How should I talk about COVID-19 in English?

Hi, my name is Olga and I am the Learner Success specialist at Intrepid English. I, like you, have English as a second language. I’d like to share my advice for talking about COVID-19 in English.

Over the last two years, I’ve noticed many new words appearing in Russian and English. In addition, the way we talk about many daily topics has changed – from social distancing to vaccinations.

The subject of vaccination is controversial in many countries and even office etiquette has been transformed. Not only do you need to learn some vocabulary to discuss topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also how to be polite and respectful to others.

In this blog post, Intrepid English Teacher, Ruth, will give you the language you need to feel confident talking about the pandemic in English. She’ll also share her experience with you to help you see how we use that vocabulary in context.

Then, I’ll give you helpful tips for being polite and respectful to others when talking about the pandemic in English.

You’ll also find links to reputable sources at the bottom of the blog.

Now, Ruth, it’s over to you!

Thanks, Olga!
I’ll start with some useful vocabulary.

asymptomatic / asymptomatic transmission (adj + noun)
– no sign, no evidence of the cause for illness or why it has been passed on to another person

bubbles (noun)
– an individual or several people who live or stay together and have no contact with others

conjure up (phrasal verb)
– to remember a thought or feeling; to make something appear in your mind

contact tracing (noun)
– identifying the contact a person has had to a person with a disease

dosages (noun)
– the amount of a medicine

flatten the curve (phrase)
– to decrease the number of people with an illness

herd immunity (noun)
– when many people are immune to a disease; they cannot get sick

isolation (noun)
– being separated from other people

jab/shot (noun)
– injection, giving medicine using a syringe and needle

lingo (noun)
– the use of language for a specific topic/area

lockdown (noun)
– restricting movement to a specific area for the purpose of safety

maneuver (verb)
– moving carefully and with expertise

pandemic (noun)
– a disease that is present over a whole country or the world

quarantine (noun)
– a time period and/or location where people remain after being exposed to a harmful disease

silver lining (every cloud has a silver lining)
– one positive outcome of a negative situatio

social distancing (noun)
– keeping space between people and limiting contact

to be exposed to (verb phrase)
– to come in contact with something or somebody

unprecedented (adjective)
– never been done, seen or experienced before

vaccine rollout (noun phrase)
– the start of a vaccination program

venture out (phrasal verb)
– to go out somewhere

vaccination (noun)
– treatment with a vaccine to give immunity or prevent disease

PPE (abbreviation)
– personal protective equipment; equipment such as masks and paper clothing needed to protect from getting a disease

WFH (abbreviation)
– working from home; not going to work outside the home

WHO (abbreviation)
– World Health Organization; an international organization concerned with health and well-being around the world

My Pandemic Experience
by Ruth Fox

The words ‘COVID-19’, pandemic will forever conjure up feelings and memories. It brought life changes and new lingo. According to Global Language Monitor the word ‘covid’ was the most used word in the English language.

The majority of us learned much about this particular virus and viruses in general as well as a lot of new words to discuss topics related to the pandemic.

I live in the woods of West Virginia. To get to any major city, I have to drive 1 hour to the East, West, North or South. These rare journeys became even less frequent, and when I did venture out, traffic was light and easy to maneuver.

I realized very soon into the months of isolation, that less traffic meant less pollution. Nature breathed a sigh of relief! I found this to be a silver lining of the pandemic.

During this unprecedented year, friendship and family are more important than ever. All of us wanted to talk to someone. Even though we became highly connected online, we still craved human contact.

As soon as we could, many of us met up with friends. I packed my bags and moved to Scotland to be close to family. We found encouragement and support throughout the months of isolation. 

Small talk was reduced to: “Have you had the vaccine yet?”

“No, they are not giving us shots (jabs for the British English speakers) yet.”

“When do you think the vaccination rollout will begin in your city?”

“I suppose whenever they can acquire sufficient dosages.”

Many of us were keen to get a COVID-19 test. We had to remain in isolation if we had been exposed to the virus, we had to self-quarantine, even if we were asymptomatic.

Governments around the world introduced measures such as lockdowns, social distancing, and contact tracing to try and flatten the curve of infections. There was talk of ‘herd immunity, social bubbles and acronyms such as PPE, WFH and WHO started to pop up in our day-to-day conversations.

You can connect with Ruth by
visiting her Intrepid English Profile page.

Thanks for sharing your story, Ruth. It’s so handy to see these new words in context.

So, now you have added these essential terms to your vocabulary, I’d like to share with you some advice on how to use this language politely, respectfully and effectively in English.

Considering how controversial the topic of COVID-19 is, even if you strongly disagree with others’ views, there are ways to approach this conversation with tact.

On the one hand, decades of medical research have proven the effectiveness of vaccinations. In fact, many previously common illnesses have been wiped out thanks to vaccines.

On the other hand, there are a lot of reasons to be careful and take some time to think before being vaccinated. Whether you belong to one camp or the other, learning how to talk with others about vaccination and the pandemic will give you peace of mind and respect in the end.

This is the most important conversational skill of all.

Here is some advice for being tactful

As you may be aware, many people are starting new jobs at the moment, because of the changes to the workforce brought about by COVID-19. This process has been called ‘the Great Resignation, or Big Quit. If you are one of the millions who is joining a new company, we highly recommend avoiding such discussions until you know your colleagues a little better.

We especially recommend that you not share any strong opinions about this topic at the job interview: firstly, it is not a pleasant topic to discuss, secondly, you want to make the best impression at your job interview! 

1 If you do have to participate in such conversations at work, please, follow some simple advice to stay professional:1 Ask yourself every time: Is it the right place, time and group to talk about COVID-19?

2 Talk about the pandemic and vaccines with educated people, who can teach you new aspects of biology, politics, economy, etc. The goal of such conversations should be learning from each other and sharing reputable, fact-based sources of information. You can find some below.

3 Listen to other peoples’ opinions first, then you can carefully ask some open questions and, if your counterpart is open to discussing this further, suggest fact-based sources of information.

4 Be friendly. If you feel that conversation becomes even slightly aggressive, say something, like: ‘Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. To my mind, it is ok to disagree and to learn from different sources. Let’s stop for now, so we can research more and maybe come back to it later.’

5 Be polite, no matter what. Remember, you still can do both: stay with your opinion and continue to have pleasant relationships with people with different and even opposite opinions.

So, now you have the language and advice about speaking politely and respectfully so that you can have conversations in English and educate yourself.

Here also are some reputable sources that we recommend for further reading:

– World Health Organisation article: How to talk about vaccines”.
– The Economist article: “The post-pandemic office etiquette
– The Irish Times: “What’s the top word of 2020? Oh, you guessed that one easily

I’d like to leave you with a final message: we have suffered enough from all the lockdowns, isolations and all the side-effects of the pandemic. Let’s build warm and positive relationships with those around us.

It’s cool to be kind!

We’d love to hear your thoughts, so please tell us your advice and methods for talking about such sensitive topics. Practise the language you’ve learned from this blog post by booking a lesson with a friendly and experienced English teacher today!

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