Writing Tips at GarySpeer.com

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Idioms: One more challenge to learning languages

I was thinking about idioms and idiomatic language today. Yes, sometimes I do just sit around thinking about words and language. That’s why I am a writer. The really tricky things about idiomatic language is learning to get the “feel” for it that native speakers have — and that’s the biggest challenge someone may face learning a foreign language.

You’ve known of people, I’m sure, who are “fluent” in several languages. Maybe you are such a person — good for you. But I sometimes question the word “fluent” when I hear it applied to someone whose English is a second or third language. As a native speaker of American English (Nebraskaees dialect?), I often find such people do wonderfully well with the spoken and written language, until they come to idiomatic expressions. To me, their degree of “fluency” stands or falls on how well they handle idioms.

I’m talking about expressions such as: “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” or “That’s as odd as a tuxedo shirt on a pig,” or “A day late and a dollar short,” or “He’s got a hitch in his giddy-up.” There are literally thousands of idiomatic expressions and idiomatic word uses in the English language, I’m sure. And they’re growing daily as common everyday folks, speakers, writers, public figures, etc., find new and creative ways of saying something.

There’s no getting around it, English idioms are fun, but sometimes hard to understand and even harder to explain to those learning the language. Just for fun, what are some of your favorite idioms? Leave a comment and let us know.