Lucas Fink

TOEFL Tuesday: Bird Words

Despite what you may have heard, “bird” is not the word. Well, not for the TOEFL. It’s a word, but it’s definitely not the word. If I had to pick a bird word for the TOEFL, it would probably be “Avian.” That’s because “avian” just means “related to birds,” and it’s a scientific (academic!) word. And of course, the TOEFL loves academic vocabulary.

And that’s our first of three bird words this week. Let’s take a closer look at it.

(to be) Avian

This adjective is very rarely used in normal conversation. In fact, if you have heard it before, you have almost definitely heard in in the phrase “avian flu.” The avian flu—or “bird flu”— is disease that created concern about ten years ago in east Asia and still appears in the news sometimes. This might be obvious, but it’s called the “avian” flu because it comes from birds.

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So I should mention that although “avian” does not mean anything about disease directly, it is most often used in the context of disease. You may see this word on your TOEFL, but it’s not extremely common. You would need a pretty specific text to include this word. Here’s an example:

Since 1995, populations of a variety of shorebirds have drastically decreased, in part as a result of several deadly avian viruses.

The next two words are more general, and can be used in several contexts.

(to) Migrate

This is an extremely useful word for the TOEFL, because it can appear in different contests. To migrate is simply to move from one place and live in another. Now, I don’t mean that when you change apartments you are “migrating”—we wouldn’t say that. But if a large number of people who live in country A move to country B, then yes, we can say they are “migrating.”

This is especially useful for birds, because some birds are “migratory.” In other words, they regularly move from one area to another, usually because of a change in seasons. Birds that live in colder areas often migrate to warmer areas in the winter.

(a) Fledgling

Literally, a fledgling is a baby bird that is just learning to fly. Metaphorically, it can be many things other than a bird. In particular, people are often called “fledglings” when they first start learning a new skill, and organizations, such as businesses or governments, are called “fledglings” when they are first started. This word implies that the person or business is inexperienced and will probably make mistakes.

The production and sale of purely electric cars, still a fledgling industry, faces challenges regularly, but nonetheless the market continues to grow.


  • Lucas Fink

    Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

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