeling, for example.)
Use linking words and phrases. Words like “this” and “it” help you avoid repeating the same words; “while”, “whereas”, “however” help you compare photos; and “firstly”, “secondly” etc help you to build an argument in the conversation part.
If your partner is finding Part 3 difficult, take the initiative. You can use phrases like “So do you mean…?” or “So do you think this is a good idea?” Use summarising phrases to finish part 3: “So to summarise…”, “So in conclusion…”
Conversation tip: During the exam (and especially part 4) try and relate what you say to what your partner has said. For example, “Like Sara, I think that…”
Do you want to sound like a native English speaker? Did you know that there is a way to improve your English fluency without memorizing more vocabulary?
Here is a tip that you will not learn in your English textbook:
Improve your active listening skills!
Active listening is what you can do to show someone that you understand and that you are interested in what they are saying.
There are 2 ways you can show this: Visually and verbally. Do not tell the person that you understand what they are saying by saying, “I understand”. Instead, you can show them that you understand them by doing something much more natural.
To verbally show someone that you are listening, try using different sounds, words, or phrases like:
- Ah, okay.
- Uh huh.
- That’s a good point!
- I see.
- That’s a great idea!
- I never thought of that.
Your body language is also very important, and is another great way to show someone that you are listening.
To visually show someone that you are listening, try nodding your head occasionally while the other person is talking to you.
If you want to sound like a native English speaker, try using these tips in your next conversation!
How Learning Polite & Diplomatic Advanced English Can Help Your Career
In other words, to be all of these things, you can start by using polite, diplomatic and modern English!
- Do you always know which register to use at work? (Register means the degree of formality of language that you use).
- Are you always sure that your tone is appropriate when you speak in English?
- Are you always confident that you use the correct words and expressions when you write emails?
If you answered ‘no‘ to one or more of these questions, read on!
Why is using polite and diplomatic English important at work?
Otherwise, you may risk being rejected or even completely ignored by the person you are addressing.
Translating doesn’t always work: English has its own way of being polite
The words, register, tone and expressions that you use in your own language to be polite and kind more often than not do not translate in the same way into English.
That is to say, the language strategies that we use to be polite and diplomatic in English are particular to English – so translating usually doesn’t work.
Therefore, to help you get it right, we’re going to look at the grammar and the vocabulary that will upgrade your English to being polite, kind and diplomatic.
Now let’s look at HOW to do it in English:
Strategy 1: change the grammar you are using!
Advanced English Grammar: using the present simple can sometimes come across as rude, a bit too direct and bossy. By changing the tense, the meaning is still in the present, but the style becomes more diplomatic, softened, more friendly and less direct.
Here’s how to do it:
Present > past
When is deadline? > When did you say the deadline was?
Simple > continuous
I hope you can (join us for the meeting) > I was hoping you could (join us for the meeting)
Past + Continuous (progressive)
I think you can > I was thinking you could
I wonder if I can > I was wondering if I could
Use Indirect questions
I need to know … > Could you tell me …
Make a negative question so that it becomes a suggestion, not an order
It is better to… > Wouldn’t it be better to …
Use the passive to depersonalise the issue
He promised us … > We were promised …
Use the 2nd condition instead of the 1st
If you can …. I’ll be very grateful > If you could …. I’d be very grateful
We can try > We could try …
We will need > We would need / We might need
Strategy 2: Use these words and expressions
When information may not be true, or you are unsure if it is accurate you can use:
- Apparently …
- It seems that …
- As far as I know …
- It would appear that …
Reformulating something that you have said because it was too strong, direct or definitive:
- Or rather,…
- I mean, …
Giving bad news or a refusal
- I’m sorry, but …
- I’m afraid .. (BrE)
Making things less serious
- A small / a slight > There me be a slight delay
- A bit / slightly > The price is slightly higher
Use ‘just’ and ‘sorry’
- Can I ask you something? > Could I just ask you something?
- I disagree > Sorry, but I don’t really agree
Replace negative sounding adjectives with ‘NOT’ + ‘Opposite Adjective’
- That’s terrible > That’s not great
- I think that’s a bad idea > I don’t think that’s a such good idea
Replace: You said with I understood
- You said you’d give us a 4% discount > I understood we could have a 4% discount
Don’t finger point
- You don’t understand me > Perhaps I’m not making myself clear.
- You didn’t explain that properly > Sorry, I’m not following
Use vague language
- Have you read my email yet? > Did you have a chance to read that email?
How to Use Gonna and Wanna Correctly (7 Rules)
You’ve heard native English speakers saying “gonna” and “wanna” all the time in everyday conversation, but how do you use them correctly? When is it appropriate to use them? In this lesson, you’ll learn 7 things you need to know about how to use “gonna” and “wanna” correctly.
Knowing more about “gonna” and “wanna” is important to help you sound more like a native English speaker. They are not slang, and they are not only for informal situations! You can use them quite freely. However, you should know about some exceptions to really master English fluency.
- Don’t use “gonna” and “wanna” in formal writing.
- “Gonna” comes from “going to” and “wanna” comes from “want to”
- Actually, these words are two-times removed from the original phrases. “Going to” –> “Goin’ t’” –> “Gonna” and “Want to” –> “Want t’” –> “Wanna”
- It’s pronounced “gunna” not “gonna”
- Use them in all types of speaking, not only informally
- Unless you’re making a strong point
- Note the pronunciation of the negative sentences with “wanna.” “I don’t want to.” –> “I doh’ wanna”
What about “gonna” vs. “will?” When is it better to use “gonna” or “will” to express the future tense? I will teach you that in this next lesson right here about “gonna” vs. “will.”