English Idioms As A Tool For Teaching The English Language

It’s no secret many South Koreans strive to learn the English language as quickly as possible. They even go to great lengths to become fluent in this language. You’ll find them staying overseas, in  USA, Canada, Australia, and the Philippines for the sole purpose of speaking English naturally. Part of this drive is the educational system in South Korea which picks the crème of the crop from thousands of hopeful students and narrows the chance of a successful career for those who graduate from lesser universities.

Unlike the structured Hangul, Korea’s national language, English is rife with the potential to muck things up. There are many reasons for that which I’ll enumerate in another post. What I want to focus on right now is the importance of including idioms as part of your English teaching methods in helping foreign students learn English quickly.

The English language is peppered (full of and not literally sprinkled with pepper) with idioms from color, fruits, events, sports, culture, society and just about anything under the sun. Conversing or listening to a conversation between two native English speakers, a foreigner unfamiliar with idioms would make no sense of what’s being talked about. Idioms help students learn how to speak and understand informal English which is actually used daily rather than the formal English learned at school.

One of the approaches I used to teach idioms is to create a brief filler or a dialogue using a prescribed set of idioms. I’d let my student read and try to understand the story through contextual clues.

Afterwards I reveal to him the meaning of the idiom. Some idioms can have different meanings according to how it’s used in context. These are enumerated by using an idiom in two separate sentences that convey different thoughts. Afterwards, I would give my student a 10 minute review period, then administer a short quiz on the idioms taken up for the day.

Here is an example:

If you want to speak English fluently like a native English speaker, you have to learn English idioms or it’s a “no go.” If you just read about it, “you’re barking up the wrong tree.” Using idioms in daily speech is the way to go. But don’t “go bananas” thinking about it, there’s bound to be someone who can “give you a hand” and make learning English a “piece of cake.”

Idioms used and their meaning (derived from the Free Dictionary):

No go
Meaning: Not ready to proceed
Barking up the wrong tree
Meaning: to misdirect one’s energies/attention
Go bananas
Meaning: go crazy
Give you a hand
Meaning: help you out
Piece of cake:
Meaning: easy

For ease of retention, idioms can be helpfully grouped by categories along with their meaning, after which a sample dialogue/story is given :

Idioms from color:

Turn green- be nauseous
Black market-where goods and money are illegally sold
Get the blues-feel sad/depressed
White as snow-pure, straight, law-abiding

Tom: “Did you know Harry turned green just the other day, we figured he’d stay that way.”
Mike: “Oh that’s not unusual for Harry, especially when he  gets the blues?
Tom: “This time it’s different, Harry was scammed out of a huge amount of money in the black market.”
Mike: “That’s terrible! I can’t believe it, Harry has been always white as snow, he’s always done the right thing and abides by the law.”

A maximum of three to four idioms is introduced two to three times a week. I’d require my students to use idioms they’ve learned no matter how nonsensical it sounded. Many are usually embarrassed until I point out to them how often idioms pop up in a movie script, on TV, while at a bar, restaurant, practically everywhere.

Personally I find idioms quirky and fun. I love teaching them to students to help improve their vocabulary, make them feel at ease with a new language, and help them communicate thoughts easily and with more color.

I hope this helps you as well.

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