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Christmas in the United States: A Heartwarming Holiday

No time of year lifts my mood like Christmas does. Maybe it’s all of the bright and colorful lights or the nonstop Christmas music on the radio. 

Or maybe it’s all of the memories from my childhood Christmases that come flooding back: opening gifts from Santa Claus on Christmas morning, enjoying great food with extended family, baking cookies with my best friend…

In this article, you’ll learn all about American Christmas traditions, the story behind the holiday, and much more.

Let’s get started!

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1. What is Christmas?

A Saint Bernard Dog with a Santa Hat Lying in a Living Room Decorated for Christmas

Christmas is a holiday celebrated each year on December 25. 

On Christmas Day, Christians commemorate the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. According to the story, the Virgin Mary was visited by an angel and told that she would give birth to the Son of God. Around the same time, Caesar Augustus of the Roman Empire sent a decree that every person was to return to the place of their birth for tax purposes; this forced pregnant Mary and her husband Joseph to journey to Bethlehem. Once there, they were only able to find a stable to sleep in; it was there that Mary gave birth to Jesus. 

While Christmas is traditionally a Christian holiday, many non-religious people also celebrate it. Christmas has become more secularized over time, with many people viewing it as a time to be joyful, compassionate, and generous toward others. There’s also a strong focus on family and friendship.

Some people see this holiday as only one of many special days during the so-called “holiday season” or “Christmas season.” This is a cluster of holidays from the end of October to the beginning of the new year. Some of the holidays around Christmas include Halloween (October 31) and Thanksgiving (Fourth Thursday of November), as well as Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. 


2. How Do Americans Celebrate Christmas?

Because Christmas is celebrated both religiously and secularly, there are tons of different traditions and celebrations that take place. 

Religious vs. Non-Religious Celebrations

Common Christmas traditions among Christians include a candlelight service the night before and plays put on by the church depicting Mary and Joseph’s journey. In very religious families, the story of Jesus’s birth may be read from the Bible at home as well. Churches often organize other events to celebrate, such as get-togethers with food and sweets, and special events for children and teens.

There are also many traditions that both the religious and non-religious take part in. 

For example, during the month of December, many people like to count down how many days until Christmas. This can be done with an “Advent calendar,” which is a box of chocolates that depicts a calendar. There are little doors with the date written on them, and behind each door is a chocolate candy. Someone eats one of the chocolates every day until Christmas. 

Gift-Giving

(A Little Boy Dressed as an Elf and Carrying a Christmas Present

Christmas is also associated with gift-giving. 

Many parents teach their children about Santa Claus, a fat, jolly man who lives at the North Pole and delivers gifts to good children the night before Christmas. Children are also warned that, if they’re bad all year, Santa will leave them coal instead of gifts! 

In some homes, children are encouraged to leave stockings hanging by the fireplace or to place their shoes right outside their bedroom door; if they do, Santa will leave candies or small toys in them. Many children buy or bake cookies to leave out for Santa Claus, and are excited to wake up the next morning to find nothing but cookie crumbs—it means that Santa really did come! 

It’s common for family members, close friends, and lovers to buy Christmas gifts for each other, as well. Many businesses and shops have special deals and discounts available for the Christmas season, which entices people to buy more for their loved ones.

The purpose of Christmas gifts is twofold: In religious homes, giving gifts is a symbol of recognition for the gift of Jesus’s salvation. In non-religious homes, gift-giving is seen as an act of generosity and has simply become a tradition with time.


Christmas Feasts

Like Thanksgiving, Christmas is often viewed as a great excuse to eat lots of food

In the morning, some families like to prepare special Christmas breakfasts or brunches. This could be a breakfast casserole with eggs, meat, and hashbrowns, or something simpler like pancakes or scrambled eggs. Other families may treat Christmas breakfast the same as any other breakfast.

For dinner, some families prepare large meals. These often include turkey or ham as the main course, and then sides of potatoes, green beans, and yams. But every family is different, and some people just eat a simple dinner or go out to a nice restaurant. 

Children and adults alike look forward to a variety of sweet treats on Christmas. These include Christmas cookies, puddings, pies, cakes, flavored baked bread, and eggnog. 

Decorations

A Decorated Christmas Tree with Gifts Underneath

Christmas is one of the most vibrant holidays in the United States, with many people doing elaborate Christmas decorating each year. 

The most popular symbol of Christmas is the Christmas tree. Traditionally, this was an actual conifer tree that people would either chop down themselves or purchase from a Christmas tree shop. Nowadays, many people opt for plastic or other artificial “trees” that are much more convenient, don’t drop nettles on the floor, and can be used year after year. Some of these artificial trees can even change color! 

Once the tree is set up, people hang all kinds of small decorations on it; these include Christmas lights, tinsel, and small trinkets that can be store-bought or hand-made. Usually, an angel or a star is placed on top. 

On some homes, you’ll find a wreath hanging on the front door and tons of Christmas lights strung over the exterior. Some people go above and beyond, spending lots of time and money to make their house decorations the best on the street. Some families like to drive around different neighborhoods at night during the Christmas season to see all of the amazing Christmas light displays. 

Other Traditions

Christmas is a heart-warming time to be spent with family, friends, or other loved ones. There are several activities that people enjoy partaking in for the holiday! 

Many Americans look forward to snow on Christmas Day. Children often hope to look out their window on Christmas morning and find snow on the ground. This is the perfect time to go outside and play: building snowmen, making snow angels, and having snowball fights. Of course, they won’t be outside too long—it’s cold outside, and there are presents to be opened!

Some families like to make gingerbread houses and gingerbread men. These are model figures of houses and people that are made using gingerbread cookie, frosting, candy, and other sweet ingredients. Once they’re done, people break apart the gingerbread houses and men and eat them piece by piece. 

Another common Christmas tradition is that of the mistletoe. It’s said that when two people are under a mistletoe on Christmas Day, they have to kiss each other. Lovers and married couples often stand under the mistletoe intentionally. 

Finally, it’s not uncommon for workplaces to host Christmas or Christmas Eve parties. These are festive get-togethers for coworkers to celebrate the Christmas season together with food, drinks, and games. 


3. Christmas in Boston

There’s one American city that didn’t welcome the celebration of Christmas for a long time: Boston! 

In 1630, the Puritans settled in the New World and formed the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Puritans were a group of people who, like the Pilgrims, sought a new form of religious structure. They believed that they could worship God as a separate entity from the Church of England while still being governed by it. 

In short, Puritans believed that Christmas was a blasphemous holiday since the Bible never mentions the actual date of Jesus’s birth. In addition, they didn’t like the traditional pagan celebrations that Christmas took place around. In the mid-1800s, the Christmas ban was finally lifted and Massachusetts could once again celebrate the holiday. 

Today, Boston is known for its lavish Christmas decorations and celebrations! 

4. Essential Christmas Day Vocabulary

A Snowman

Let’s review some of the key vocabulary words from this article! 

  • Present [n]
  • Christmas 
  • Snow [n]
  • Wreath [n]
  • Snowflake [n]
  • Sled [n]
  • Christmas Day [n]
  • Chimney [n]
  • Holly [n]
  • Christmas tree [n]
  • Candy cane 
  • Decoration [n]
  • Fireplace [n]
  • North Pole
  • Elf [n]
  • Bell [n]
  • Stocking [n]
  • Snowman [n]
  • Santa Claus
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  • Reindeer [n]
  • Mistletoe [n]
  • Gingerbread house [n]

Remember that you can find each of these words, along with their pronunciation, on our list of Must-Know Christmas Day Vocabulary

Final Thoughts

For many, Christmas is one of the busiest and most beautiful holidays in the United States. While it has a different meaning for everyone, the vast majority of the U.S. population looks forward to this day all year long.

What are your thoughts on Christmas Day traditions? Do you celebrate Christmas in your country? We look forward to hearing from you in the comments!

If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more about U.S. culture and the English language, there are several blog posts on EnglishClass101.com we think you’ll love:

For more excellent content at your fingertips, create your free lifetime account today. We regularly upload audio and video lessons on a variety of topics, add themed vocabulary lists, and provide other useful materials for learners at every level. 

Happy learning and Merry Christmas from the EnglishClass101 team!

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The Warmth of Family: Thanksgiving Day in the United States

From the Harvest Festival in Germany to Labor Thanksgiving Day in Japan, many countries hold a thanksgiving day of some kind. In the United States, this holiday is known simply as Thanksgiving (or colloquially, Turkey Day). 

In this article, you’ll learn how Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, how this holiday got started, and more. 

Are you ready? Let’s get started.

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1. What is Thanksgiving?

Pilgrims and the Mayflower

In modern times, Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday dedicated to giving thanks and showing appreciation. This day is also associated with large feasts, time with loved ones, and the beginning of the “holiday season” (which includes Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Eve). 

But how did this holiday come to be? 

History of Thanksgiving

As mentioned, thanksgiving holidays abound worldwide, and this has been the case for quite a long time. Thanksgiving traditions were commonplace in England, with people thanking God for victories, harvests, and other positive happenings. When the Pilgrims left England to settle in the “New World” (North America), they took many of these traditions with them. 

What many people label as the “First Thanksgiving” took place in 1621, not long after the Pilgrims arrived in North America. They faced a long winter, made worse by the fact that they hadn’t brought adequate supplies with them. Though some of the Pilgrims lost their lives that winter, the Native Americans helped support the Pilgrims so that many of them survived. 

As a result, the Pilgrims held a thanksgiving celebration with the Native Americans, during which they showed appreciation toward God and the Native Americans themselves. The celebration consisted of a feast, which introduced the Pilgrims to many foods that were native to the North American continent. 

Thanksgiving was celebrated on-and-off for many years after that, on different dates and with varying degrees of status. It wasn’t until 1863 that Thanksgiving was declared an official holiday, thanks to Abraham Lincoln. 


2. When is Thanksgiving This Year?

Each year, Thanksgiving takes place on the fourth Thursday of November. For your convenience, here are the exact dates of Thanksgiving for the next ten years.

  • 2020: November 26
  • 2021: November 25
  • 2022: November 24
  • 2023: November 23
  • 2024: November 28
  • 2025: November 27
  • 2026: November 26
  • 2027: November 25
  • 2028: November 23
  • 2029: November 22

3. Thanksgiving Traditions in the United States

There are several Thanksgiving traditions in the U.S., though none are more important than Thanksgiving dinner. Some popular Thanksgiving foods include roasted turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, bread rolls, stuffing, deviled eggs, green bean casserole, brussels sprouts, and cranberry sauce. And, most importantly, every Thanksgiving dinner is finished off with a slice (or three) of pumpkin pie. Many people purchase nice wines or other alcoholic beverages to accompany their dinner. It’s encouraged to eat as much as you can—and then some!

One of the most significant aspects of Thanksgiving is the gathering of family. Thanksgiving Day is when people see and talk with family members they probably haven’t seen at all since last year (or longer!). This is a major travel holiday, with family members from one part of the United States traveling across the country to join family members who live far away. If you plan on flying during Thanksgiving, make sure you buy tickets way in advance; if you plan on driving at all, try leaving a few days earlier to avoid heavy traffic and bad drivers.

If you’re ever invited to someone’s home for Thanksgiving dinner, you can expect to find Thanksgiving decorations of some kind. Popular decorations include cornucopias, pumpkins and other squash (real or plastic), and autumn leaf decorations (usually plastic or paper). If someone is really into Thanksgiving, they may also light autumny candles or incense (such as those with cinnamon or pumpkin scents) to give their house a more homey atmosphere.

Many families tune into a Thanksgiving football game on television while waiting for the turkey to cook. It’s completely normal to find fifteen or more people stuffed into a living room, eating appetizers, drinking beer, and watching the game—all while two or three people are panicking in the kitchen to get the food ready!

Those not watching football are probably watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV (if they didn’t visit New York City to see it in person). This parade is a Thanksgiving tradition that began in 1924, and it features a variety of floats and performances. 

Leading up to Thanksgiving, there are often food drives or calls for donation to help ensure that everyone is able to eat a good dinner on this day. This allows poorer families to prepare a decent Thanksgiving dinner for themselves and their loved ones. Sometimes, soup kitchens, religious organizations, or restaurants will provide free Thanksgiving-style meals to the poor, homeless, or anyone who doesn’t have a place to spend Thanksgiving. In addition, many schools will provide a Thanksgiving meal to students (and sometimes their families) on the last day of school before the holiday.


4. Black Friday

Because Thanksgiving is the unofficial beginning of the end-of-year holiday season, many people begin their Christmas shopping the day after. In response to this, stores began advertising special deals for the day after Thanksgiving in order to entice potential buyers. This idea was endorsed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939, who believed that the sharp spike in shopping would help the economy; in fact, it was Roosevelt who pushed the date of Thanksgiving from the fifth Thursday of November to the fourth, which allowed holiday shopping to begin earlier.

The day after Thanksgiving is now called Black Friday, and it’s a massive event in the United States. Stores and retailers all over the country advertise amazing deals on just about everything, with emphasis on the most longed-for items such as televisions and new gaming systems. 

Huge crowds will wait outside of stores and come rushing in to grab what they can before someone else takes it. While Black Friday provides great prices for Christmas (and personal) shopping, the past decade or so has seen the event turn violent, with people injured or killed in the mad rush. 

Black Friday has been met with criticism, both for its increasingly violent nature and its contrast from Thanksgiving (which is about being grateful for what you have already). 

What do you think about Black Friday? Do you have a similar event in your country?

5. Essential Thanksgiving Day Vocabulary

A Cornucopia

Here are some words you should know for Thanksgiving in the United States! How many of them do you remember from the article?

  • Corn [n]
  • Pumpkin [n]
  • Yam [n]
  • Turkey [n]
  • Mashed potatoes [n]
  • Gravy [n]
  • Thanksgiving [n]
  • Feast [n]
  • Squash [n]
  • Cranberry sauce [n]
  • Cornucopia [n]
  • Stuffing [n]
  • Pumpkin pie [n]
  • Native Americans [n]
  • Mayflower
  • Thanksgiving Day
  • Pilgrims [n]

Make sure to visit our vocabulary list for Thanksgiving Day in the United States to hear the pronunciation of each word! 

Final Thoughts

A Woman Holding a Tray of Turkey Straight for the Oven to Serve for Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is one of the most popular and well-loved holidays in the United States, and we think you can see why! Is there a similar holiday in your country? We would love to hear about it in the comments. 

If you’re interested in learning about other U.S. holidays, EnglishClass101.com has several blog posts we think you’ll enjoy:

If you’re serious about improving your English, create your free lifetime account with us today! We provide tons of video and audio lessons, vocabulary lists, and of course, more insightful blog posts like this one. We hope to see you around!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Celebrating Labor Day in the United States

If you could take three days off work or school starting right now, how would you spend your time? 

We all need a break sometimes. Whether we relax at home, enjoy the outdoors, pursue our creative interests, or spend time with friends, taking time away from our everyday life can work wonders. 

Each year, most Americans get this break in the form of Labor Day weekend. In this article, EnglishClass101.com will teach you about the origins of Labor Day in the United States, how it’s celebrated today, and some relevant vocabulary. 

Let’s get started!

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1. What is Labor Day All About?

Business People Excited about Getting Off Work

You’re probably familiar with the concept of Labor Day already, and I’m betting that you celebrated yours back in May. Around the world, Labor Day (or International Workers’ Day) is a special occasion for workers. They can take the day off and enjoy the final days of summer with friends, family, and loved ones. 

But why do we celebrate Labor Day in the first place? In the U.S., we celebrate this holiday to show appreciation toward workers, respect workers’ rights, and give workers the rest they deserve. 

You may be wondering what makes the American version of this holiday special, and why we hold it on a different date than most of the world. For that, we’ll need to look at the historical context…

Labor Day History

In the United States, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw much dissatisfaction amongst workers, and for good reasons. During this period, there was no way to make a decent living unless you were skilled in a field like mechanics or art. Many people worked in factories and were expected to work long hours, in dangerous environments, and with little or nothing to show for it. 

In 1894, workers of The Pullman Company (a railroad car manufacturer) decided enough was enough. During a major economic depression in the United States, The Pullman Company had laid off many of its workers and severely reduced pay for those remaining. The workers organized a union (called the American Railway Union) and began a strike. Namely, they refused to operate any trains that carried Pullman sleeping cars. The Pullman Strike ended in violence, and many lost their lives; the union’s leader was imprisoned, and later became a notable supporter of socialism.

While this event was tragic, it was not the only strike to occur during this period. The high volume of strikes, and their negative impact on the United States, encouraged people to begin honoring workers and making compromises.

Labor Day in the U.S. originated as a way for the government to mend things with the working population. We celebrate it in September instead of May because Europe underwent a labor crisis at around the same time as the U.S. Then-President Grover Cleveland feared that if he didn’t do something quickly, the same communist movements that started in Europe would sprout up in the U.S. Thus, Labor Day was set to be celebrated on a different date than Europe’s International Workers’ Day. 

    → Do you want to pick up some useful vocabulary? See our list of words related to Jobs / Work

2. When is Labor Day in the U.S.?

Each year, Labor Day takes place on the first Monday of September. For your convenience, here’s a list of this holiday’s date for the next ten years.

  • 2020: September 7
  • 2021: September 6
  • 2022: September 5
  • 2023: September 4
  • 2024: September 2
  • 2025: September 1
  • 2026: September 7
  • 2027: September 6
  • 2028: September 4
  • 2029: September 3

Because this holiday takes place on a Monday, many American workers get a full “Labor Day weekend” (Saturday, Sunday, and Monday off work)! 

3. Labor Day Traditions & Celebrations

As mentioned, Labor Day weekend takes place near the end of summer. This means that students will soon be going back to school (which often starts just after Labor Day), and outdoor-lovers will be spending more time inside as the weather gets cooler. Labor Day weekend is the perfect time to enjoy those final days of summertime freedom with those we care about. 

One of the most iconic Labor Day traditions is that of barbecuing. American neighborhoods, parks, and other public locations are filled with the smells of barbecuing meats, vegetables, and other summertime favorites. When I think of a Labor Day picnic, I imagine a cheap paper plate loaded with potato chips, watermelon, baked beans, hot dogs, potato salad, and all the dessert items one could possibly want. Mmm. 

Labor Day is also a day of travel. Many people will drive (or fly) several hours to spend the holiday with their family in other cities or states. Others opt to travel to larger cities for more excitement (such as massive parades and incredible fireworks shows) or smaller cities for a quieter, more peaceful celebration. 

Of course, the long weekend is also the perfect time for companies and businesses to promote their products/services. There are always plenty of Labor Day sales, which usually begin a few weeks before the actual holiday. The most popular discounted items include furniture and electronics, which are normally too expensive to purchase on a whim. 

Labor Day also marks the beginning of professional (and college) football season in the United States. The very first pro football game of the season takes place on the Thursday after Labor Day (and I know people who get more excited about football season than Labor Day). 

4. White After Labor Day

An Airplane Taking Off

Have you ever heard the phrase: “Don’t wear white after Labor Day?” 

In times past, it was considered a fashion faux-pas to wear white after Labor Day (and before Memorial Day). Because of the fashion trends of the time, white was only to be worn during the summer, at weddings, or when on vacation. 

Over time, this “rule” has changed, though. Some people may still say that you shouldn’t wear white after Labor Day, but it’s not taken as seriously as it was in years past. 

5. Important Vocabulary for Labor Day

Someone Riding Their Bike in a Park with Their Dog

Let’s review some of the vocabulary words from this article! 

  • Weekend [n] – Saturday and Sunday; the end of the workweek
  • Holiday [n] – a special day for celebration or commemoration
  • Monday – the first day of the workweek
  • Vacation [n] – time away from work or school
  • Sale [n] – a special deal or discount on certain items or services
  • Travel [n] – a word used to describe the action of traveling somewhere
  • September – the ninth month of the Gregorian calendar year
  • Picnic [n] – a meal eaten outdoors, especially with family, friends, or a romantic partner
  • Job [n] – the work that a person does for a living
  • Employee [n] – a person who works for a company, under a person of higher authority
  • Right [n] – the automatic entitlement to have something or do something
  • Strike [n] – an event where workers refuse to do their jobs in order to receive benefits 
  • Worker [n] – someone who works
  • Work [n] – a job or career
  • Union [n] – a group of workers who join together to bargain for a collective benefit 
  • Movement [n] – a group of people joining together in order to promote an idea
  • Labor [n] – any kind of work, though it usually refers to physically demanding work 
  • Career [n] – a lifelong pursuit toward specific work- or education-related goals
  • Labor Day – a day for American workers to take the day off
  • Parade [n] – a large procession that often involves music, dancing, and floats

You can find each of these words on our English Labor Day vocabulary list to hear their pronunciation and add them to your flashcard deck! 

Final Thoughts

While it’s seen as a fun and relaxing holiday today, Labor Day has roots in some pretty dark times for the U.S. But on the other side of those dark times, the U.S. has become a country much more attuned to the needs and rights of workers.

What are your thoughts on Labor Day in the United States? Does your country celebrate International Workers’ Day? And if so, how do you spend your time off? Let us know in the comments! 

If you want to learn more about U.S. culture and the English language, visit our blog page. We update it regularly with valuable information that you can start using today! And for more information on work in the U.S., see our article about How to Find a Job in the United States.
Happy Labor Day from the EnglishClass101.com team. 😀

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Time Off to Vote: Voting and Elections on Election Day

One of the United States’ greatest attributes is its democracy, the ability for its people to vote in elections. Voting and elections in the United States follow specific rules and regulations, ensuring voting equality and fairness.

In this article, you’ll learn about voting on Election Day, including some information on how national elections work.

At EnglishClass101.com, we hope to make every aspect of your language-learning journey both fun and informative!

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1. What is Election Day?

When people talk about Election Day, they’re usually talking about the federal offices in the United States.

Is Election Day a national holiday in the US?

For most people in the United States, the Tuesday after the first Monday in November is a workday. This has been controversial for many years. Some people have advocated that Election Day be made an official federal holiday so that everybody has the day off to vote at their leisure.

But while Election Day isn’t a national holiday, people are required to have time off to vote in the election.

The United States does not vote on a popular vote system. The Electoral College determines the winner of a given state, which translates to a certain amount of electoral votes, making some states much more important than others to politicians.

2. When is Election Day in the United States?

The White House

Each year, the United States has its Election Day on a Tuesday in November, following the first Monday that month. For your convenience, here’s a list of Election Day’s date for the next ten years.

  • 2019: November 5
  • 2020: November 3
  • 2021: November 2
  • 2022: November 8
  • 2023: November 7
  • 2024: November 5
  • 2025: November 4
  • 2026: November 3
  • 2027: November 2
  • 2028: November 7

Keep in mind that some years are considered “off-years.” 2019 is such a year. Further, Presidential elections take place every four years.

3. What to Expect on Election Day

Dropping Off Ballot

Election Day in the United States means the end of long periods of campaigning, something which many Americans are grateful to see come about. It also means that polling places have long lines and that people sit by the TV, radio, or computer waiting to hear the results as soon as they’re turned in.

With elections held, the media in the United States covers Election Day like nothing else. In fact, this is one of the most competitive times of the year for media in general. All of the most popular and best known anchormen and women will be behind a desk with a map of the United States showing where the electoral votes of those states are going as soon as the results are available.

4. Why November?

Can you guess why the United States has always tried to position Election Day in November?

The November date of Election Day is due to the fact that the US was largely an agrarian society when the first elections were held. By November, most farmers had their produce harvested and could then make the sometimes long trip to town to vote.

5. Must-Know Vocabulary for United States Election Day

Pin that Says Vote

Here’s some essential vocabulary you should know for Election Day in the United States!

  • Washington D.C.
  • Politician
  • Election Day
  • Voter
  • Election
  • Candidate
  • Campaign
  • Ballot
  • Democratic Party
  • Government
  • Poll
  • Vote
  • Delegate
  • Front-runner
  • Did you vote?
  • Every vote counts!
  • Who are you going to vote for?
  • Lobby

To hear each of these vocabulary words pronounced, be sure to check out our Election Day vocabulary list!

Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed learning about United States Election Day with us! Did you learn anything new? Does your country have a similar day for elections? Let us know in the comments!

If you’re interested in delving further into U.S. culture, you may be interested in the following pages:

We know that English is a difficult language to learn, so we commend you for making the effort. At EnglishClass101.com, we aim to make your language-learning experience as fun and painless as possible.

Happy learning!

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Halloween USA: Halloween Activities & Events

Each year, Americans celebrate Halloween—a holiday dedicated to everything spooky, dark, and disturbing. While this Halloween celebration is relatively new in the U.S., many Americans actually look forward to it all year long!

In this article, you’ll learn about the most common Halloween activities, the holiday’s possible origins, and popular Halloween sayings you can start practicing today.

At EnglishClass101.com, we hope to make every aspect of your learning journey both fun and informative!

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1. What is Halloween in the United States?

Halloween is a time for celebration in the USA. It’s become the second most popular holiday in the nation over the years. Halloween is known for its oftentimes scary costumes, elaborate parties and events, horror film festivals, and its many Gothic trappings. This holiday was a latecomer to the US, and only became popular in the early twentieth century.

2. When is Halloween?

Full Moon for Halloween

Each year, the United States celebrates Halloween on October 31. However, there have been recent petitions to change the Halloween date to the final Saturday in October. In time, we’ll see if this becomes the case. 😉

3. Halloween Events, Celebrations & Common Themes

The Basics

People in the USA typically carve pumpkins into scary jack o’ lanterns, use Halloween decorations to make their houses spooky inside and out, and wear a variety of Halloween costumes to celebrate. Some people believe that these aspects of Halloween have roots in Celtic and European myths and traditions.

Halloween Music & Moves

Today, popular horror films and Halloween movies have also influenced the cultural traditions that surround Halloween. The monster movies of the early twentieth century are significant contributors to the look and feel of modern Halloween celebrations in the USA! Check the local theaters and TV stations around Halloween, and you’ll find plenty of scary stuff to watch!

Another favorite for lovers of this holiday is Halloween music. From basic haunting tunes to pop-culture classics, there will be some kind of spooky music playing just about anywhere! To get a taste, why not listen to one of the most popular examples of classic Halloween music: The Monster Mash.

Trick-or-Treating, Haunted Houses & Hayrides

Trick-or-treating started at the beginning of the twentieth century to curb the vandalism and destruction that once characterized this holiday in the USA. Today, Halloween is a night when the streets are full of families getting treats from their neighbors, and vandalism and other problems are rare.

Some families and social groups set up elaborate haunted houses and invite people to go through for free or a donation. Hayrides and other nighttime events are also very popular in rural areas.

Halloween Costumes

Over the years, Halloween costumes in the USA have become more varied. Some people, particularly younger participants, forego the dark Gothic theme of the holiday and dress up as movie characters, their favorite characters from books, or even important figures from the past.

4. Samhain: The Original Halloween?

Trick or Treating

Do you know where the U.S. may have borrowed the tradition of dressing up?

Samhain is considered by some to be a significant influence on current Halloween celebrations in the United States, though this is disputed by some scholars. Samhain was—and still is, to some extent—celebrated in Scotland and Ireland. It’s associated with the final harvest of the year more than it is with scary ghouls and goblins, though spirits do play a part!

The dressing up was originally done to scare malicious spirits away, or to trick them into thinking that you were one of them to avoid harm.

5. Essential Halloween Night Vocabulary

Scary Jack-o-Lantern

Here’s the essential vocabulary you should know for Halloween in the United States!

  • Candy
  • Witch
  • Spider
  • Pirate
  • Pumpkin
  • Bone
  • Jack-o ‘-lantern
  • Scary
  • Skull
  • Halloween
  • Bat
  • Broom
  • Costume
  • Vampire
  • Ghost
  • Frankenstein
  • Black cat
  • Boo!
  • Goblin
  • Mummy
  • Monster
  • Haunted house
  • Trick-or-treat
  • Spooky
  • Werewolf
  • Zombie
  • Skeleton
  • Devil

We have a lesson dedicated to these must-know Halloween words on our website; why not check it out?

EnglishClass101: The Best Guide to English & U.S. Culture

We hope you enjoyed learning about Halloween with us! Did you learn anything new? Are you excited to participate in some of these Halloween activities? Let us know in the comments; we always love hearing from you!

To learn more about United States culture and the English language, explore EnglishClass101.com. We provide an array of fun and effective learning tools for every learner, at every level:

  • Insightful blog posts on a range of cultural and language-related topics
  • Free vocabulary lists covering numerous topics and themes
  • Podcasts and videos to improve your listening and pronunciation skills
  • Mobile apps to learn English anywhere, on your own time
  • Much, much more!

To really make the most of your learning journey, be sure to upgrade to Premium Plus. Doing so will give you access to your own English teacher who will help you develop a learning plan based on your needs and goals.

English is a difficult language to master, but at EnglishClass101, we believe you can do it! And we’ll be here with help and encouragement every step of the way.

Happy Halloween!

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Celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day in the U.S.

What day is International Talk Like a Pirate Day? How can you take part? What on earth is a landlubber?

In this article, you’ll learn a little bit about a relatively new, U.S.-born holiday, dedicated to talking like a pirate. What fun would learning a language be without a little deviance from the usual, anyway?

At EnglishClass101.com, we hope to make every aspect of your language-learning journey both fun and informative! And today, we hope you walk away from this lesson with all the pirate-y conversation material you’ll need to celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Let’s get starrrrted.

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1. What is Talk Like a Pirate Day?

On International Talk Like a Pirate Day, people are encouraged to talk like a pirate! This is a parodic, or silly, holiday, created in 1995. This holiday originated in the United States, and is the idea of two men from the state of Oregon: John Baur (who goes by the pirate name Ol’ Chumbucket) and Mark Summers (or Cap’n Slappy).

Like most good things in life, this holiday actually began as an inside joke between the two, but became publicized after they wrote to a humor columnist about it. People love an excuse to be silly, so it quickly caught on.

2. When is International Talk Like a Pirate Day?

Pirate Near the Shore

International Talk Like a Pirate Day takes place on September 19 each year.

3. International Talk Like a Pirate Day Activities

Talk Like a Pirate

While there are no set in stone activities for Talk Like a Pirate Day, the name says it all. On this day, anyone who wishes to participate should simply talk like a pirate whenever possible. This can refer to specific words and phrases (which we’ll go into detail about below) or even making one’s voice sound gruff and “pirate-y.”

For those who want to go all-out expressing their admiration for pirate speech, there may also be pirate-themed parties or get-togethers. During these, people may even dress up like pirates, with beards, pegleg, and eyepatches! Who wants to wait another month for Halloween, anyway?

Due to the rise in popularity of Talk Like a Pirate Day, many companies offer special promotions or events as well, related to piracy.

4. Vocabularrry for Talk Like a Pirate Day

A Treasure Map

Here are some International Talk Like a Pirate Day phrases that you’ll need to celebrate this fun holiday like there’s no tomorrow. 😉

  • Pirate: Pirates are known for stealing and violence upon the seas, and are depicted in various films and books.
  • Eye patch: An eye patch is some kind of material that covers one eye, usually because that eye is injured (or missing after a long-ago battle!).
  • Booty: This refers to some type of treasure or loot, something that many film pirates find themselves searching for.
  • Arr!: This is perhaps the most common and frequently used pirate expression, though sometimes people say this at other times year-round. You can say this just for fun, or when you’re upset about something, or even to agree to what someone said. It’s very versatile.
  • Ahoy, Matey!: This is a pirate-y way of saying “Hello, friend!”
  • Aye, aye sir!: This is something that pirates under a captain’s orders would say when accepting a task or agreeing to something. On International Talk Like a Pirate Day, you can say this whenever you’re agreeing to something, or agreeing to do something.
  • Shiver me timbers!: This is a funny pirate phrase, and it’s basically something you say when you’re scared or in awe of something. A” timber” is a piece of wood that supports the ship of a pirate, which would “shiver” when the sea and winds were strong.
  • Landlubber: A “landlubber” is one who dwells entirely on land, as opposed to living life largely in the sea like a pirate. You can call someone a “landlubber” on Talk Like a Pirate Day” to jokingly insult them.
  • Walk the plank: This may be the most popularized pirate phrase in movies. Usually, this phrase is used in movies when a pirate’s enemy (or an unlucky lower-rank pirate!) is captured. A “plank” is a slab of wood that hangs over the edge of the ship, so someone told to “walk the plank” must walk off the plank into the sea to drown. But on International Talk Like a Pirate Day, you can say this anytime just for fun.
  • Thar she blows!: Pirates would say this to let the other pirates onboard know that he’d seen a whale on the water’s surface. “Thar” means there, and the latter part of the sentence refers to the water blowing out of a whale’s blowhole when they go for air.
  • Aaaarrrrgggghhhh!: This phrase is basically the same as “Arrrr!!” but has the gg sound at the end, which makes it sound angrier. You can use this anytime for fun on International Talk Like a Pirate Day.
  • Avast ye matey!: Essentially, this is how pirates would tell other pirates to stop what they were doing, or “hold fast.” Again, you can say this any time on Talk Like a Pirate Day.
  • Me hearties: “Me” here really means my, and “hearty” or “hearties” is simply a way to address other pirates onboard.
  • Heave ho!: This is a phrase pirates would say when lifting up, or otherwise moving, something that was heavy or difficult.
  • Dead men tell no tales: This phrase is a pirate-y way of saying that those who die aren’t able to talk about their adventures (or their knowledge of something). It can be used many ways, but most especially as a threat (like if someone knows something they shouldn’t, a pirate could say this to warn them to keep quiet). But again, it’s just a fun phrase on Talk Like a Pirate Day (and the name of a famous pirate movie). 😉
  • Jolly Roger: Despite its name, this is not at all related to the Jolly Rancher candies. The Jolly Roger is the black pirate flag with skull and crossbones.
  • Davy Jones’ Locker: When people talk about Davy Jones’ Locker, they’re usually referring to where drowned bodies go, at the bottom of the sea.
  • Captain: The captain of a ship is the one who’s in charge of all its goings-on, and can give orders to the rest of the crew.
  • Peg leg: A peg leg is a false (or prosthetic) leg that pirates in movies are often depicted wearing, usually when they lose one of their legs.
  • Hook: The “hook” is another popular adornment of movie pirates. This is similar to the peg leg, but is an actual hook that is used in place of a hand. A famous pirate with a hook is the aptly named Captain Hook.
  • Treasure map: A treasure map is a map created specifically to give directions on how to find a treasure. In movies, pirates oftentimes find themselves using a treasure map to find hidden treasures.

To hear each of these vocabulary words pronounced, and read them alongside relevant images and example sentences, check out our International Talk Like a Pirate Day vocabulary list!

How EnglishClass101 Can Help You Master U.S. Culture

We hope you learned something new today, and that you’re able to get the most out of this holiday with the phrases you learned. Are there any fun, unique, or even silly holidays that are celebrated in your country? Do you know any pirate phrases in your language? Let us know in the comments!

To continue learning about United States culture and the English language, explore EnglishClass101.com. We provide an array of fun and effective learning tools for every learner, at every level:

  • Insightful blog posts on a range of cultural and language-related topics
  • Free vocabulary lists covering a variety of topics and themes
  • Podcasts to improve your listening and pronunciation skills
  • Mobile apps to learn English anywhere, on your own time
  • Much, much more!

If you’re interested in a one-on-one and personalized learning approach, be sure to upgrade to Premium Plus. Doing so will give you access to your own English teacher who will help you develop a learning plan tailored to your needs and goals. Yes, really!

English is a difficult language to learn, but know that your hard work and dedication will pay off. And EnglishClass101 will be here to help every step of your way to English mastery!

Until next time, Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

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How to Read Body Language in the United States

Thumbnail

Body language says what words can’t, and it can serve as an effective maneuver around poor English skills—or difficulties in any other language for that matter! On top of that, body language complements verbal language; it acts a lot like slang in that it makes for more fluent and lively conversation.

However, in order to make this work for you, you need to know how to read body language. Nonverbal communications in English are just as important as they are around the world. This guide on body gestures in our English lesson will help you get a better grasp of American nonverbal communication.

Learn about body language in American culture, as well as an array of body gestures in English, with EnglishClass101.com, and prove yourself an avid language-learner through this unspoken language! Start with a bonus, and download your FREE cheat sheet – How to Improve Your English Skills! (Logged-In Member Only)

Table of Contents

  1. Body Language in the United States
  2. “Personal Space” in the United States
  3. Body Postures
  4. Hand Gestures
  5. Facial Expressions
  6. Different Physical Movements
  7. Bonus: Combinations of Body Language Signals
  8. Conclusion

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1. Body Language in the United States

Woman smiling and covering her mouth

Before you can learn how to read body language in the United States, it’s important that you know what it is and what it looks like.

First things first: What is body language?

Essentially, body language is how we communicate our thoughts and feelings through gestures or other movements—whether intentionally or not.

For example, most people begin to smile or laugh when they’re feeling happy; they don’t have to say, “I’m feeling happy,” you can just guess that based on their actions and the context.

Context is just as important in learning how to read body language as the actual movements. For example, let’s say that the person mentioned above was smiling and laughing, but you were in the middle of a big fight with them. They probably aren’t happy. Their emotions are just so chaotic that they’re smiling and laughing despite the negative tension.

From rude hand gestures in America to body language in American culture itself, there’s a lot to learn about how to read body language. It’ll take some time to truly master recognizing, reading, and mirroring these gestures and actions, so be patient with yourself and practice as much as you can!

We’ll do our best in this article to present you with relevant body language definitions and examples.

Now, let’s move onto another facet of English body language and gestures—the concept of personal space.

2. “Personal Space” in the United States

Two Men Shaking Hands at a Distance

Talking about body gestures in English requires that a quick glance at a common aspect of United States culture. Perhaps one of the first things you should know when it comes to body language in American culture is the concept of “personal space” that Americans possess. This is one of the most important concepts to understand when it comes to English body language and gestures.

More so than in many other countries and cultures around the world, Americans cherish their personal space (or as some people call it, their “personal bubble”). This personal space represents the distance that Americans feel others need to keep away from them, both physically and emotionally. And Americans definitely get uncomfortable or even annoyed if this space is invaded in the least.

In the United States, people like for other people to keep their distance—when talking, when walking, when waiting in line, when at home, and when out and about. Obviously, “rules” about personal space vary from person to person, and from relationship to relationship.

However, according to The Spruce, typical personal space rules in the United States are as follows:

  • Approximately 0 to 20 inches for intimate couples
  • Approximately 1-1/2 feet to 3 feet for good friends and family members
  • Approximately 3 feet to 10 feet for casual acquaintances and coworkers
  • More than 4 feet for strangers
  • More than 12 feet for speaking to a large group

As someone who’s new to the United States, you’ll probably be forgiven for not following these rules to a tee. But it’s definitely polite to try your best and stick to these norms; you’ll be a lot more likely to gain the favor of many an American.

That said, let’s look at some American body language gestures, and gain more insight into English gestures and body language.

3. Body Postures

You can tell a lot about how a person is feeling by their body posture, even if they’re not really doing anything. Let’s explore a few examples of American body language postures and what they mean.

1- Leaning Forward

  • Meaning: Leaning or bending forward while sitting down usually means that you’re interested (or even intrigued) by what the other person is saying. It shows attentiveness.
  • How to do: While sitting during a conversation, you can lean forward slightly from the bottom of your spine; don’t overdo this, as it can come across as rude or awkward.
  • When to use: This is probably best used in informal settings, and should be used sparingly. You can lean forward a little bit if you’re having a talk with a friend about something that interests you.
  • Example situation: You and your friend are out getting coffee together and she starts telling you about a police chase she saw on her way to the cafe. You lean forward slightly as she describes the details of this enthralling chase scene.
  • Additional notes: In addition to simply leaning slightly forward, some people also raise their eyebrows or put their hand to their chin as these can be indicators of deep thought or interest.

2- Leaning Back

  • Meaning: Leaning back in your chair while sitting down usually indicates that you’re very relaxed, and can even be a way of showing satisfaction or relief.
  • How to do: There’s no set way to do this. Basically, you lean slightly backward instead of sitting straight, often ridding yourself of tension in your back. Some people also put their legs out in front of them, crossed or uncrossed; others hang their arms over the chair/sofa in relaxation, or put their hands to the back of their head in a stretch.
  • When to use: You can use this any time you’re feeling relaxed, relieved, or laid-back about something (or any of those things in general).
  • Example situation: Let’s say you’re sitting at your computer and you just finished a huge project that’s due tomorrow. You save and close the assignment, turn off the computer, and lean back in your chair as an outward show of relief.
  • Additional notes: While this posture usually indicates relief about something or general relaxation, you should be careful about when you use it. For example, leaning back in your chair during a school lecture or during a business meeting will indicate that you’re uninterested or just don’t care enough to sit straight—not a good impression to make on people in your professional life. Some people also consider this a “defensive posture.”

3- Crossed Legs (at the knee)

  • Meaning: Crossing one’s legs while sitting is basically just a comfortable way of sitting. It usually denotes relaxation and ease.
  • How to do: While sitting down straight, move one of your legs (it doesn’t matter which one) so that it’s on top of the other one. Usually, your mid-thighs and knees will overlap, while the calf of the leg you put on top hangs slightly over your other calf.
  • When to use: You can use this just about anytime and anywhere, but it’s typically best suited to more informal occasions. If you’re hanging out with friends at a coffee shop, reading a good book at home, or at any type of informal social gathering, it’s completely acceptable to use this posture while sitting. But you should be very cautious about sitting this way during business meetings or other events where you’re expected to be professional.
  • Example situation: You’re out getting pizza with some friends, and you’re all sitting around a table together. If you start to feel uncomfortable sitting straight and “proper,” you can shift your weight in a way that’s more comfortable to you by crossing your legs.
  • Additional notes: While this is one of the most common sitting positions in the United States (and quite convenient and comfortable), there’s a lot of debate around it. Many people are starting to claim that this posture is bad for you, and that sitting straight and proper is best. On the other end of the spectrum, there are people saying that there may actually be health benefits to sitting this way.

Another thing to keep in mind is that when a woman crosses her legs at the knee, it’s sometimes considered an alluring posture—this depends on various factors, though, such as what she’s wearing and who she’s with.

4- Arms Crossed

  • Meaning: More often than not, having one’s arms crossed usually denotes anger, frustration, or insecurity.
  • How to do: To cross your arms, begin bringing your arms together just under your chest. Arrange them, as you’re bringing them toward your chest, so that your left hand will rest under the crook of your right arm, and vice-versa. Your left arm will rest on top of your right arm where they intersect.
  • When to use: Crossed arms can technically be used in any situation, but it’s best used sparingly as it usually has a negative connotation. You can use the crossed arms posture when you’re feeling angry or “put off” with someone, or when you’re in a situation that makes you uncomfortable (crossing your arms can feel almost like giving yourself an extra layer of protection, and is often done unconsciously for this reason).
  • Example situation: You and a coworker are arguing over the best way to complete a project, and in a moment of frustration you cross your arms.
  • Additional notes: Crossed arms can be used for more emotions and situations than listed above, though the ones listed above are the most common and standard. Crossed arms can also be used when you’re feeling chilly, and even for no other reason than more comfortable posture when standing for a long time.

Woman Crossing Arms

5- Slouching

  • Meaning: Slouching is usually received negatively, and often indicates laziness or other negative characteristics. It’s also considered bad posture in general, and can be done standing or sitting.
  • How to do: Though you probably don’t want to slouch, this is usually done by slumping your back and/or shoulders, so that you’re no longer standing or sitting straight. This is different from leaning forward or backward because when you slouch, your overall posture is very bad and the act of slouching usually involves your shoulders (as opposed to only a slight change in the position of your back).
  • When to use: Slouching can be done anywhere and at any time. It should be especially avoided during formal occasions.
  • Example situation: You’re sitting at your desk working, and suddenly realize that your back and shoulders are drooping or hunched over; you quickly correct your posture.
  • Additional notes: As mentioned earlier, slouching should be avoided as much as possible (though it’s easy to find yourself in this position by accident). It’s considered rude and has an overall negative connotation, not to mention slouching is terrible for your postural health.

4. Hand Gestures

A list of body language examples wouldn’t be complete without covering popular hand gestures. Here’s a list of some of the most common hand gestures in America and what they mean.

Hand Gestures

1- Thumbs-up/down

  • Meaning: A thumbs-up means “okay,” or a similar positive word. A thumbs-down usually means “no,” “not good,” or a similar negative word.
  • How to do: To do a thumbs-up hand gesture: Turn your hand sideways (usually your right hand), so that your thumb is on the top side. Then, curve all of your fingers so that they’re curled in your palm and extend your thumb out in an upward position.

    To do a thumbs-down hand gesture: Turn your hand sideways (usually your right hand), so that your thumb is on the bottom side. Then, curve all of your fingers so that they’re curled into your palm and extend your thumb out in a downward position.

  • When to use: The thumbs-up gesture is often used in place of the word “okay,” and can also be used as a general sign of approval. The thumbs-down gesture is the opposite, and is used as a general sign of disapproval.
  • Example situation: Let’s say you and a friend are out shopping together, and you stop by the food court. Your friend asks if you would like to get food from the Panda Express window; you give the thumbs-up gesture and nod to show that you would like to eat there.

2- High-five

  • Meaning: A very American hand gesture, the high-five is a way of expressing congratulations or excitement, usually for a job well done. It’s one of the most common hand gestures in America.
  • How to do: As the linked video shows, there are several different ways to do the high-five. But here, we’ll just go over the basic, most common high-five. To do this, you and another person hold your palm out flat, fingers spread. Then you both raise the arm you’ll be high-fiving with, and thrust them toward the other person’s arm so that your outstretched hands will hit each other and make a clapping sound. (The video will make this make a lot more sense.)
  • When to use: The high-five is typically used in order to express congratulations or excitement about something, and is best used with friends in informal settings.
  • Example situation: Let’s say your friend applied for their dream job, waited weeks for a response, and then comes over to tell you they got the job. You might be so happy for your friend that you initiate a high-five (and then go out for ice cream together).
  • Additional notes: High-fives can be notoriously tricky, and even people who have been high-fiving their entire life mess it up sometimes. It’s not complicated, but unless both people are completely prepared for the high-five it might not go as planned. Be patient with yourself while you learn this one, and realize that you’ll probably never have it down 100%.

3- Wave

  • Meaning: Waving is basically a way of greeting someone, usually from afar.
  • How to do: While there are several types of “waves” you could do, we’ll go over the most basic greeting one. To do this, extend your arm (usually your right arm) into the air so that the person you’re waving to can see it, and move your wrist from left to right several times.
  • When to use: Waving is typically used to get someone’s attention and greet them from a distance.
  • Example situation: You’re in the checkout line at the grocery store and you spot someone you know in the line next to yours. You look in their direction, and start waving if they happen to be looking in your direction too.
  • Additional notes: Sometimes just waving isn’t enough to grab someone’s attention; in this case, you can also say their name while waving so that they’ll hear you and maybe come over to talk.

Waving

4- Extending Hand

  • Meaning: Extending your hand to someone almost always means that you want to shake their hand (though it could have other meanings that we’ll look at later).
  • How to do: To extend your hand to someone, simply extend your arm in their direction, usually with your hand sideways and loosely held.
  • When to use: This is usually used when you first meet someone, especially a new colleague or a friend of a friend.
  • Example situation: You’re at work and a new colleague is introduced to you. The first thing you’ll probably do is shake their hand.
  • Additional notes: Oftentimes, when shaking someone’s hand, you’ll also exchange names and say something like “Nice to meet you,” or “Pleasure to meet you.”

Extending your hand can have more meanings than simply wanting to shake someone’s hand. For example, you may extend your hand to someone if they’ve fallen down and you want to help them up. You can also extend your hand to someone if you want them to take it while walking together, such as a man may do to a woman he’s courting.

Man Reaching Out

5- Waving Toward Yourself

  • Meaning: You may wave toward yourself if you want someone to come closer to you.
  • How to do: Extend your arm outward, then sweep it toward yourself (usually just once or twice).
  • When to use: You can use this any time you see someone you know at a distance and want to chat with them or otherwise have a conversation with them.
  • Example situation: You’re walking down the street and see someone you know. You catch their attention and wave toward yourself so that you can say hello.
  • Additional notes: You can also use this gesture if you want someone to follow you; if done in this context, you’ll usually be walking or running a certain direction, and will wave more in the direction you’re going than actually at yourself.

6- Pointing Index Finger Away from You

  • Meaning: Pointing your index finger away from you usually means one of two things: 1.) It’s a way of telling someone to go in the direction you’re pointing, or 2.) You’re pointing toward something as a way of indicating what/who you’re talking about. (The meaning is usually indicated by the context.)
  • How to do: Extend your arm in front of you, and then fold all of your fingers except for your index finger.
  • When to use: You can use this as a way of indicating that you want someone to go in that direction, or if you need to show the person you’re talking to what or who you’re talking about.
  • Example situation: You tell your friend that their crush is just a few feet away, and you discreetly point toward him/her to show your friend.
  • Additional notes: Keep in mind the old adage that “It’s rude to point.” While it’s sometimes okay to use this gesture as described above, it’s best not to point directly at a person (especially if there’s a good chance they’ll see you!). And if you’re pointing in a general direction or at a specific place, it’s good practice to make sure there’s no one around who will think you’re pointing at them. In order to get around this, some people use their arm as a whole to do this gesture, not using a finger to point.

Kid Pointing

7- Raise Hand

  • Meaning: When you raise your hand, you’re almost always indicating that you have something you want to say during a group discussion of some kind.
  • How to do: This is usually done while sitting in a group, though it can also be done while standing. Simply extend your arm (usually your right arm) upward above your head. Make sure that your fingers are pressed together (not spread apart or in a fist).
  • When to use: You can use this gesture to catch the main speaker’s attention (for instance, a teacher or professor in a classroom) so that they’ll “call on you,” or allow you to speak/ask a question. You can also use this during any group discussion where taking turns talking is mandatory; raising your hand indicates you have something to say or a question you want to ask.
  • Example situation: Your bioscience professor is talking about a very complicated topic and you have a couple of questions about something he said. You can raise your hand as described above, and your professor will address you either by allowing you to speak or letting you know you can ask questions after the lecture.
  • Additional notes: Raising your hand can also be done if you have a request during a group meeting, especially in a classroom setting. For example, if you need to use the bathroom during class or have to leave early for some reason, you can raise your hand to attract the teacher’s or professor’s attention so you can tell them.

Crowd Raising Their Hands

8- Clapping

  • Meaning: Clapping can mean multiple things depending on the context, but is usually a form of applause.
  • How to do: The most common way to clap is to slap your palms together several times to make a “clapping noise.”
  • When to use: Clapping is very common after a performance or show of some kind, as a way of applauding or congratulating the person or people for a job well done.
  • Example situation: You attended a concert put on by local bands; you really like the music they’re playing, and so you clap along with the rest of the audience after each performance.
  • Additional notes: Keep in mind that clapping can also be done sarcastically. Let’s say your friend tries performing a magic trick for you and totally messes it up; you can clap as a way of warmly teasing your friend about it.

Also, clapping can have other meanings and purposes. For example, a lot of people clap their hands together when they’re trying to remember something (or a loud, single clap once they’ve remembered it or had a great idea). Clapping can also be used while dancing or otherwise enjoying music, such as clapping your hands to the beat.

A Pair of Hands Clapping

9- Snap Fingers

  • Meaning: The meaning of snapping your fingers is similar to the secondary reasons for clapping your hands.
  • How to do: Join together your thumb and middle finger on either hand (or both hands). Then, press your middle finger harder on your thumb and simultaneously swipe it downward. If done correctly, this should produce a snapping sound.
  • When to use: You can snap your fingers to the beat of music, after you’ve remembered something or have a good idea, or when you’re trying to remember something.
  • Example situation: You’re telling a friend about an interesting person you met at a party, but you can’t remember their name. You start rapidly snapping your fingers as you try to remember, out of frustration and a sense of urgency to remember.
  • Additional notes: Some people also use snapping their fingers as a way of establishing dominance over someone (such as when someone snaps for someone to bring them something), or as a way of being “sassy” or “fierce.” In these cases, it’s usually only a single snap and you can tell the intention based on the context.

10- Cross Fingers

  • Meaning: Crossing your fingers can have two basic meanings: 1.) You’re wishing or hoping desperately for something, and 2.) If done behind your back, it means you plan on breaking a promise you’re making (this is sometimes referred to as “crossies”).
  • How to do: In order to cross your fingers, simply lay your middle finger on top of your index finger.
  • When to use: You can use this when talking to someone and wishing them luck, or when you’re making a promise you don’t plan on keeping (but this is obviously rude and frowned-upon).
  • Example situation: Your friend is talking to you about a promotion they would like to get. You can cross your fingers as a sign that you hope they get it.
  • Additional notes: Most of the time when someone crosses their fingers, they’ll also say the words “fingers crossed,” in a hopeful voice. On some occasions, people will say “fingers crossed,” but not actually cross their fingers.

Girl Crossing Her Fingers

11- Thumb to Index Finger

  • Meaning: This gesture usually means “okay,” “good,” or “very good.”
  • How to do: Simply join your thumb and index finger so that it forms a circle.
  • When to use: This is common to use when eating, as a way of indicating that the food is good. It can also be used similarly to the “thumbs-up” gesture.
  • Example situation: You’re eating at your favorite restaurant with some friends, and they ask you how your food is. You do the thumb-to-index finger gesture to indicate that it’s very good.
  • Additional notes: While doing this gesture, it’s also common to actually say the words “okay,” “good,” or “very good,” though you don’t need to.

12- So-so

  • Meaning: This gesture indicates that something is “so-so” or just okay.
  • How to do: Hold your hand (usually your right hand) in front of you and tilt it from side to side.
  • When to use: You can use this gesture if someone asks you how something was or how you liked something, and you don’t have a particularly strong opinion about it either way.
  • Example situation: Your significant other asks you to watch a movie with them that you’re not particularly interested in. After the movie, they ask you what you thought of the movie. You do the “so-so” gesture to tell them it wasn’t great, but you’ve seen worse movies.
  • Additional notes: When using this gesture, it’s common to also say the words, “It was okay.”

13- Middle Finger

  • Meaning: Also called “flipping someone off,” giving someone the middle finger is a very rude way of indicating anger, frustration, or strong disapproval.
  • How to do: Stick out your middle finger and turn your hand over so that your wrist is facing upward. Point your finger in the direction of the person you’re flipping off.
  • When to use: It’s best not to. But if you really feel the need to, this rude gesture is used most often when driving once “road rage” kicks in or when someone’s driving very badly or dangerously. It can be used in various other contexts too, but as mentioned earlier, it’s best not to.
  • Example situation: You’re running late to work, traffic’s really bad, and someone pulls out in front of you unexpectedly and you almost collide. You honk your car horn and give that driver the middle finger.
  • Additional notes: This gesture should be used very sparingly, if at all. And above all else, never use this gesture toward someone of authority or high status, such as a teacher, professor, boss, or police officer. This is one of the most rude hand gestures in America.

14- Clenched Fist

  • Meaning: Clenching your fist usually shows that you’re angry, though some people also clench their fists as a show of frustration or fear.
  • How to do: Curl all of your fingers tightly around each other in the shape of a fist, with your thumb either inside the fist or outside.
  • When to use: This gesture is usually used when someone is angry or frustrated, whether at a specific person or at a situation they can’t control.
  • Example situation: For instance, let’s say your friend finds out that they’re going to be laid off from their job. If they feel like this is unfair or have other negative attitudes toward the company/their boss, they may start clenching their fists while telling you about it.
  • Additional notes: Sometimes, people repeatedly clench and unclench their fists, usually as a show of great distress or frustration.

15- Index Finger to Lips

  • Meaning: This gesture indicates that you want someone to quiet down or stop talking entirely, or that you want them to keep a secret.
  • How to do: Put your index finger (usually your right index finger), pointing upward, to your lips.
  • When to use: Use this gesture to tell someone to be quiet or to keep something you told them private.
  • Example situation: You and your friend are talking about something in private, and someone you know starts approaching. You’ll quickly look at your friend and put your index finger to your lips to let them know to stop talking.
  • Additional notes: When doing this gesture, a lot of people also make the “shh” sound, otherwise known as “shushing.”

Man Shushing Someone

16- Air Quotes

  • Meaning: This gesture is meant to represent quotation marks, and means that you’re either quoting someone/something, or are sarcastically saying something.
  • How to do: Keep all fingers curled except for your index and middle finger; keep those two fingers close together. While you’re saying the quote or the sarcastic phrase, bend the top parts of those two fingers on each hand up and down.
  • When to use: Use this gesture when you’re either quoting someone/something or saying something in a sarcastic manner.
  • Example situation: You and your significant other are at the store, and they say that they’re going to buy a chocolate bar for you. “Oh,” you’ll say, “you’re buying a chocolate bar [air quote] for me [air quote]?” But you know full well they want the chocolate more than you do.

17- Star Trek’s “Live Long and Prosper”

  • Meaning: This very American gesture is a way of saying “Live Long and Prosper,” which is a famous line (and gesture) from the popular Star Trek series.
  • How to do: Separate your thumb from the rest of your fingers. Then, split your remaining four fingers so that your index and middle finger are joined and your ring finger and pinky are joined together. It should form a “V” shape.
  • When to use: This is best used in informal settings, and can be used as a nerdy way of wishing someone well.
  • Example situation: You and a friend are about to part ways after spending the day together. Before you leave, you tell your friend “bye” and use this gesture. This is best used with friends who have watched Star Trek and know what this means.
  • Additional notes: Not everyone is able to make this symbol with their hand, and even for those who can, it’s harder for some than for others. So if you’re not capable of doing this, it’s really nothing to worry about.

Star Trek Gesture

5. Facial Expressions

In American body language, there’s an array of facial expressions to learn about and explore for yourself. Body language, when speaking in English, consists of many of the following facial expressions:

1- Doubt

  • Meaning: When someone makes a face that expresses doubt, it means that they aren’t entirely sure about something—this can be something you said, information they heard, or uncertainty about a situation.
  • How to do: Oftentimes, people express doubt through shifting their mouth to one side, raising their eyebrows, and looking hard at someone or something.
  • When to use: You can use this type of facial expression whenever you’re unsure of something.
  • Example situation: Your friend tells you that they spend two hours at the gym every night. You give them a doubtful expression because you don’t believe them.
  • Additional notes: There can be multiple ways of expressing doubt through facial movement. What I outlined above just represents what’s most typical based on my own experiences.

2- Confusion

  • Meaning: When someone makes a face that expresses confusion, it means that they are visible confused about something or have no idea what’s going on.
  • How to do: Oftentimes, people express confusion through widened eyes, scrunched eyebrows, and putting their hand to their chin or other place on their face.
  • When to use: This type of expression is often used when someone’s having a hard time understanding something or when they’re told new information that doesn’t match up with what they know already.
  • Example situation: In an economics class, you’re told that it’s a bad idea to change insurance companies because it will lower your credit score; you’re later told by the same teacher that sometimes it’s good to change insurance companies. You make a confused face and then raise your to hand to ask for clarification.
  • Additional notes: As with expressing doubt, there are many ways to express confusion. What’s outline above is just the most typical way of doing so based on my experience.

3- Anger

  • Meaning: When someone makes a face that expresses anger, it shows that they are angry, frustrated, or just sick and tired of the person they’re with (or situation they’re in).
  • How to do: Oftentimes, this is done through scrunched eyebrows, the face reddening, tightened lips (or a snarl), and sometimes a distant or overly focused look on the face.
  • When to use: You may use a facial expression similar to the one above without even realizing it when you’re angry.
  • Example situation: You just found out that someone you trusted with a secret told someone else about it. When you confront the person about it, you make an angry face.
  • Additional notes: Different people express anger differently, and so there really is no set way to express anger. (For example, there’s “hot” anger and “cold” anger which are expressed quite differently.)

Angry Woman About to Throw Laptop

4- Clenched Teeth

  • Meaning: Clenched teeth usually mean one of two things: 1.) It can mean that the person is angry, or 2.) It can mean that you’re cold.
  • How to do: This is done by clamping down on your jaw so that your teeth are clenched together.
  • When to use: You can use this when you’re feeling angry (or particularly if you’re trying to keep from saying or doing something you’ll regret while angry), or when you’re feeling cold (as this is often an automatic reaction).
  • Example situation: You’re getting more and more upset with someone for doing something that annoys you. You’re definitely angry, but trying not to say anything rude or mean, so you’re clenching your teeth.
  • Additional notes: Clenched teeth can honestly mean a multitude of different things, though the two mentioned here are the most common. For example, some people also clench their teeth when nervous or when focusing intently on a task.

5- Sticking out Tongue

  • Meaning: When someone sticks out their tongue, it’s usually a way of saying something along the lines of, “So there,” or “Whatever,” in a sarcastic manner. It shows mock anger or frustration.
  • How to do: Stick your tongue out of your mouth at someone; this is usually done along with squinting your eyes and giving a mock sigh of contempt.
  • When to use: You can use this facial expression after someone does or says something that mildly annoys you.
  • Example situation: You just lost a card game five times in a row to a friend, and now they’re gloating about it. You stick out your tongue at them to playfully let them know they should stop gloating.
  • Additional notes: There’s a slightly similar facial expression where someone opens their mouth and points with their finger into it; this has a different meaning and is usually a sign of disgust with someone or something.

Girl Sticking Tongue Out

6- Raised Eyebrows

  • Meaning: Raised eyebrows can have a variety of meanings. Usually, raised eyebrows are used in expressions of doubt, surprise, or even frustration.
  • How to do: To do this, you just raise both of your eyebrows.
  • When to use: You can use this in a variety of situations, but most especially if you’re surprised or in doubt about something.
  • Example situation: Someone tells you a bit of news that you’re not sure is true, so you raise your eyebrows to let them know you’re in doubt.
  • Additional notes: There’s also the gesture of raising one eyebrow, which can have the same meaning as this, or can be used to appear more charming.

7- Eye Roll

  • Meaning: An eye roll is the epitome of sarcasm. It basically means, “Yeah, right,” “Whatever,” or “I don’t care.”
  • How to do: This can be done with your eyes open or closed. Simply take a moment to roll your eyes in a circular motion.
  • When to use: Usually, an eye roll is used when someone is telling you something and you’re frustrated or angry with them. It can also be used if you don’t believe what you’re being told, if you don’t really care, or if you’re frustrated about a situation in general.
  • Example situation: A child is pulled aside by his parent to be scolded for rude behavior. He rolls his eyes while his parent is talking (and gets in even more trouble for it).
  • Additional notes: As in the above situation, keep in mind that it’s never a good idea to use the eye roll toward someone who’s superior to you in any way (though this is usually when it’s most tempting to do so!). Do you best to only use it in informal situations, and use it sparingly.

8- Avoiding Eye Contact

  • Meaning: When someone avoids eye contact, it usually means that they’re feeling insecure (either because they’re shy or they’re being dishonest about something).
  • How to do: Avoiding eye contact is simply done through focusing your sight on something besides another person’s eyes (or that person in general, depending on the circumstances).
  • When to use: This is usually used when you’re feeling insecure about something or aren’t being honest.
  • Example situation: You’re asking a friend an important question and you notice that they won’t look you in the eyes while they’re answering. You suspect they may not be telling you the whole truth.

9- Biting Lip

  • Meaning: Biting one’s lip can have multiple meanings. Some of the most common are uncertainty, being deep in thought, or thinking about what to say.
  • How to do: This is usually done one of two ways: 1.) Digging slightly into your lower lip with your top teeth, or 2.) Digging slightly into your upper lip with your bottom teeth.
  • When to use: You can use this facial expression to tell someone that you’re not sure about something or need to think before you respond to what they said.
  • Example situation: You’re at the library with your crush, returning a book that they suggested to you. They ask you if you read all of it and what you thought. You bite your lip, then reveal that you really didn’t care for it and only got a couple of chapters in.
  • Additional notes: Some people also find it endearing and charming when someone bites their lip.

10- Wink

  • Meaning: A wink usually indicates either a secret between two people, or is a way of acting cute or flirting.
  • How to do: Blink only one of your eyes in the direction of another person; this can be done either discreetly or more openly, depending on your reasons for winking at them.
  • When to use: You can wink at someone as a lighthearted way of quietly bringing up a secret between the two of you, or if you’re trying to be cute in front of someone you like.
  • Example situation: Your waitress at a restaurant helps you find a better deal on the menu than what you were going to order. You thank her. She winks and replies, “No problem.”

Woman Winking

11- Funny Face

  • Meaning: A “funny face” has no actual, solid meaning.
  • How to do: There’s no set way to make a “funny face.” It can literally be anything you do to your face that doesn’t look like a “normal” expression.
  • When to use: Funny faces are usually used when taking selfies, either alone or with friends. They make for interesting and often hilarious memories.
  • Example situation: You’re at a family get-together, and someone decides to take a group photo. They might ask for one “normal” photo where everyone’s smiling, and then ask for a “silly” photo, where everyone makes a funny face of some kind.
  • Additional notes: Funny faces can be used outside of picture-taking as well, such as when you’re discussing something funny with a friend or feel the need to be extreme or sarcastic about expressing your emotions on something.

6. Different Physical Movements

Aside from the gestures and postures mentioned above, there are a few other movements that you should know about. Let’s take a look at these English body gestures.

1- Nodding

  • Meaning: Nodding can have multiple meanings. Usually, it’s used as a way of saying “yes.” It’s also used to show someone that you’re listening to them while they’re talking.
  • How to do: Simply bob your head up and down. If you’re using it to say “yes,” you should do this a little bit faster than if you’re simply using it to acknowledge that you’re listening.
  • When to use: Use this if you want to tell someone “yes,” or give them your approval about something. You can also use it during a conversation in which the other person is doing most of the talking. These both can be used in just about any situation.
  • Example situation: Your friend asks if you would like to go get sushi with them. You nod your head and say, “Yeah, that sounds great.”
  • Additional notes: On occasion, a single nod is also used to indicate “yes,” as opposed to nodding multiple times.

2- Shaking Head

  • Meaning: This is usually used as the opposite of nodding, and can also be used as a general expression of disappointment or disapproval.
  • How to do: Move your head from right to left or vice-versa.
  • When to use: Use this in place of saying “no,” or use it to show that you’re disappointed or disapprove of something.
  • Example situation: After you’ve had sushi with your friend, they ask if you’d like to see a movie as well. You shake your head, then explain that you need some down time.
  • Additional notes: Sometimes when this is used as a way of showing disapproval, people use the “tsk” sound while doing it.

3- Shrug

  • Meaning: This usually means “I don’t know,” or “I don’t care.”
  • How to do: This is usually done by lifting your shoulders, with your hands lifted to just above your stomach, palms up.
  • When to use: You can shrug when you’re asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, or that you don’t really care to answer.
  • Example situation: Your friend asks you what toppings you would like on the pizza you’re going to share. You shrug, and say “Whatever you want.”
  • Additional notes: Shrugging is often accompanied by tilting one’s head, shifting their mouth (or pouting), raising their eyebrows, or similar gestures.

4- Fidgeting

  • Meaning: Fidgeting can mean a variety of things, though it usually indicates boredom or stress. Sometimes, fidgeting gestures are also referred to as “tics.”
  • How to do: There’s no set way to “fidget” as this can look different from person to person. We’ll talk about some examples below.
  • When to use: Fidgeting is usually done when someone is bored or as a way of relieving stress.
  • Example situation: You’re really stressed about a project you’re working on, and after working on it for several hours you realize that you’ve been tapping your foot and touching your face a lot.
  • Additional notes: Some common examples of fidgeting gestures or tics include, but aren’t at all limited to: biting your nails; playing with your hair in any manner; tapping your foot; clicking a pen; tapping on your desk; cracking your knuckles or other body part; picking at your skin; looking around too much; excessive stretching; and the list goes on.

There are certain situations where engaging in a fidgeting gesture is especially rude, such as in most professional settings. Though most fidgeting gestures are a force of habit and are very difficult to break, it’s always good to do your best to avoid them in settings like this. (Or if you’re around someone who’s particularly annoyed with your fidgeting.) This is definitely not a very desirable American body language in business.

7. Bonus: Combinations of Body Language Signals

Woman shrugging and Smirking

As you may have noticed above, there are times when someone will use multiple body language signals and gestures at the same time. While these sometimes combine well and make perfect sense, it can sometimes be confusing to understand why they’re using the gestures they’re using.

Instead of giving you a long list of possible gesture combinations and what they could mean (which would be impossible to finish!), I’ll just point out that it’s totally fine if you can’t always follow someone’s body language signals.

While some gestures come naturally to just about everyone and make perfect sense almost universally, it’s important to remember that everyone is unique and so their way of expressing themselves is too. Just do your best to learn some of the basics outlined here to get a good idea of what to expect while in the United States, and how to mirror what the people around you are doing.

Good luck!

Conclusion

We went over so many American body language and gestures! We hope that you learned a little more about how to read body language in the United States and what you can expect during your visit (or your stay!). Further, we hope that you now understand why human body language in learning English is so important and how it can enrich your communication.

If you want to learn even more about the English language and the United States, be sure to visit us at EnglishClass101.com. We offer a good variety of vocabulary lists as well as insightful blog posts on various topics. You can discuss various topics with other English-learners using our online community, and don’t be shy to download our MyTeacher app for a one-on-one learning experience as well!

We wish you the best in your language-learning journey and hope that you’ll continue practicing these body gestures until you’re a pro. Learning American gestures and body language can be hard, but we believe in you. 🙂

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