A few tips on studying English idioms…
An idiom is a lexical expression with a very precise figurative meaning that is impossible to guess from the literal meanings of the individual words.
1. to kick the bucket
The idiomatic meaning of ‘to kick the bucket’ = to die!
“Haven’t you heard? Mr. Peters kicked the bucket last week. He had a heart attack at work.”
“Old Charlie finally kicked the bucket. He was 103, you know!”
2. a piece of cake
Idiomatic meaning = very easy!
“When you know what you are doing, it’s a piece of cake.”
“Don’t worry, for me it’s a piece of cake. It will only take me 5 minutes.”
“How was the exam today?” “Oh, it was a piece of cake!”
Native speakers of every language have specific idioms connected to their own unique language, society, culture, history, customs etc..
Although present in all languages, the English language is particularly rich in idioms. While I haven’t been able to find out the exact number, I know it is well in the thousands! This is one of the reasons why learning English gradually becomes more challenging for higher level learners.
Using idioms correctly and appropriately can take many years of experience with the language. While learning some idioms will certainly help you to sound more natural, more ‘native’ when speaking English, you need to be careful because using too many and incorrectly, will make it more obvious that you are not a native speaker.
You also need to be aware that a lot of the idioms used in English are regional or national. For example, some of them may be commonly used in the north of Britain but not in the south; others may be commonly used in Sydney but not in London or New York.
A few tips on studying idioms…
- Don’t just sit and study lists and lists of idioms. It’s not an effective use of your time. Too many words and expressions learnt this way just become redundant and you’ll forget them very easily and very quickly! Words and expressions only become part of your vocabulary through constant use.
- Don’t over-use idioms, you’ll have the opposite effect and your speech will sound very unnatural!
- Create an idiom book or folder.
- Select 2 or 3 common idioms at a time and study their usage;
- Find examples in both written and spoken speech;
- Add drawings or photos to reinforce the meaning;
- Try writing your own examples;
- Try to find opportunities to use them with native speakers or your teachers and see if their response is positive and you are using them correctly