Idioms and proverbs – as easy as pie?


Idioms are a funny thing – it’s only once you start learning idioms in a foreign language that you realise just how bizarre they are, even if they used to sound perfectly normal in your own language. For example, the French version of our English “To count one’s chickens before they have hatched” translates to “To draw up one’s plans on the comet”. The French version of raining heavily translates to “It’s raining ropes” which seems odd when you’re English and are used to saying “It’s raining cats and dogs” (for a possible explanation of where this phrase came from, read this previous posting on the subject).

But no matter how odd they seem when you really get to thinking about their literal meaning, idioms can be a great way for foreign speakers to really sound native and get used to using conversational phrases in their English. Below is an inforgraphic with some of the most popular idioms to do with time. You could get your students to study this infographic and then get them doing some creative writing. Ask them to write a story about whatever they want, but they must use a certain number of these idiomatic phrases as naturally as possible. You could then use their examples anonymously up at the front of class in the next lesson, and ask the class to decide which sound the most natural and which sound too forced. This will be a fantastic way of getting more advanced students to think about the style and readability of their written English.

Alternatively, you could put your students into groups and ask them to compile a list of idioms in their own languages and then ask them to translate them literally into English. Or perhaps you could give them a list of common English idioms and ask them to come up with some alternative wordings that result in the same meanings:

A bad workman blames his tools = A bad writer blames his pen

Every cloud has a silver lining = Every nightmare ends in daylight

To count one’s chickens before they have hatched = To sell your cakes before they are baked

While their phrases might not become as enduringly popular as their originals, this task will get them thinking very thematically about language and cause and consequence, and will probably make the meaning of those original popular idioms really stick in their head for future use.

[Infographic provided by]


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