Studying can help us learn English grammar easily online, but our understanding of the language is made even simpler if we combine academic study with English we see and hear in our everyday lives. We can learn English from conversations around us, we can learn English from the news, and even from special events: Black Friday.
Motivation is all you need, and getting a bargain is something that interests most people. So, a good way of using popular events to develop our understanding of English can be to find out about something like the annual Black Friday event, which is now a big discount day on both sides of the Atlantic, online and in-store.
Black Friday – Some History
The origin of Black Friday can be traced back to the United States – it has been a national event for well over a decade now. It falls on November 23rd this year, which is, of course, a Friday. Although there are no religious connotations to the day, it is related to Christmas. In the United Kingdom, the shops begin to fill with Christmas decorations and gifts once the summer is over, and it is not unheard of to see decorations in shopping malls in September, and they are everywhere by October and the beginning of November.
Marketers recognise that people want a reason to spend their money. The phrases – ‘sale’, ‘buy one, get one free’, ‘discount’ and so on are heard on TV and seen plastered over shop displays. But in the US, shoppers have another reason to spend their money on celebrations between the summer and Christmas. The day after Thanksgiving, or Black Friday, has been recognised as the starting point for Christmas shopping in the US since the 1950s. What better way to get people into the mood of spending than to have a discount day?
But why does it go by that name? Many analysts believe the term started in Philadelphia, when the day after Thanksgiving (a public holiday for some) would see crowded roads and pavements. Nowadays, the term is equally apt in that, along with the great bargains to be had, it is often the scene of some of the worst excess of human greed, as fellow shoppers are pushed out of the way as the desperate seek to seize the goodies on the shelves.
But we can use the hysteria that surrounds the day for our own benefits. We can learn the sales phrases and marketing vocabulary and terms that are associated with the day, and then practice them in real situations.
These sales phrases include the following:
Opening Times: we know that opening times on Black Friday are often longer than normal, with many retailers opening their doors in the early hours of the morning. ‘Opening hours from 4.00am to 10.00pm’ is a Black Friday phrase we might hear quite a lot.
Black Friday Weekend: retailers know when they are onto a good thing. Why limit a big sales day to just a Friday if you can extend it? And because of that, Black Friday has changed the meaning of the term ‘weekend’. Normally, this applies to Saturday and Sunday, traditionally the days when workers could rest. But Black Friday weekend means Friday to Sunday, or even Friday to Monday.
There are many similar phrases shoppers can use to find out information from sales assistants. The normal way of starting such a question is with ‘Excuse me…’
Then, ‘Do you have any…?’, ‘Do you sell…?’, ‘Where can I find…?’, ‘I’m looking for…?’ are all terms that can be used on Black Friday, but also when shopping at any time.
For example: ‘Excuse me, do you have any socks?’ or ‘Excuse me, do you sell hair bands?’. Perhaps a question will be phrased ‘Excuse me, where can I find the shampoo?’ or ‘Excuse me, I’m looking for the trouser department?’ This last one does not start with a question word, such as ‘How’, ‘What’ or ‘Where’ but should still be phrased as a question, with an upturn of pitch at the end.
Deciding Whether to Buy
Shopping on Black Friday, just like any other time, means making choices. The first shop might not be the best place to buy something.
‘Have you got anything cheaper?’ is a good question when choosing a present or a non-essential purchase. ‘Do you stock this item?’ where you cannot find what you are looking for. ‘Do you know anywhere else I could try?’ might get some help if the shop in which we are searching does not sell the item that we want to buy.
It’s The Thing for You
So, we have decided on the item you wish to purchase, what next? ‘Where can I pay for this item?’ will direct us to the tills. ‘Do you deliver?’ will help you decide whether you will have to carry larger items around with you. ‘Can I have a bag with that/those, please?’ for multiple or hard to carry items, although be aware that in the UK most stores are required by law to make a small charge for shopping bags. (It is a scheme to try to reduce the number of plastic bags polluting our planet.) ‘I’ll take it,’ tells the shop assistant that we are ready to make the purchase, although to say this phrase with too much emphasis can be seen as being sarcastic.
In the lead up to the big day, we will hear lots of advertising and retail related terms that are not just Black Friday phrases, but are used in shopping in general.
‘Guarantee’, a good seller’s term. It means that there is some security provided with the purchase should it break down or fail to work.
‘Money back guarantee’ means that the seller guarantees to return the cost of the purchase if there is a fault with it.
‘Extended warranty’ means that the goods will come with a longer than legally required guarantee to try to convince you of the quality of the item you are thinking of buying. It is worth noting, as well, that in the UK, sales come with statutory guarantees, depending on the item. Anything you buy must do the job for which it is sold, and it must work properly. It should not be damaged at the time of purchase (unless advertised as such.)
Black Friday is an important time for sellers – and buyers; as well as getting some bargains, students of English can practice and learn the language with careful attention to the shopping terms and phrases that they hear in the lead-up to the day.
Article related: English in the shops.