This series of Everyday Conversations is about a family traveling to each of the 50 states in the U.S. Join the family members as they learn about local pastimes and history. These conversations are for intermediate-level English-language learners or higher.

The family visits the nation’s capital and spends time visiting museums and the National Zoo.


Sam: Now that we’re in Washington, D.C., I must know — what does D.C. mean?

Paul: It stands for District of Columbia. It shows that it is a special area and not a U.S. state.

Gina: And it’s a really special area. It’s home to all three branches of the U.S. government.

Claudine: Plus 16 Smithsonian museums and galleries and the National Zoo. And they’re all free!

Gina: That’s right. Did you choose which museums you want to go to today?

Sam: I want to go to the zoo. They have four giant pandas, including a new cub.

Paul: I read about that. Two of the pandas are on a 10-year loan from China.

Claudine: After we go to the zoo, I’d like to go to the National Museum of the American Indian. It has displays about the history of many indigenous cultures throughout the Americas.

Gina: This sounds like a plan for the day. And both the museum and the zoo are easy to get to via public transport.

Now let’s review the vocabulary.

The three branches of the U.S. government are the executive (the president), the legislative (Congress) and the judicial (the Supreme Court).

Smithsonian museums are a group of museums managed by the U.S. government. There are 19 Smithsonian museums (plus the National Zoo), and 16 of them are located in Washington, D.C. All of the museums and the zoo are free to enter.

A gallery (or art gallery) is a room or building in which people look at works of art (paintings, sculptures, etc.) and is usually open to the public.

A cub is a baby bear, in this case a baby panda bear. Cub also means a baby of other animals, such as lions, leopards and wolves.

A loan is the permission to use or keep something for a period of time. In this conversation, the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., has permission to keep two pandas for 10 years.

In a gallery, a display is an arrangement of objects in order to inform people about something.

Indigenous means living naturally in a certain place or region; native.

Culture is the customs, beliefs, art, etc., of a particular group or country.

Via means by means of; by using something.

Public transport (public transportation) is the system of transportation, such as buses or trains, provided by the government for people to use to travel from one place to another.

The American English website offers a variety of free resources for learners and teachers of English. The American English Facebook page posts learning materials for English-language learners daily. The American English for Educators Facebook page posts teaching materials for English-language teachers daily.

Everyday Conversations are developed by the State Department’s Heidi Howland, a senior program officer in the Office of English Language Programs, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Learn more about planning a trip to the U.S. and applying for a tourist visa.