You know the annoying thing about learning English? Of course you do. It’s that you go to lots of classes, you memorise your textbooks, you spend weeks, months, even years studying, you have it all down, and then you end up chatting with a bunch of Americans or English people and you have no idea what they’re saying. (Sound familiar?) This is because people – people everywhere, but somehow even more so English speakers – like to play with language, and meaning, and the sounds of words.
And that’s when you run into The Idioms Problem.
It’s a fact that a lot of English people (and apparently, so I’m told, especially Americans) pepper their speech heavily with idioms (there, I just did it) and if you don’t know the idiom and its use, it’s no good if you know all the words they’re using, because they can mean a whole other thing when they’re put together.
Picture it. You’re standing among a group of native speakers at a conference, and you turn to someone and politely ask them if it’s raining outside (you saw it on the weather report / they’re standing in a puddle and dripping)…
As an answer the English person just says, “Cats and dogs mate. Cats and dogs.”
You would be justified in feeling a little confused.
Half a sandwich short of a picnic
Hitting the sauce. A lame duck. Between a rock and a hard place. Crack someone up. Cry wolf. A chip on his shoulder. Half a sandwich short of a picnic (a personal favourite). Having a field day. Doing a runner. Head over heels. An axe to grind…..
Speak, speak, speak (and listen)
As you see, it’s almost an endless list. That’s why we always remind people that learning English has two parts. The first part is to learn the rules. The second part is to speak, speak, speak (and listen). And don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Meanwhile, let us give you a head start (there I go again) by furnishing you with a list of the most used and most useful English idioms, both UK and US English.