Tuesday, October 30, 2007

ESL Tutorial # 1 - Everyday Idioms

As an ESL tutor of many years , I know that learners of English need to be able to use common expressions as part of their conversational skills. I am sure every learner of English comes to realize pretty soon that native English speakers use many idioms to express themselves. To truly speak like a natural , you must master the use of this grammatical structure . Don't be daunted , I have put together this online lesson to help you start using everyday expressions in the right way. You will soon start impressing people with your grasp of the English Language! Lets start with what an idiom is... Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines an idiom as :

1 : the choice of words and the way they are combined that is characteristic of a language
2 : an expression that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words but must be learned as a whole .

In short, an idiom is a figure of speech, whose meaning has become known through common use. The correct understanding and use of these structures can cause misunderstanding in learners. For example "to kick the bucket" is an idiom. Whilst a learner may be able to understand the individual meaning of each word, it's definition has nothing to do with a foot kicking a bucket! It actually means to die, as in "My old dog finally kicked the bucket yesterday" or it can mean to stop working "My car finally kicked the bucket."
To add to this complexity, most idioms cannot be directly translated into the learners language. It really comes down to memorizing phrases and their meaning. Why not make a habit of learning one new expression a day and before you know it , you will have increased your vocabulary and skill in everyday English.
Let me share with you some tips that I give my students in ESL classes:
Tip number one, you must learn these expressions as a whole . I am going to give you a list of commonly used idioms to help you be able to use these expressions with confidence , and assist you in speaking authentically.
Remember to change verb tenses or pronoun forms as needed.
Tip number two, spend some time each day actively listening to native speakers and pay attention to the idiomatic phrases they use. You can also listen to the radio, watch TV , or read a newspaper in the same way. Don't be shy about asking people to explain any phrases that are new to you, believe me most people love to translate meanings to learners!
Tip number three , have fun, be confident and don't worry about making mistakes. As the old adage goes. 'Practice makes perfect!"

Here are some of my picks for useful and common idioms. See how many times people use these in real life! I will add to this list often so be sure to come back and visit soon! Let's start with sayings that convey positive/good vibes ... Remember there are many, many idioms so I have focussed on the most popular ones that I tend to use.

  • A blessing in disguise - Something that at first seems to be a setback or trial but later turns out to be a positive thing. " I lost my job as an accountant last year but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me. I ended up going back to college and training to be a nurse . I am so much happier in my new career."
  • A breath of fresh air - a welcome relief. " My new boss is like a breath of fresh air. The company has changed for the better since she came on board."
  • A lucky break - good luck/fortune . " Finding that money was a lucky break."
  • Against all odds - in spite of great difficulty or disadvantage, one succeeds. " He finished third in the marathon against all the odds, being the oldest competitor in the race."
  • Agree to disagree - when both parties cannot come to a resolution or agreement, but they agree to respect each others point of view without accepting it, and argue no more on the topic. "Bill and Jane finally agreed to disagree on the matter of their political values. She was a democrat, he was a republican."
  • Every cloud has a silver lining - never give up hope , all gray clouds eventually pass and the sun shines again . Every difficult situation can have a positive outcome. " I didn't get into the college of my choice, I had to go to a different one, but as it turned out every cloud has a silver lining. I met my husband there!"
  • The bees knees - of a very high quality .. "Jill's work is excellent. She is the bees knees."
  • Icing on the cake - when one very good thing follows another very good thing. "Not only did I get the new job , but I got a new company car too! It's the icing on the cake!"
  • The apple of my eye - refers to someone who is cherished above all others. "My son is the apple of my eye, I love him dearly."
  • A labor of love - something that is hard work , but you do it because it is enjoyable. "My father built the house by himself, it was a lot of work but a real labor of love for him."
  • Wear your heart on your sleeve - show one's emotions openly and freely. "You always know what he's feeling. He wears his heart on his sleeve."
  • A heart of gold - a very good hearted person who is loving and kind. "She helps raise funds for the homeless in her free time, she has a heart of gold."
  • Count your blessings - think about all the good things in your life, especially if you have difficulties that are making you unhappy. " You should count your blessings, you have your health and people that love you."
  • Blown away - to be very surprised and pleased with an unexpected result. "I am blown away with the response I got from my email campaign. 300 people responded to me!"
As we can see , idioms are an integral aspect of the English language, providing a colorful and visual impression to the thoughts we convey and the words we use to express them.

For more idioms click here.

If you would like personal help with your language needs I am an ESL tutor. Contact me to discuss your learning goals.

"The limits of my language means the limits of my world. "
Ludwig Wittgenstein