Teaching English Idiomatic Expressions
Solutions for Understanding
I'm not "pulling your leg"; teaching
English idiomatic expressions
(also called idioms
) isn't always a "piece of cake."
expressions confuse you, don't worry – read on for tips that will help
with this important task.
The Importance of Teaching Idiomatic Expressions
Native English speakers grow up hearing and speaking idioms every day.
Whether your students are young children or adults, it is important
that they feel comfortable using these expressions in their everyday
speech and writing.
If your students are studying to learn English for a job, they
especially need to learn how to understand and use idiomatic
expressions so they can communicate with their co-workers, supervisors,
What Is an English Idiomatic Expression?
An idiomatic expression is a combination of words that means something
different from each word by itself.
For example, in the phrase "pulling
someone's leg," pulling
means moving something towards yourself, and
is the part of the body above the foot.
But pulling someone's
doesn't mean to drag that person's leg; it means to try to fool
Idioms' Dictionary Definitions May Be Not Enough
If your student looks up a word in a dictionary but still does not
understand what he heard or read, chances are that it is part of an
If that idiomatic expressions is a slang expression, you may not be able to
find its meaning just by looking in a dictionary.
You might be able to find each separate word in the dictionary, but you
may not always be able to find the entire phrase.
There are several
ways to find out the meaning of an idiomatic expression.
There are websites that contain lists of idiomatic expressions.
need to be careful with the information on these websites for two
First, the information you find online is not always accurate.
Second, the meaning of an expression can be different depending on the
country. What can be an innocent phrase to an American can make a
British person laugh, and vice versa!
Dictionaries of Idiomatic Expressions
There are also whole books that explain the meanings of idiomatic
expressions. Some of these dictionaries of idioms even give the origins
of some of the phrases – which many native speakers will not even know.
You can check out these books at some libraries or buy them in
Which Idiomatic Expressions Should You Teach?
The best way to decide which expressions to teach is to listen for them
when you are having a conversation in English, watching American
television programs, or listening to English-language radio stations.
You can also ask your students to bring in examples of expressions that
they find while they are reading, watching television, listening to the
radio, or speaking with co-workers or friends.
If you want your students to be comfortable and feel like native
English speakers, make sure you make teaching English idiomatic
expressions part of your lesson plans.
And, by the way, a "piece of
cake" is something that is easy, just like understanding English idiomatic
expressions can be, if you learn what they mean!