When learning a new language we are happy to pass every little milestone: the first time you address a native speaker, the first conversation… All these achievements mean the world to us, they are the reward of our continuous learning. When becoming fluent in a language you can express almost everything you want to say, but there is still that one little step further, that gives your words something that make them yours. Something that gives them personality – and this can be achieved through the use of expressions and idioms.
Many idioms make no sense even if we know the meaning of each individual word! But some of them are easy to figure out, like for example ‘it takes two to tango’, meaning an action or activity that involves participation from more than one person.
To me they are very interesting and it gives me insight into the British culture. Not to mention the fun of using them in a conversation, possibly wrong sometimes but nevertheless entertaining! That is how I learned that when you’re ill you can be ‘a bit under the weather’ or to not take someone seriously is ‘taking it with a grain of salt’.
Sometimes expressions are international and can be directly translated through more languages without losing their meaning, like ‘a picture paints a thousand words’.
Learning the academic language is certainly the most important aspect when embarking on such a challenging journey. However, informal words, idioms, expressions and slang will bring you closer to the people you share the language with. It will make any conversation more pleasant and will allow you to put your own stamp on the vocabulary you are using.
How do I learn idioms?
The best way to find out which are the most used expressions, or the most popular ones, is to ask a native speaker, read local magazines and newspapers or watch local TV shows. My personal preference is to spot them in conversations and ask people what they mean.
For example, last week I learnt the expression ‘get the bit between the teeth’ from my boss. Which he also kindly explained (possibly because my face indicated that I had no clue what he was on about). The bit is a piece that goes inside a horse’s mouth and pushes against its soft parts, which causes it to turn. When the horse gets it between the teeth he takes control over from the rider and can’t be stopped. Pretty interesting, huh?
What are some funny or unusual idioms in your language?