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  • Hard Times: Talking about the Economic Crisis in English

    In just about every English class I teach these days, the subject of the current global economic crisis is mentioned. Not only is it on everyone’s mind these days, whether you live in
    Spain, Brazil, Mexico or the United States, but it seems to be one of the motivations for a lot of students to learn English.

    Some of them are working on their English as a way of holding onto their current job, others have lost jobs and are trying to get new ones that require English, still others are hoping to start new businesses that require them to be able to speak English.

    I’ve also been seeing the signs of the crisis since returning to the U.S. from Buenos Aires last month. A lot of businesses have closed down, and many people are out of work. When I see people I haven’t seen since I left for Buenos Aires two years ago, their first question is often, “Have you found work?” It’s certainly a sign of the times.

    There are a few mistakes that students consistently make when discussing the crisis. One, they often use the word economical when they mean to say economic.

    I’ve heard phrases such as, “I lost my job because of the economical crisis,” “The economical situation in my country is not very good right now,” or “My company is having economical problems.”

    Economical is an adjective that means that something gives a good value or service related to the amount of money, time, or effort spent. For example, you might say that a small, reliable, fuel efficient and inexpensive car is economical.

    Economic is also an adjective (this may be part of the reason for ESL student’s confusion), used to describe things relating to the economy or economics.

    Unfortunately, a lot of people are talking about losing their jobs. In some languages, there tends to be a single word for losing your job, but in English, we have at least two. If you tell someone you were fired from your job, it carries a negative connotation. You get fired for being late, for fighting with your boss, getting drunk at work, attacking your co-workers, or just being really bad at your job. If you lose your job because the economy is bad, because the company is having problems, or for other reasons you have no influence over, we say you’ve been laid off. (If you have trouble understanding the difference between job and work, click here).

    In the U.S. and other countries, the economic crisis was accompanied by a sharp rise and fall in the price of real estate. This is often referred to as the housing bubble, which burst. Due to high unemployment and other factors, many people are losing their homes to their banks, a process known as foreclosure, because they cannot afford to pay their home loan, or mortgage.

    There are several phrases and expressions we are using to describe the crisis in English, some of these are new, others have been used to describe the economy for a long time. Many people are calling this period the Great Recession after the Great Depression that, in the U.S. lasted from 1929 to the late 1930s or early 40s. People are also referring to the crisis in general as the Global Economic Crisis. People often refer to difficult economic periods as tough times, or hard times.

    These are certainly hard times for a lot of people, but hopefully better times are around the corner.

    Got questions about any of the phrases or expressions above? Email us!