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Idioms and Idiomatic Expressions

Teaching Common Idioms in English

Idioms and idiomatic expressions are phrases or sayings that do not have a literal meaning. For example, one common idiom in English is the idiomatic expression of "it's raining cats and dogs". This idiomatic expression does not literally mean that dogs and cats are falling out the sky. The real meaning of the idiom is that it is raining hard outside.
 
Idioms sometimes cause confusion for English language learners because many students at the lower levels of proficiency in English may tend to comprehend them in a literal way. It is important that English learners are explicitly taught the meaning of idioms and idiomatic expressions and are provided opportunities to use idioms in their speaking and writing activities. Teachers should begin instruction with common idiomatic expressions with students at the lower levels of English proficiency, while continuing to build a more sophisticated understanding of idioms as students make progress in acquiring English.  Appropriate understanding and use of idioms in English is a necessary skill that English language learners must acquire as they progress towards acquiring academic proficiency in a second language.
 
Some common idioms and idiomatic expressions are: 
  • It's raining cats and dogs today. (Meaning of idiom: It's raining heavily)
  • Maria felt like a fish out of water on the first day of school. (Meaning of idiom: Maria felt different, as if she didn't belong)
  • He didn't have his coat on, and he caught a cold. (Meaning of idiom: He got sick)
  • Last night my mom lost her temper. (Meaning of idiom: She was very angry)
  • I think that you will get a kick out of the movie. (Meaning of idiom: You will enjoy watching the movie)
  • I let the cat out of the bag and told her that I was moving. (Meaning of idiom: I told the secret)
Teachers can point out idioms that they encounter with students when reading literature or poetry in class. The Amelia Bedelia series of books is an excellent resource for teaching idioms through the use of children's books. Common idioms can also be taken from music, television, or additional examples that make the study of idioms useful and engaging to students. A recommended activity during the study of idioms is to make a "common idioms" book where students create a book that includes idioms and a fun student drawing of the literal meaning of the idiom, as well as corresponding drawing of the meaning of the idiom. 
 
It is important that all English language learners are provided opportunities to learn about idioms in order for students to achieve native-like proficiency in English!
 

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Learning how to understand and use idioms and idiomatic expressions in a second language is an essential skill in achieving high levels of proficiency. Second language learners must be explicitly taught the actual meanings of the idioms, and language learners must be provided sufficient time to practice using idioms through oral and written opportunities.

What are idioms?
Idioms are expressions that signify something other than what they literally mean.