Transportation Vocabulary

For ESL levels 1+

In your class, you probably learned some words for vehicles (kinds of transportation – bus, car, airplane, etc.). This week, we are going to learn some important words to use WITH those vehicles. For example, we say that we get in a car, but we get on a bus. Do you know when to use “get in” and “get on”?

Get In vs. Get On

We use “get in” for smaller vehicles that carry only a few people – cars, trucks, small boats, etc. The opposite of “get in” is “get out of”. When you arrive at your destination, you get out of a car. Look at this picture. Ask your teacher about words that you do not know.

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

How many people can use these vehicles at one time? Probably not more than 10.

Now, let’s look at “get on”. The opposite of “get on” is “get off”. We use these phrases for bigger vehicles like buses, airplanes, and large boats, but we also use them for small vehicles for only one person. We use “get on/off” for bicycles, motorcycles, and horses because you sit on top of them. You can use “get on/off” for anything you sit or stand on top of (skateboard, surfboard, elephant, etc.). Look at this picture. Ask your teacher to explain words you do not know.

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

Ride, Drive, or Take?

Finally, let’s look at three words:

  1. ride
  2. drive
  3. take

We use these words with different vehicles.

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

We use “drive” or “ride in” for the same vehicles. Use “drive” if you are operating the vehicle. Use “ride in” if you are a passenger. In this old picture, a man is driving a car, and his family is riding in the car.

Sharpe family posing in their new car – See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sharpe family posing in their new car – See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Your Turn

Finish these conversations. Practice with your classmates.

  1. A: How did you get here?
    B: I ______________ my car.
  2. A: Do you ______________ the bus to school?
    B: No, I usually ______________ my bike.
  3. A: Where do you ______________ the bus?
    B: There is a bus stop near my house.
  4. A: Can you ______________ a skateboard?
    B: No, but my cousin can.
  5. A: Do you ______________ a bicycle these days?
    B: No. I ______________ a bike when I was young, but now I ______________ a car.

Gestures and Body Language

What is body language? We can communicate many things without speaking at all. Our faces, hands, and bodies say a lot without any words at all! You know all of these gestures, but maybe you don’t know what they’re called. Now you can learn!


video by WTCC instructor ecparent

Why is this teacher yawning?


image by WTCC instructor ecparent

When do people usually wave?


image by WTCC instructor ecparent

Has anyone ever glared at you? Why?


image by WTCC instructor ecparent

When you close one eye and keep the other eye open, that’s called a wink. Why do people wink in your culture? Do people wink for the same reasons in different cultures?


video by WTCC instructor ecparent

This sigh doesn’t look very happy, but you can sigh when everything is okay. Sighing just means you breathe in, and then you make a little noise when you breathe out. It can be a tired noise, a frustrated noise, or a content noise. People sigh for many reasons.

Thumbs Up

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

Most people know that a thumbs up is a good thing. We use it to say:

  • okay
  • good
  • good job
  • I understand

Are there other gestures with a similar meaning in your culture? Do you know another one in American culture?


video by WTCC instructor ecparent

When you lift your shoulders, you are shrugging. Why do we do this?

Your Turn

Talk with your classmates about the questions after each gesture in this post. Then talk about the following questions also.

  1. When someone yawns, do you yawn too? Why does that happen?
  2. There are different ways to wave. Do people in the United States wave the same as people in your country? Do different waves have different meanings?
  3. Is it okay to wink at people in your country? What does it mean?
  4. In addition to the thumbs up, Americans say “okay” by making a circle with their thumb and index finger while holding their middle finger, ring finger, and pinky up. Is that an acceptable gesture in your country?
  5. Ask your teacher about gestures you’ve seen, but don’t understand.

How to Say Big Numbers

For many students, very big numbers are difficult to read. For example, what is this number?


Can you read it? It’s four hundred thirty-six billion, seven hundred nine million, five hundred eighty-two thousand, one hundred fourteen. Let me show you how we do it.

In the United States, we use commas in large numbers. This separates large numbers into smaller pieces. Each small piece has no more than three numbers in it – 436 / 709 / 582 / 114. Think of them separately.

  • 436 = four hundred thirty-six
  • 709 = seven hundred nine
  • 582 = five hundred eighty-two
  • 114 – one hundred fourteen

Now you just have to say them in order, and when you see a comma, you add another word like thousand or million.

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

Say each smaller piece (3 numbers) and then the word at the comma.

  • 952 = nine hundred fifty-two
  • 716 = seven hundred sixteen
  • 301 = three hundred one
  • 400 = four hundred
  • 538 = five hundred thirty-eight
  • 952,716,301,400,538 = nine hundred fifty-two trillion, seven hundred sixteen billion, three hundred one million, four hundred thousand, five hundred thirty-eight

How do you say a zero?

hundreds-tens-onesIn a three-digit number (like 538), the number on the left represents hundreds. The number in the middle represents tens (20, 30, 40, etc.), and the number on the right represents ones (1, 2, 3, etc.). In 538, there are 5 hundreds, 3 tens, and 8 ones.

  • 500
  •   30
  •     8

When you see a zero (0) in the hundreds place, say nothing. There are no hundreds to talk about. For example, 76 has no hundreds. You don’t say, “zero hundred seventy-six.” You only say, “seventy-six.” When you see a zero in the tens place, say nothing. There are no tens. When you see a zero in the ones place, say nothing. There are no ones. Here are some examples of numbers with zeros.

  • 1,076 = one thousand, seventy-six
  • 403 = four hundred three
  • 820 = eight hundred twenty
  • 820,403 = eight hundred twenty thousand, four hundred three
  • 400,000 = four hundred thousand
  • 7,000,000 = seven million
  • 20,001,040 = twenty million, one thousand, forty

For Fun

Listen to this song, and read the words below. Then answer the questions.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
525,000 moments so dear
525,600 minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets?
In midnights? In cups of coffee?
In inches? In miles?
In laughter? In strife?

In 525,600 minutes?
How do you measure a year in the life?

How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love
Seasons of love
Seasons of love

525,600 minutes
525,000 journeys to plan
525,600 minutes
How do you measure the life of a woman or a man?

In truths that she learned,
Or in times that he cried?
In bridges he burned,
Or the way that she died?

It’s time now to sing out.
Though the story never ends,
Let’s celebrate, remember a year
In the life of friends!

Remember the love!
Remember the love!
Remember the love!
Measure in love.
Measure, measure your life in love.

Seasons of love
Seasons of love

Your Turn

Think about the past year (from 12 months ago until now). Discuss with your classmates.

  1. How many cups of coffee have you drunk? What is your favorite kind of coffee? How do you prepare it?
  2. How many miles have you traveled? Where was your favorite place (only in the past year)? Where do you want to go in the next year?
  3. How many new people have you met? Did you meet anyone new who is now a good friend?
  4. How many times have you laughed? When was the last time you laughed really hard? What was so funny?
  5. How many difficult times have you had? What did you learn from a difficult experience?
  6. How many friends have you celebrated? Talk about a birthday party or wedding you attended recently.
  7. Say this number: 68,037,240,900,501. Ask your teacher if you are correct.
  8. Do you think we can choose to be happy? Do you think we should always try to be happy?
  9. Have you had a good year?
  10. What do you hope the next year will bring?

Food Idioms

For ESL levels 4 and up

By user “FotoDawg” ( [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

In the past, we have talked about idioms related to time, money, and health. Today, we’re going to talk about 10 idioms related to food. Read the idioms, their definitions, and the example sentences. Then discuss or write your answers to the questions at the end.

  • to have a bun in the oven – to be pregnant
    – Did you hear about Emily? She has a bun in the oven.
    – Angela told me that Susan told her that Katie said that Cindy has a bun in the oven.
  • to butter someone up – to be extra nice to someone for selfish reasons (because you want something from them, or because you don’t want to be punished)
    – Teenagers often try to butter their parents up before asking for money.
    – When my son starts to butter me up, I know that he has done something bad.
  • cup of tea – something you like (usually used negatively to say you don’t like something)
    – Country music is not my cup of tea.
    – Kyle tried to watch that movie, but it wasn’t his cup of tea, so he turned it off.
  • nuts about something/someone – to like something/someone a lot
    – I’m nuts about my husband.
    – Celia is nuts about Justin Bieber.
    – James is nuts about nuts!
  • in a nutshell – in short/in summary/simply
    – (How was your vacation?) In a nutshell, I went to ten countries in two weeks and they were all delicious.
    – (How was the movie?) In a nutshell, it was terrible.
    – I like my teacher for many reasons, but in a nutshell, I think she’s cool.
  • to put all of one’s eggs in one basket – to put all your hope and resources into one plan or idea
    – Jeremy invested all of his money in one company, and he lost it all. It wasn’t smart of him to put all his eggs in one basket like that.
    – I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket at the casino, so I played five different games and lost all of them.
    – I’m putting all my eggs in one basket with this company. I hope it’s successful.
  • to sell like hotcakes – to be so popular that many people buy them
    – Beyonce’s new album is selling like hotcakes.
    – When it rains, umbrellas sell like hotcakes.
    – The concert tickets sold like hotcakes, and I didn’t get one before they sold out.
  • to spill the beans – to tell a secret
    – Emily accidentally spilled the beans about having a bun in the oven when she said she couldn’t drink any wine.
    – Heather spilled the beans to Whitney about her surprise birthday party.
  • to spice things up – to change something boring or routine to make it more interesting or exciting
    – If your writing is boring, you can spice things up by writing different kinds of sentences and using descriptive words.
    – I’ve been wearing the same five outfits for months now. I like the clothes, but I need to spice things up. Maybe I’ll get some new shoes or jewelry.
  • to take something with a grain of salt – not to take something totally seriously because it might not be true (because the person who said it is biased or not reliable)
    – Uncle George tells great stories, but you have to take them with a grain of salt because  they aren’t always 100% true.
    – When you read something on the internet, it’s wise to take it with a grain of salt and do more research before you believe it.
    – You should take all parenting advice with a grain of salt because people have strong opinions, but every child is different.

Your Turn

Answer these questions with your classmates, or write your answers:

  1. Do you know someone who has a bun in the oven now? Who? Tell us about her.
  2. Have you ever buttered someone up? Why? What did you want from them? Did it work?
  3. Tell us something that is not your cup of tea (types of music, musicians, movies, fashion, etc.). Do other people like it?
  4. What are you nuts about?
  5. Finish this sentence with one word: “In a nutshell, I think my teacher is _______________.”
  6. Have you (or someone you know) ever put all of your eggs in one basket? What happened?
  7. Think of product in the U.S. that would sell like hotcakes in your country (a product that does not exist in your country now). What is it? Why would people like it?
  8. Tell about a time when you or someone you know spilled the beans. What was the secret? Whom did they tell? What happened?
  9. Is there an area of your life in which you would like to spice things up? Ask your classmates for suggestions.
  10. What have you heard or read recently that you took with a grain of salt? Why didn’t you trust or believe it completely?

I DID do it!!! (Emphatic Past Tense)

(image by Lorax)

Funnel cake image by Lorax

Usually, when someone asks you a question in the past tense, you respond in the regular past tense:

“Hey, did you go to the fair yesterday?”
“Yes, I did! It was fun.”

Did you eat anything interesting?”
“Yes, I did! I ate some funnel cake.”

Did you do anything else exciting?”

“No, I didn’t. I didn’t ride anything, I didn’t watch the fireworks, and I didn’t see any chickens.”



The above conversation uses regular, simple past tense. You can read more about it at the posts here or here.

Sometimes, English language learners are confused about how to use the past tense.

When making NEGATIVE past tense sentences, it’s correct to use the past tense word “didn’t” plus the base tense verb. For example, I didn’t go, I didn’t eat, I didn’t dance are all OK.

I didn’t went, I didn’t ate, I didn’t danced are NOT correct.

In the regular POSITIVE past tense, “I did go, I did eat, I did dance” are usually not OK.

You say, “I went, I ate, I danced.”

eat ate didn’t eat
go went didn’t go
dance danced didn’t dance



But let’s re-imagine our conversation. This time, notice what changes in the speakers’ attitudes. Past tense is in red.

“Hey, did you go to the fair yesterday?”
“Yes, I did! It was fun.”
Did you really go? I thought you didn’t want to go.”
“I did want to go! I love the fair.”
“Yes! I had fun.”
“OK. I bet you didn’t eat anything interesting.”
“I did eat something interesting! I ate a funnel cake.”
“No, you didn’t!”
“I did, too!”

Do you see how the conversation changes? This time, the two people are almost fighting. The person who went to the fair is getting angry because he thinks the other guy doesn’t believe him.

You can use the emphatic tense when you want to emphasize something. When you talk, you put more stress on the words. Remember, it’s not for normal conversations. It’s only when you really need to be clear about something.

For more practice, you can click here, or, remember these emphatic remarks:

  • I did do my homework!

  • did like the present you gave me!

  • did call you yesterday!

Good luck!

Listening Practice for Intermediate & Advanced Students

(photo by "Credit-cards" by Lotus Head)

(photo by “Credit-cards” by Lotus Head)

Are you ever nervous when you have to talk on the telephone? It is one of the most difficult things to do in another language. Most communication in the real world is non-verbal, so when we talk on the phone, we have to rely only on words. This is difficult when English is not our first language!

Today, let’s practice listening to a telephone conversation. This is from a video by English with Elizabeth. In it, you can listen to a conversation about an incorrect charge on a credit card.

As you listen to the conversation, try to discover the reason Mariam is upset.

Listen carefully to the dialogue.


Do you know why she is upset?

Listen again, and fill in the blanks:

Customer Service: Hello, Visa Card services. Can I help you?

Mariam: Yes, I need to talk to someone about a _________ on my card.

Customer Service: Ok, I can help you with that. I need your _________and ____________ number.

Mariam: My name is Mariam Jones. My account number is _____________ _______ 5555

Customer Service: And for verification purposes, Mariam, could you please tell me the last four digits of your social security number?

Mariam: _____

Customer Service: Thank you. How can I help you today?

Mariam: There is a charge for $_______ dollars on my statement that I didn’t _______.

Customer Service: I see. I can help you with that. What’s the date of the ________________?

Mariam: It was made on January __________. The store is Acme Supermarket.

Customer Service: And you did not _________ at Acme that day?

Mariam: No, I didn’t.

Customer Service: Ok. I’m going to put your card on _________, and you will not be ___________ for the charge of $150. We’ll be sending you a new card in the _________. Is there anything else I can help you with today?

Mariam: How long will it take for me to get my new card?

Customer Service: Um, a week to 10 days.

Mariam: Ok, ______ _____ then thank you.

Customer Service: You’re welcome. Have a nice day.


We hope you never have to call about an incorrect charge on your credit card, but if you do, now you know what vocabulary you can use when you talk on the phone in English!

Parts of Speech: Interjections

(photo by WT instructor JLN)

(photo by WT instructor JLN)


Mmmmm! That smells delicious! What is it?






Yuck! What IS that? It looks disgusting!



We use a lot of interjections in English. Interjections are small words or sounds. They can be loud exclamations or noises you make with your mouth closed.

Here are some interjections we use in English. Usually you hear these more than you write or read them.

Word Meaning Example
Oh! Surprise Oh! It’s 8:00! I’m late!
Uh . . . Hesitation Uh . . . I think . . . uh . . . the answer is . . . uh . . .
Uh-huh Yes, agreement “Did you like the movie?” “Uh-huh.”
Uh-uh No, disagreement “Did you like the movie?” “Uh-uh.”
Ouch! Pain Ouch! You stepped on my toe! That hurts!
Hmmm Hesitation, thought “What’s your opinion on global warming?” “Hmmm. I’m not sure.”
Um Hesitation Hi, my name is, um, Jaimie.

You can see another list here. Enjoy!

This video is a recording of what you just read. Listen to it so you can know how to pronounce the words.

How to Complain in a Restaurant

Before you read this paragraph, make sure you understand these words: understanding, patience, left (past tense of leave) waiting list, hostess, waitress, customer, manager, awkward 


Yesterday I went to a restaurant with my mom and dad. Usually, my parents are understanding, but yesterday they lost their patience. We left before we even ordered.

We arrived at the restaurant at 12:30 p.m.. It was very busy and there were a lot of names on the waiting list. We waited about 20 minutes before we got a table. The hostess gave us menus and walked away. We waited for the waitress but we didn’t see her. After 15 minutes, we saw the waitress talking to other customers, but she didn’t talk to us.

My dad got angry and called the manager to our table. “Why isn’t the waitress talking to us?” he asked. “She is serving all the other tables.” The manager said, “I’m very sorry. We’re very busy today.” My dad said, “I don’t want to hear excuses. I’m going somewhere else.” We stood up and left.

I was embarrassed. I felt awkward because I understood both positions. I know waitresses are busy, and I know customers want their food. I think there are better ways to complain than just to walk out.


Watch this video about poor customer service:

Afterwards, look at this lesson about complaining in a restaurant. Notice the polite requests people use. “Could I have….” is a nice way to ask for something. “Could we get…” is another nice way to ask. Notice too that the man made an observation (“I don’t have a fork”) instead of saying something rude like, “Why don’t I have a fork, you moron?!”

Maybe my father should have said, “I notice other tables are being served but not us. Could we get some service, please?”

What do you think? What do you do when you get bad service in a restaurant?

Whose is it? The importance of possession

(Author unknown. Photo in public domain via Wikipedia Commons.)

(Author unknown. Photo in public domain via Wikipedia Commons.)

Imagine that you are walking in the park. You see a large bag under a tree. You open the bag, and look inside. What do you see? Money! The bag is full of money! What do you do?

Moral decisions aside, maybe the first two questions you have are, “Whose bag is this?” and “Can I have it?”

Sadly, the probability of you finding a bag full of money is fairly limited. But, it’s still important that you understand how to ask and answer questions about belonging (possession).

The first question is, “Whose is it?” If you don’t know who owns something, you ask, “Whose is it?”

(From Total English, Gakko Tosho, 2006. Photo by Wake Tech instructor JLN)

(From Total English, Gakko Tosho, 2006. Photo by Wake Tech instructor JLN)

Look at this picture. The children are playing a game. One student asks, “Whose _____ is this?” The other students respond.

One student says, “It’s Kenta’s” (Kenta is a Japanese name).

Kenta says, “It’s mine.”

Another student looks at Kenta and says, “It’s yours!”

This chart helps you see how to answer:

Singular Plural
1st person mine ours
2nd person yours yours
3rd person his, hers, its theirs

When you use a name, you add ‘s. For example, John has a book. The book is John’s.

Let’s practice!

1. Katie has a dog. Whose dog is it? The dog is hers.

2. Bill and Bob have a car. Whose car is it? The car is theirs.

3. I have a cell phone. Whose phone is it? The phone is mine.

4. Sarah has a sandwich. Whose sandwich is it? The sandwich is (his/hers).

5. Rebecca has a cup of coffee. Whose coffee is it? The coffee is (his/hers).

6. Jack and Rob have a house. Whose house is it? The house is (his/theirs).

7. We have a lot of money. Whose money is it? The money is (ours/theirs).

8.  Brandon has 3 computers. Whose computers are they? The computers are (his/theirs).

Now follow the arrows to read a comic about a lost hat. Do you see the many forms of possession?

(From Total English, Gakko Tosho, 2006. Photo by WT instructor JLN)

(From Total English, Gakko Tosho, 2006. Photo by WT instructor JLN)

Did You See that Super Bowl Commerical? Let Me Tell You About It.

All this past week, people have been talking about the Super Bowl. Some people talked about the football game and some about the Katy Perry’s half-time show. Others talked about the commercials (the ads). Since sooooo many people watch the Super Bowl, companies spend a lot of money to make a commercial that people will remember and want to talk about. Some commercials are like a little story and often people “tell” their friends who haven’t seen the ad the whole story.

Retelling a story that you have read, a TV show or just an commercial you have seen is a great way to practice your English.

Let’s look at a series of commercials that Budweiser ( an American company that makes beer) has made for different Super Bowls. In each of the ads, we see Clydesdales, a special breed of horse that Budweiser uses as a symbol for their company. Clydesdales are strong, beautiful, intelligent horses with white shaggy hair on their lower legs.

The first commercial for Super Bowl 2013 is called “Brotherhood”. It’s about a man who raises Clydesdales for Budweiser. “Raise” means to bring up a child or animal from babyhood to adulthood. As you watch, think about what happens in this commercial. What is the man feeling? What is the horse feeling?

Now …. let’s “retell” the story.

We first see a barn and inside a man caring for a baby horse (called a foal). The mother is missing and it’s the man that feeds the foal with a bottle . The foal follows the man around, surprises and plays with him. The man is always caring for the foal and watching after him.

When the horse is sick, the man calls a vet (an animal doctor) and stays with the animal all night long until he is better. The foal grows into a colt (think “teenage” horse) and gets bigger and faster but he always follows the man. Finally he is an adult horse  and a Budweiser truck comes to get him. The man is sad and misses him.

Three years later, the Clydesdales are visiting Chicago and the man travels to the city to see them in a parade. He waits excitedly and recognizes his horse right away. We see his pride in his horse and maybe a bit of sadness at losing him. At the end of the parade, he gets ready to drive back home.

But guess what? The horse also recognized him and remembered him. As soon as he can, he gets away and races back to the man. The man is shocked and pleased that the horse has come back to him. He hugs him full of emotion. Awwwww … what a nice story.

Now watch the commercial Budweiser made for Super Bowl 2014 called “Best Buds” about a friendship between a curious puppy and a Clydesdale.

Can you “retell” the story in this commercial? Maybe answering these sentences can help.

  1. A woman raises ________ for adoption.
  2. One puppy ____________ under a fence and _________ a horse next door.
  3. The __________ and puppy become friends.
  4. The horse man brings back the ________ to the _____________.
  5. The puppy _____________ again and again.
  6. Another man comes and ___________ the puppy.
  7. The puppy ____________ want to go. He _______ and then the horse _______.
  8. The horse and his friends ____________________ to rescue the puppy.
  9. The man with the sunglasses  is ____________________  when he sees ______________.
  10. The puppy and the horses____________________.
  11. The man who raises the horses decides_____________________________.

Here is the latest 2015 commercial called “Lost Dog”.  That curious puppy gets into trouble. Will his friends help him?   Enjoy watching it and then PLEASE retell this story to your family and friends.