With so much of our time spent trying to protect our private data, especially online. It may come as a surprise to you that UK law requires us citizens to complete a rather intrusive census once every 10 years. So we go from being a checkbox ninja, trying to keep our names and email from being used to having to pay a big fine if we don’t tell all of our private details to the government. Today we will talk about the kind of English phrases and vocabulary used in typical British forms.
Every 10 years the UK sends out millions of letters to all the houses in the country. The letter is a census request, where the government asks us a lot of personal questions about our lives. The idea is the census helps government plan, and that we should want to help them with the planning. For those thinking of not being helpful, there is a massive £1,000 fine. As always with the government, they ask you nicely, even politely, to do something. While they show you the stick (in this case a fine) they will beat you with if you don’t comply.
So let us turn this unpleasant chore into something useful. As an English language learner, you will, at some point, need to know a set of formal vocabulary and English phrases that are used for filling in forms. Forms come in many guises, they could be for a census, your tax returns or a car insurance policy. So learning the English phrases and vocabulary associated with them is probably a good idea.
As always, use the free transcript we provide with every podcast to lookup any words you don’t understand. Listen to the podcast audio several times and come back to it at a later date to re-listen and remind your brain that it needs to store what you're listening to. You can learn more about the Adept English, and our listen and learn system of improving your spoken English here. We offer a free English language course called the 7 rules of Adept English, which will help you get the most out of our English podcast lessons.
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Hi there and welcome to this podcast from Adept English. Talking about today’s podcast - I’m going to cover a topic which is in one way specific to the UK, but which also probably has its equivalent in your country.
It’s also a topic which will mean I cover vocabulary which is really useful to you – words and terms which you may not cover in an ordinary language course, but which are of great practical use in English.
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Speaking of that - our topic! So last week in the UK, we had the census. You may have something similar in your country. The word census, CENSUS is very much a Latin word, from the verb ‘censeo, censere, censui, censum’ – meaning ‘to assess’ – and like in the word ‘censor’, as in a ‘film censor’.
The census in the UK happens every ten years – and it’s where the government collect information about the UK population – for every household in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has managed to delay theirs until 2022, because of the pandemic. So the census is done every 10 years, in the years ending in a 1. So 2001, 2011, 2021 and so on, meaning the next one will occur in 2031. And the 2021 is the first census to be completed largely online.
It was quite efficient, I have to say, though there were a lot of question for each person in the household. The information is used to shape government policy – and to provide useful demographic information for the government for planning.
The amount of information which is collected as part of the census has increased quite a lot in recent years. Our UK government clearly see this exercise as an opportunity to find out more about us, for statistical and analytic purposes. So the number of questions on the census has increased.
And it’s mandatory – that’s MANDATORY, that means you’ve no choice, you have to do it. It’s against the law not to and you get a £1,000 fine, if you don’t complete it. Ouch!
So this year, you had to list everyone who stayed underneath your roof on the night of Sunday 21st March. So that meant there were five people to list in our house. What kind of information do they collect? Well, obviously they want your full name, your date of birth – that means the date when you were born.
They want your sex, male or female and they wanted to know the relationships between everyone in the house. They wanted to know how long you’d lived in your house and where you were a year ago. They wanted to know your nationality, where you were born, what passports you have. They also wanted to know whether you were in good health or whether you had mental health problems.
There were also questions about your sexual orientation – that is what sex you’re attracted to. And also about your gender – GENDER, which is whether you identify as male, female or another gender and whether this the gender that you were born with. These questions were not on the last census and really represent quite a lot of personal information about you.
The questions went on. They also asked about your level of qualification, whether you had GCSEs (those are the examinations you do at age 16), whether you have A levels or the equivalent (so the examinations that you do when you’re 18 years old) and about whether or not you have a degree or a professional qualification.
They wanted to know whether you have ever been in the armed forces – that means the army, the navy or the air force. And what job you do now, whether you are self-employed, and if so, what you do or if employed, what company or organisation you work for.
The question ‘What is your religion?’ was added at the time of the 2001 census and there was a lot of objections about that question at the time. People’s thoughts were that this is personal and many questioned the reason for being asked this. The only alternative to the main religions in the drop-down menu is ‘No religion’. Some people objected on the grounds that this misrepresents them.
You could say that atheism is a valid belief system – but then you’d have to include ‘agnostic’ as well, which is the word people use to describe themselves, when they ‘don’t know’, they have no firm conviction around spirituality. And others objected on the grounds that they don’t participate in ‘organised religion’, but they do have their own spirituality.
A photograph of a man filling in forms at a desk. Today we focus on English vocabulary and phrases involved with forms.
Many people in the UK famously put ‘Jedi’ in the box for religion as a sort of organised protest back in 2001 – and I’m sure many still do. And yes, that’s ‘Jedi’ from the films ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Return of the Jedi’. British people enjoy a protest! However, the data is interesting on religion – in 2001 just over 70% ticked ‘Christian’ in the UK, whereas in 2011, it was just below 60%. I wonder what it will be in the 2021 census?
There are discussions about whether to do an extra census in 2026, in five year’s time, because it’s recognised that this 2021 census won’t represent normality much because of the pandemic. Certainly the question of ‘How do you travel to work?’ may be different. ‘I journey from my kitchen, with a cup of tea in my hand, to where my laptop is located in my office’.
The census information is used to generate statistics, but the details are not published until 100 years after the census is taken. This means that the details just collected will be published in 2121, and that the details, including the names and dates of birth and addresses will shortly be published for the 1921 census in the UK. So if you are someone who likes to learn about your family tree, your ancestors and they lived in the UK in 1921, then this will be extra information for your research.
So there you are – lots of useful vocabulary in this podcast to help you learn English speaking and improve your spoken English. If you’ve got any personal information type forms to fill in, in English, then this podcast will help you with the relevant vocabulary. And do you have a census in your country. And are you surprised by the level of detail that it asks of you?
Anyway, enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.