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5 Hints on Learning to Use Idioms Properly

10 Jul

If your lips are sealed, I’ll share some of my no-brainer hints on learning to use idioms in everyday conversation.

Idioms are fun to use, often quirky and can seem so strange to a non-native English speaker that they are often hard to forget.  For ESL learners, learning idiomatic expressions presents a challenge, but using them successfully in the right way, in the right conversations is a step closer to fluency.

Hint 1: Practice using idioms in everyday conversation.

Native English speakers don’t realize how many idioms they use in daily conversation.  Speaking with an English learner who uses idioms often makes us feel more comfortable and more understood.

Hint 2:  Use an idiom in the proper context.

In Korea, there are some idioms that Koreans have adopted and use quite often.  I always love hearing them and find I introduce one or two each conversation class and encourage my students to try to squeeze them into the conversation until they learn the context properly.

Hint 3: ‘Stick to‘ commonly used idioms.

Even for those who use idioms well and incorporate them into conversation, there is a tendency for the expressions to be out-dated or not commonly used.  For example, I had one student say to me, “Don’t you want to have kittens when you forget your bus card?”   While he used the context well, (have kittens means to feel very upset or angry), I can’t say I’ve ever heard that expression used in pop culture.

Hint 4: Idioms are often cultural.

Idiomatic expressions representative of the culture they come from making it difficult for those from different cultures to understand, they can be down right confusing!  Even in the English-speaking world, there are different idioms in common use.  While it’s difficult for an ESL learner to know if an idiom would be more popular in America than in England, being aware that some people from some countries may not understand your use of an idiom.  That’s okay, keep trying!

Hint 5:  Group idioms together to learn faster.

Try learning idioms that are similar, such as those having to do with body parts first.  Learn as many as you can before switching to another category and you’ll soon be head over heels in love with idioms! ^^

For an extensive list of idioms and phrases to get your juices flowing, click here.

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