Idioms present a great opportunity for students to have some language learning fun. Here, we discuss idioms, and explore activities that use idioms in the classroom and at home.
What is an Idiom?
An idiom is a phrase with an underlying meaning that’s generally agreed upon by a large group of people. This meaning can’t be deduced by the phrase’s words alone. The definition of idioms is most easily understood by looking at some familiar examples.
Examples of Idioms in the US
In the US, some common English language idioms are:
- A breath of fresh air
- A piece of cake
- Wear your heart on your sleeve
- When pigs fly
These phrases wouldn’t give pause to a native English speaker in the US because they’ve been heard in context over the course of a lifetime, and their meanings would seem obvious. However, if we take a step back, and look at the phrases through the lens of someone from another culture, we can see that they are in fact idioms, because they have meanings that are more than the sum of their words.
Idioms are Necessary (and Fun!)
If you look up popular idioms from other cultures, it’s easy to see that their meanings are not discernible from the words alone. For example, it wouldn’t be obvious that the Russian phrase “to hang noodles on someone’s ears” means you are fooling someone.
Every language and culture has thousands (maybe even tens of thousands) of idioms. This means that there’s a significant amount of casual communication that is conducted by use of idioms. Without lessons in local idioms, communicating effectively is more difficult for a language learner. Plus, learning idioms is one of the most interesting parts of learning a new language!
Learning Idioms in Diverse Classrooms
Learning about idioms is a great way to enhance the school-home connection. Students can ask their parents for strange or amusing idioms in their home languages to share with the class. Classmates can try to guess the meanings, or match each idiom with its meaning.
Another fun activity for younger students is making drawings that illustrate their favorite idioms for their classmates to guess.
Or, try comparing and contrasting idioms in different languages. Some examples:
In English, a finishing touch is ‘’icing on the cake,” whereas in Spanish it would be called the “cherry on the cake”.
In English, a sad person may “have the blues,” but in French that person would “have the cockroach.”
In English, a practical person is “down to earth,” and in Spanish that person would be described as having their “feet on the earth”.
For more fun learning English idioms in a multicultural setting, check out the Language Lizard Idiom Series. All books teach English idioms using clever illustrations representing characters and settings around the world.
What are the strangest or most amusing idioms you’ve heard? Comment and share below.