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NASA, LOL, OMG! Why say the whole expression when you can say a few letters? Learn more about acronyms in this session.

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6 Minute Vocabulary

Are you interested in football? Do you know what FIFA is and why it’s called that? Or are you more interested in space and NASA? Listen to Peter and Catherine talking about acronyms like these in 6 Minute Vocabulary.

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Peter
Hi! I’m Peter.

Catherine
And I’m Catherine. Welcome to 6 Minute Vocabulary. And today we’re talking about acronyms.

Peter
Examples of acronyms are the name FIFA, that’s the international federation of association football, and BBC.

Catherine
We’ll talk about where these names come from and we'll tell you how we say and write them.

Peter
There will be a quiz of course; and we’ll also bring you a top tip for remembering these words.

Catherine
Let’s start by listening to James. He’s giving a lecture about the United Nations.

Peter
And while you’re listening: Can you guess where the name UNESCO comes from?

INSERT
James
The United Nations aims to encourage international cooperation and preserve world peace. A number of different organisations are part of it. One of the most well-known is UNESCO. That’s the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. But you may also have heard of the W-H-O, the I-M-F, and the W-B-G, for example. Do you know what they are? The UN performs most of its work through these different organisations.

Peter
So we asked you: Can you guess where the name UNESCO comes from?

Catherine
And the answer is that it comes from the first letters of the organisation’s full name: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation: UNESCO.

Peter
Now with acronyms like UNESCO, we say them as if they are a word: UNESCO. We don’t spell out the letters separately. We don't say U-N-E-S-C-O.

Catherine
Other acronyms like this that are very well-known are NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Peter
That’s easy for you to say. By the way, FIFA is a bit of a trick. The acronym actually comes from the French name for the organisation, not the English. Federation Internationale de Football Association.

Catherine
Nice accent.

Peter
Merci.

Catherine
So what about the other acronyms James mentioned? Let’s listen.

INSERT CLIP 1
James      
… you may also have heard of the W-H-O, the I-M-F, and the W-B-G, for example.

Catherine
Now these next acronyms are a bit different. We spell out the initial letters separately. Can you guess what these letters stand for? W-H-O.

Peter
That’s the World Health Organisation.

Catherine
It is. Now: I-M-F...

Peter
It’s the International Monetary Fund.

Catherine
W-B-G?

Peter
The World Bank Group.

Catherine
And it’s worth remembering that we usually write both types of acronym with capital letters. Now for another clip.

INSERT CLIP 2
James
The UN performs most of its work through these different organisations.

Catherine
Now it’s interesting that James started off by saying the United Nations. But here he says the UN. Why’s that do you think?

Peter
Well, using acronyms saves time and it makes the organisations seem more familiar. With the second type of acronym like U-N, where you spell out the letters, we sometimes use the full name the first time we mention the organisation and then, once we’ve done that, we go on to use the acronym as we continue to talk about it.

Catherine
OK. But with the first type of acronym like UNESCO, where you say it as a word, we nearly always use just the acronym. That’s probably because the full names are often so long that the acronyms have actually become like words to replace them.

Peter
Yes, in fact there are a few words in English that used to be acronyms but have now become ordinary words. These words are not written with capital letters. For example scuba as in scuba diving. This comes from self-contained underwater breathing apparatus. And laser comes from light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.

Catherine
Wow, well yes, that is quite a mouthful, isn’t it?

Peter
It certainly does go on…

IDENT          
6 Minute Vocabulary from BBC Learning English.

Peter
We’re talking about acronyms.

Catherine
And it’s quiz time! And this time it’s a bit of a general knowledge game because we’re going to see if you know what some popular acronyms stand for. And not all of them are organisations. So number one: WWW.

Peter
It’s the World Wide Web.

Catherine
It is, indeed. Now number two: RAM.

Peter
That’s Random Access Memory. We use it for a type of computer memory.

Catherine
We do. And the last one: CIA.

Peter
It’s the Central Intelligence Agency in the US.

Catherine
It is indeed - and well done if you got them all right.

Peter
And before we go, here’s a vocabulary tip. There are a lot of acronyms in everyday life as well as those that are organisations. For example: ATM, DIY and FYI. We use them all the time. When you see an acronym written in capital letters, check out what it stands for online or find a dictionary. They do make sense and are easy to remember when you know the full name or meaning.

Peter
There’s more about this at bbclearningenglish.com. Join us again soon for more 6 Minute Vocabulary.

Both
Bye!

Downloads

You can download 6 Minute Vocabulary from our Intermediate Unit 18 Downloads page. Remember, you can also subscribe to the podcast version

Vocabulary points to take away

Many acronyms refer to organisations. The acronyms come from the first letters of the organisations' full names. They are usually written in capital letters.

UNESCO is an acronym for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

We pronounce acronyms as words: UNESCO, NATO and NASA are all important organisations.

Others are said as letters, using the initial (first) letters of each word: The UN (U-N), the EU (E-U), and the FBI (F-B-I). These are known as initialisms.

Using acronyms and initialisms saves time and makes organisations seem more familiar to us. Many are also in everyday life:

  • I need to get some money from the ATM (Automatic Teller Machine).
  • I'm doing some DIY this weekend (Do It Yourself = building and repairing things at home without employing professionals).
  • FYI, I'm not free this Friday (For Your Information).

Next

So when you see a group of letters like UNICEF - do you read them as a word or as individual letters? Test yourself in our quiz, next!

本课词汇

  • Organisations said as words:

    UNESCO = The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation

    NATO = The North Atlantic Treaty Organization

    NASA = The National Aeronautics and Space Administration

    Organisations said as letters:

    The UN (U-N) = The United Nations

    The EU (E-U) = The European Union

    The FBI (F-B-I) = The Federal Bureau of Investigation

    Examples from everyday life:

    • I need to get some money from the ATM.
      (Automatic Teller Machine).
       
    • I'm doing some DIY this weekend.
      (Do It Yourself = building and repairing things at  home without employing professionals)
    • FYI, I'm not free this Friday.
      (For Your Information)