What is Basic English?

Let us be clear at the start what Basic English is and what is the purpose of this course. It is a highly compact and serviceable unit of the English language, in the sense that people may express themselves in it for a wide variety of purposes and that it already possesses an extensive literature. It is also a self-contained unit, a language in miniature. Moreover, since it is simple but not distorted English and since it selects for attention the most essential words, uses, and grammar, it is the best foundation for any wider study of the language.

For a foreigner bent on complete mastery of English, the sky's the limit; a lifetime may be spent in studying its finer points. But the first step is to learn enough English to be able to express oneself in it freely and with confidence. Basic English achieves this limited objective with the greatest possible economy of time and effort.The selection is the outcome of a comprehensive and systematic survey of the language, which disclosed among other important facts that the numerous complex verbs of English could be covered with the help of sixteen simple operators and two auxiliaries. It is not based on statistics, nor is it merely a random collection of useful and common words. Each word has its place in the system because of the work it will do in combination with the rest. In this way alone has it been possible to produce an effective vocabulary of English within so small a compass.

The Purpose of the Course

Though the satisfactory presentation of Basic as a teaching system calls for an understanding of the nature of the material to be presented, there is no one prescribed method. Provided certain principles implied in the Basic approach are observed, the pattern of the lessons may be varied considerably to suit different types of student and different teaching conditions. It is not the purpose of this book to use Basic English as a means of teaching a smattering of the English language to the greatest possible number of students in the shortest possible time; nor does it aim at providing a method of instruction that can be applied universally, for such methods necessarily cater for the needs of the most handicapped at the expense of the rest. The present course provides for an important section of the better-equipped students. It has been planned with the adult - or more or less adult learner in mind - and is intended for those whose object is to make a thorough study of Basic English, either for use as an international language or as an introduction to wider English. It explores the resources of Basic as fully as is practicable within the limits of a single graded course, and does so with the help of some formal grammar. In its English form, naturally, the course can only be studied with the assistance of a teacher familiar with the student's mother-tongue: but, as the course title implies, the course is itself a teacher. Students working by themselves, however, should get a teacher or an English friend to correct their exercises and help them with pronunciation.

The Scheme of the Course

The course consists of 45 Steps and falls into three distinct parts, as follows:

  • Steps 1-25 : teaching structure (or grammar) and vocabulary
  • Steps 26-35 : completing the introduction of the vocabulary
  • Steps 36-45 : bringing in no new words except the international terms, numbers, weights and measures, ...

The purpose of this last section being to give practice in the words already learned and to teach further idioms and senses which will improve the learner's command of Basic. In the first part, some steps deal entirely with structure, some are reading steps and others are a combination of the two. The plan has been to present the grammatical framework of the system in as clear and convenient a form as possible and to introduce each new point into the reading section which follows. In addition, the vocabulary of a structure step is used in the next reading step, so that every word may be seen in a proper context. The reading material is of adult interest and deals with everyday topics. From Step 26 onwards there are reading Steps only and, though some details of grammar are explained in the notes to these, all the main grammatical features are covered in the first 25 Steps. Every Step throughout the course is accompanied by exercises.

Each new learning-item is impressed on the student in two ways - by explanation and by illustration. Many of the phrases and details of usage that are explained in notes will doubtless be understood in context by the learner, but unless his attention is specifically drawn to them, and guidance given where necessary, his knowledge of them will - for the most part - remain passive. The combined use of exposition and examples (accompanied, of course, by adequate practice) is, in our view, the method of language-teaching best suited to the needs of older students. It is not unreasonable to think that students of mature years will assimilate a language more readily if it is presented to them as a connected whole and not as a set of unrelated facts. They prefer their facts classified, tabulated, and logically connected. At the same time, the sequence of exposition - illustration - use in a context - exercise, which has normally been followed in the book, ensures that the student will use what he is taught.

The Course Step by step

You will find here the Basic English online course step by step as Charles K. Ogden wrote it. Each step is based on what you have learned previously and has a particular theme. After the table, you will find complete information about how to learn and how to teach Basic English using this course. You should read it in order to use the course fully and as it is supposed to be.

Step Activity Description
Step 1 Vocabulary and Structure
Step 2 Vocabulary and Reading My Room
Step 3 Vocabulary and Structure
Step 4 Vocabulary and Reading At the Station
Step 5 Vocabulary and Structure
Step 6 Vocabulary and Reading An English Family
Step 7 Vocabulary and Structure
Step 8 Vocabulary and Reading In the Garden
Step 9 Vocabulary and Structure
Step 10 Vocabulary and Reading A Town
Step 11 Vocabulary, Structure, Reading Trouble with a Tooth
Step 12 Vocabulary, Structure, Reading Bathroom Door
Step 13 Vocabulary and Structure
Step 14 Vocabulary and Reading A Ship Comes In
Step 15 Vocabulary and Structure
Step 16 Vocabulary and Reading A Talk in the Train
Step 17 Vocabulary and Structure
Step 18 Vocabulary, Structure, Reading At the End of the Day
Step 19 Vocabulary, Structure, Reading News of Old Friends
Step 20 Vocabulary, Structure, Reading A Talk about the Weather
Step 21 Vocabulary, Structure, Reading Summer Time
Step 22 Vocabulary and Structure
Step 23 Vocabulary and Reading The Last Minute in Bed
Step 24 Vocabulary, Structure, Reading Getting a New Cook
Step 25 Vocabulary, Structure, Reading At the Office
Step 26 Vocabulary and Reading Looking at a House
Step 27 Vocabulary and Reading Taxes
Step 28 Vocabulary and Reading Getting Ones Picture Taken
Step 29 Vocabulary and Reading The Dressmaker
Step 30 Vocabulary and Reading Fishing
Step 31 Vocabulary and Reading Housework
Step 32 Vocabulary and Reading Moving In
Step 33 Vocabulary and Reading Men and Machines
Step 34 Vocabulary and Reading Looking at Pictures
Step 35 Vocabulary and Reading War and Peace
Step 36 Numbers and Reading A Poor Family
Step 37 The Time and Reading The Radio
Step 38 Reading A Day In Town
Step 39 The Calendar and Reading A Talk on the Telephone
Step 40 Reading A Letter to a Friend
Step 41 Money, Weights, Measures, Reading Goes Marketing
Step 42 Reading Basic for Everyday Needs
Step 43 Reading Going to the Pictures
Step 44 Reading The Smash
Step 45 Reading Some Notes about England

Teaching Procedure

The material of the course has been carefully organized for teaching purposes. Within the framework provided by the Steps, various teaching procedures may be followed. The teacher is advised to take advantage of this flexibility and to handle the lessons in whatever way best serves his particular purpose or suits his own individual style of teaching. He should take into account the size of his class (bearing in mind that in individual teaching a more thorough treatment is possible), the aptitude of his pupils, the time at his disposal,... He should also consider whether an all-round knowledge of English is desired or whether special emphasis is to be placed on writing, speaking, or reading. It is assumed that an average class will be able to work through an average Step in an hour. It should be understood, however, that the Steps are convenient groupings of material rather than carefully proportioned lessons. Some Steps (for example, 17 and 24) are a great deal more heavily loaded than others, and at the teacher's discretion these should be spread over two lesson periods. If ability to write the language is the main object, the teacher should give frequent dictation from the reading text and the examples. With students whose chief aim is to speak English, a feature should be made of reading aloud, different members of the class being allotted different parts in the dialogues. Students who will have little opportunity to use English except for reading should be allowed to practice silent reading. Comprehension may be tested by asking them to translate passages into their own language. In this case, the teacher may think it unnecessary to refer to the reading notes except on major points or for phrases they have failed to understand. He should bear in mind, however, that this is likely to affect their performance in the exercises.

In conclusion, a few general suggestions may be offered. In Basic, only one sense of a word is introduced at a time. Therefore, in giving the foreign equivalents of the new vocabulary introduced in each Step, be careful to translate only the sense in which the word is first used, which will be its root use in the Basic system. All expansions of sense will be dealt with in the notes as they are encountered. Much of the exposition in the sections dealing with structure is very detailed. It should be adapted where necessary to the understanding of the students. In the reading Steps, the learner should first be encouraged to try to make sense of what he is reading. In Steps 36-45, the learner should be expected to study the Basic English notes by himself, though he may naturally need occasional help. Where practicable, students should be asked to revise each Step for homework, and to make notes on any points they have failed to understand, which should then be discussed with the teacher at the next lesson.


As the English version can only be used with an English-speaking teacher, it is assumed that he will instruct students in the correct pronunciation of the words, and for this reason no phonetic transcription is given. A few reminders are given in the text about small pronunciation points to which attention should be directed. For the teacher's own reference, if necessary.

It should be borne in mind that, from the learner's point of view, the way words are said when they are put together in sentences is no less important than their individual pronunciation. This is a subject with which phoneticians have dealt at great length, but their treatment of it is so complex that it is of little use, and is indeed only confusing, to those whose problem is to teach foreigners to speak clear and intelligible English without worrying about unnecessary subtleties. Basic has evolved a very simple prescription which gives the required approximation to natural spoken English. It is contained in three golden rules:

  • In any group of 10 words, or in any sentence of less than 50 words, at least one word should be stressed. The sense will determine on which word the stress should fall, since a word that is stressed is thereby thrown into contrast with some other word, either expressed or implied.
  • There are 12 small words that are never fully pronounced (i.e., as dictionary items) except when they come at the end of a sentence or are given contrastive sense-stress. These are : a, the, and, of, for, from, to, than, is, some (as adjective), have (as auxiliary), and that (as conjunction). These words are normally slurred and glide into the word which follows them. They are therefore referred to as gliders.
  • Learn to speak English at the right speed. English is normally spoken fast, and speeding up produces a more natural effect.

If attention is paid to these three rules, and to these only, the learner will find that he is speaking English in a way that does not give offense to English ears and is understood by all.

Geographical Names

We use the English names of most of the European countries, of countries outside Europe, and of the main geographical areas. Names which are habitually used by English people have been chosen in preference to those which have been introduced more recently and so may be assumed to be international, even though these English names no longer accurately represent the national units.