#168: Talking about the Coronavirus in English — Essential Vocabulary

Mar 13, 2020 | Advanced Vocabulary, Special Confident English Lesson

The coronavirus is worrisome and stressful, but what shouldn’t be stressful is knowing how to talk about it if you need to have conversations with friends, family members or coworkers, and especially if you need to have conversations in English with medical professionals.

In this lesson, I highlight some of the most important vocabulary you need to understand and to use in conversations about the coronavirus and what’s happening around the world.

Transcript — Talking about the Coronavirus in English

Let’s start with the words outbreak, epidemic, and pandemic. Those are definitely the top words that are being used when we’re talking about the coronavirus.

A really helpful picture to have to understand these words is to imagine a target.

You have a central point and then the circles get bigger. So an outbreak is an increase in the number of cases of a disease in a particular place.

Let me give you an example to help understand that. In the United States, the coronavirus started with an outbreak in Washington state.

Over time, it became an epidemic, which is a large outbreak. That means the number of people who have the virus continued to go up quickly and it was over a larger geographic area.

Now, this week we also started to hear the word pandemic. A pandemic is a global epidemic. It means the number of cases continues to rise rapidly around the globe. It’s no longer in one region or one country. It’s across multiple regions, countries, and continents.

Now, one more word that you may have heard or read that is related to this is the epicenter.

An epicenter is a focal point or center point. If we go back to the first example sentence using the word outbreak. Initially, the outbreak in the United States began in Washington state. The epicenter of an outbreak would be the particular neighborhood or location where that outbreak began and this case in the United States, the epicenter was a nursing home in Washington state.

As we’ve watched the coronavirus move from an outbreak to an epidemic and then to a pandemic, we’ve needed to respond in different ways.

One of the first things that you’ve probably heard about are restrictions, restrictions are limits or ways to control someone or something. For example, right now there are many travel restrictions around the world. It means there’s a limit or some control of where you can and cannot travel. Some companies are also restricting their employees. They may be canceling travel plans or asking employees to stay home to work.

A second response is social distancing. This is a focused effort to reduce close contact between people and the purpose of social distancing is to slow down the movement or the spread of the coronavirus.

This is why we have schools closing. This is why large public events are being canceled and why many businesses have started to encourage or mandate telework, which means working from home, using the internet, email, and telephone.

Social distancing also means choosing to stay home more often and avoiding public spaces or large crowds when you are out of the house. For example, if you are going to work or you go to the grocery store and you see your neighbor, social distancing would mean that you don’t touch or have close contact. Instead, you keep your distance and that means a big change in behavior for a lot of us. Depending on where you live, it might be common to shake someone’s hand, hug them or kiss on the cheek when you see them, but right now it’s better to keep that distance again to slow the spread or transmission of the virus.

Another response that you’ve probably heard a lot about is self-quarantine. The word quarantine means to separate and restrict the movement of people who have the coronavirus or have been exposed to it and those who have not. Many individuals have been asked or have volunteered to self-quarantine and what that means is they stay home and they restrict their movements. They don’t go out in public unless absolutely necessary. For example, if you have a medical appointment.

One final word related to this is the word isolation. Isolation is the most restrictive separation. Isolation is when an individual with a disease has been completely separated from other individuals. While they are contagious.

Let’s focus on that word that I just mentioned. Contagious. Contagious refers to how a disease moves or spreads from one person to another by direct or indirect contact.

Now in this video, so far, I’ve used the word spread multiple times.

This is a word that we often use when we’re talking about the movement of a virus from one person to another. Earlier I mentioned that the purpose of restrictions, social distancing and self-quarantine are to slow the spread or the movement of the virus from one person to another, and there are three important reasons why we’re doing this.

Of course, number one is to protect you and all of your loved ones. Number two, to protect those who are most vulnerable.

So far with the spread of the coronavirus, it seems that elderly individuals or those of advanced age and individuals with a compromised immune system are most at risk. Your immune system is your body’s ability to fight a virus or protect itself from a virus. A compromised immune system means a weaker immune system. As a result, someone might get sick more easily or their body isn’t able to fight a virus as well as someone with a healthy immune system can.

The third important reason to slow down the spread of the coronavirus is to reduce the possibility of overstressing, overwhelming or overburdening our healthcare systems and hospitals.

Notice that I’m using that prefix over- with all of those words. When I add the word over, for example, if a hospital is overstressed or a doctor is overburdened, it means too much or above normal.

Certainly one of the top priorities right now is to make sure that our hospitals, our doctors, nurses, all of our medical staff and facilities are able to treat everyone who needs medical attention.

Now, if you or someone you know does need medical attention specifically related to the coronavirus, I want to highlight some of the most important words you’ll need to know in order to talk to your doctor, nurses, and other medical staff about how you’re feeling, what symptoms you’re having.

A symptom is a physical sign of an illness. Some of the most common symptoms that are being talked about are fevers. A fever is when your body temperature is too high. It’s higher than it should be or higher than normal. To talk about that with a medical professional, you would say, I have a fever, I have a fever of ____, and then give the specific degree in English. You’ll also hear people say, I’m running a temperature.

In addition to a fever, you might have symptoms like a cough.

You may also have shortness of breath or tightness in your chest. If you have shortness of breath or tightness in your chest, it means that you have pain here, particularly when you try to breathe and you’re not able to take deep breaths. For example, you’re not able to do something like instead, your breath might be very shallow. And again, it’s painful. You feel a lot of pressure or pain here.

Other symptoms of the coronavirus include common flu symptoms such as sneezing, body aches, a body ache is when your whole body is in pain or it hurts. You might also feel tired, fatigued, or lethargic. Fatigued means very tired and lethargic means you have no energy.

The last thing I want to highlight in this video today is some of the words we’re using to talk about how we are preparing to stay home more. Again, talking about social distancing, choosing to stay home or even if you need to self-quarantine.

The first one is the phrasal verb to stock up. To stock up means to have an extra supply, particularly of basic necessities like food, medicine, and other essential household items and this is perfectly appropriate to do if you’re going to self-quarantine for 14 days.

That means that you need to have enough food for you and anyone else who’s living with you.

So right now, many people are going to the grocery store and other markets to stock up on things like dried goods, canned goods, non-perishable and frozen foods. Dry goods or non-perishables are foods that last for a long time. For example, rice, pasta and dried beans.

Now again, this is perfectly appropriate, even smart to do. It’s great to be well prepared, but one thing to avoid would be to hoard supplies. To hoard means to have an extra-large supply that you hide and keep to yourself.

If you are hoarding supplies, it means you are taking more than you need and as a result, other people don’t have the opportunity to also stock up and prepare. And that’s something we definitely want to avoid.

Of course, right now we want to protect ourselves and all of our loved ones.

It’s also a time to protect everyone in our community and help where we can.


Now, I know that I didn’t cover every possible word that you may be hearing or reading about when it comes to the coronavirus.

I’m going to post this lesson on YouTube and on my website and if you’ve got a question, if you want to share your experience or you hear a word that you’re not sure about, if you’re struggling with how to express something, please be sure to share that with me.

You can always ask questions in the comment section of the online lesson that is the best place to share and ask any question that you might have.

I will be checking my online lesson regularly for any comments that you and others in the confident English community might have.

My number one goal is that you don’t feel stressed about how to communicate on this important topic.

Thank you so much for joining me today and again, never hesitate to let me know if you have a question about something you’ve heard, something that you’re trying to express or if you simply want to share what’s happening where you live, and with that, I hope that you and everyone you love stay safe and healthy.

– Annemarie

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