When we go abroad to a country where a different language is spoken, there’s that little a bit of fun going shopping, of trying to make ourselves understood whether it is for the piece of local jewellery that has caught our eye, or as we look in the supermarket for the sugar.
But when we live fully in a country, but are still learning the language, the fun wears of quickly, and shopping can become a big hassle. When we learn English online, we can take our time absorbing the important vocabulary we need to know, and also the phrases that we are likely to hear, or will want to use.
This article will help you to gain the understanding and language you need to go shopping with confidence.
Types of Shops
Other words that can be used for ‘shop’ – store, superstore, outlet, retail outlet, retail park (a collection of large shops, usually away from a town centre)
Supermarket – A large shop selling a wide range of goods. Mostly foodstuff and household goods; many larger stores also sell clothes and electrical goods.
Grocers – a shop, usually small, selling food and household goods
Greengrocers – a small shop selling fresh fruit and vegetables
Butchers – a shop selling meat
Bakers – a shop selling bread and cakes
Hardware Shop – A shop selling goods we use in the home, such as washing up bowls, hammers and nails and often cleaning products.
Charity Shop – A shop selling usually second-hand goods (ones that have been owned before) such as clothes, books, ornaments and toys, where the money raised goes to charity.
Boutique – A shop selling fashionable items, usually clothes.
Cash and Carry – A shop like a supermarket, where items are cheaper, although the range will be less. You normally have to become a ‘member’ to use a cash and carry.
Chemist – a shop selling medicines and toiletries (such as soap and shampoo)
Drycleaners – a shop to clean suits, dresses and items you cannot wash at home
Corner shop – a small, local shop, that sells food and often a range of other useful goods.
Dairy – a shop selling milk products
Deli – a shop that sells foods, often from other countries, that are often not found in supermarkets.
Department Store – A large shop, usually in a town or city centre, selling a wide range of goods, from electrical to clothing to toys.
Off Licence – A small store selling alcohol and soft drinks.
Newsagents – A shop selling newspapers, cards and stationery goods such as pens and pencils.
This is a useful service most larger shops now offer. There are many advantages to a person who is still learning to speak English. There is a picture of the product you want to buy, and the process of buying is usually simple to follow.
How To Ask For Something, And The Replies You Might Receive
There is a traditional way to do this in Britain. In large shops, assistants will usually wear some kind of uniform.
Approach as assistant:
‘Excuse me, do you sell (washing up liquid)?
‘Excuse me, I am looking for (washing up liquid)?
If the shop is large, such as a supermarket, and they do sell it, these are some of the words you may hear in response:
Aisle (pronounced ‘I-yull) – This is one of the long lines of shelving on which items are stacked. (Example: ‘It’s in Aisle 12.’)
Counter – The long shelf on which the till is based.
Department – a part of a larger shop which sells items of a particular kind, such as the television department
Display – A collection of items shown in a way to make you want to buy them, such as a plastic model of a human (called a mannequin) wearing a suit, shirt and tie so that you can see what they look like when worn.
Window Display – A display in a window of a shop.
Phrases an Assistant or Sales Person Might Use
If you are browsing (looking at the goods in a shop) an assistant might approach you.
’Can I help you?’ or ‘Are you looking for something in particular?’ are the sort of phrases they will use. They are hoping to start a conversation that will lead to a sale.
If you would like help, then the sort of responses you can give are:
‘Yes please, I am looking for…’ or ‘Yes please, how much are…?’ (if you wish to know the cost of an item).
If you do not want their help, then a polite way of sending them away is to say:
‘I’m fine thanks, just browsing.’ Some sales people find it hard to give up a chance of a sale. Another phrase that can be used to send them away is:
‘I’m only looking today.’
In most smaller shops, the shopkeeper will often make conversation as they deal with your purchase. Often, this will be about the goods you are buying.
‘We sell a lot of these.’
‘A good choice.’
‘Is this a present for someone?’
This is called ‘small talk’ and is not usually that important. A smile and a nod are good responses to small talk.
Once your purchases are complete, there are a number of questions that you may be asked.
‘Would you like a bag?’ – Usually, a charge of five to ten pence (depending on the bag size) is made for this.
‘Would you like a receipt?’ Unless it is just for a bar of chocolate or cup of coffee, it is best to take a receipt in case there is a problem with your purchases. The receipt (reeseet) is the piece of paper that comes with the purchase. See below for more details on this.
Most conversation endings, though, are just made up of a polite remark.
‘Hope you have a good day.’
‘See you later.’ Which doesn’t necessarily mean that they will!
‘Thanks’, ‘Thank you’ or ‘Goodbye’.
‘Thanks.’ Or ‘Goodbye,’ is enough to be polite.
In the case of new items, the goods you buy must be suitable for the task they are designed to do, and be in good working order. If they are not, you are entitled to your money back, or a replacement. With larger items, such as a car, you have to give the seller a chance to fix the problem.
These are called your statutory rights. Most electrical and mechanical items usually come with a guarantee as well. The receipt you receive is often the guarantee.
If you do have a problem with something you buy, you should take it back to the shop from which you purchased it. Bigger stores will have a returns or customer service desk.
‘Excuse me, the kettle I purchased doesn’t work.’
‘Excuse me, this shirt has a tear in it.’
‘Excuse me, I bought these shoes a week ago and the bottom (or sole) is coming off.’
Then hand over the goods and the receipt proving that you purchased them. The shop will then exchange or offer a refund. If you have a problem, and cannot find the words to take the argument further, then most towns have a ‘Citizens Advice Bureau’ who will help you out.