One of the most difficult aspects of learning English – or any foreign language for that matter – is how to learn idioms. Idioms are words or phrases whose meaning can’t be worked out from literally translating the words themselves. Therefore, learning idioms can be really quite difficult, as there are no shortcuts or patterns you can use to help you remember them.
Of course, you could always decide that you don’t need to worry about idioms – after all, it’s possible to get your point across in English without using idiomatic expressions. However, failing to learn idioms will mean that you don’t always understand everything you hear or read. It will also mean you miss out on the true ‘colour’ and personality of the English language and British culture. If you can master a range of English idioms, you’ll become a more comfortable and natural English speaker, who is able to chew the fat with native English speakers that you meet.
So, while there are no quick fixes to learning idiomatic expressions, here’s a starter for ten of things you can do to help make remembering them a piece of cake:
Use your diary
It’s always a good idea to keep a vocabulary diary while you’re learning English in London, as it gives you the chance to note down words or expressions you hear but don’t understand. So if you hear, read or see an expression or phrase, and you can’t work out its meaning from the words themselves, the chances are that it’s an idiom. Note it down and take it to your next lesson, so you can ask your tutor what it means.
While you can’t work out the meaning of an idiom by translating the words in the phrase, sometimes the context can give you clues to help you work it out. For example, if someone is talking about a day out that went wrong, if they say something like “it just added insult to injury,” you could use the context of hearing about the problems and issues of the day to work out that this idiom refers to making the situation worse.
Use the idioms you’ve learned
If you think you’ve mastered the meaning of an idiom and the correct context in which to use it, then don’t be shy! If you see an opportunity, then use it, whether in conversation or in writing. It can be nerve-wracking to use a phrase you’re not used to, especially if you’re not completely certain whether you’re using it correctly, but biting the bullet and doing it is the only way to really learn its usage.
As an aside – this blog post is full of idioms. See which ones you can find, and what they mean.