Teaching English Idiomatic Expressions

Solutions for Understanding
Everyday Speech

English Idiomatic ExpressionsI'm not "pulling your leg"; teaching English idiomatic expressions (also called idioms) isn't always a "piece of cake."

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All English Tenses

Click Here for Step-by-Step Rules, Stories and Exercises to Practice All Tenses

If these 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, or customers.

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 the leg is the part of the body above the foot.

But pulling someone's leg doesn't mean to drag that person's leg; it means to try to fool the person.

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 idiomatic expression.

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.

Looking Online

There are websites that contain lists of idiomatic expressions.

But you need to be careful with the information on these websites for two reasons.

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!
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 bookstores.

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!

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