Monday, October 22, 2007


Idioms are phrases that have a different meaning than the individual words in them. Often, it is difficult to guess the meaning of an idiom-- though sometimes you can.

Idioms, however, are VERY important. Normal American speech is full of idioms. Most Americans don't realize that you didn't learn idioms in school. They will use idioms constantly when they talk to you.

This frustrates many students. Even students with high TOEFL scores and big vocabularies have trouble with normal conversation... because they don't understand the idioms.

You must learn idioms. Unfortunately, schools and textbooks don't teach them. I don't know why they don't-- its just another example of how textbook English is NOT real English. Also, you won't learn many idioms from reading-- we use them much more in speech than in writing.

How can you learn idioms?

1. Get a Dictionary of American Idioms
2. Review the 80 Most Frequent Idioms
3. Use American movies to learn idioms.
4. Get Lessons That Use Idioms and real English.

If you want to SPEAK and UNDERSTAND English, not just read it, you must learn idioms. Without idioms, you will never understand normal speech. Without idioms, you will never understand native speakers.

But when you learn idioms, speech suddenly is easy. You understand native speakers! They understand you! Its a great feeling!

Idioms are the key to real English conversation.

Listen To This Article at:
The Effortless English Podcast.


hiroshi said...

Hi, AJ, I agree with you that Idioms are necessary in having a conversation with native speakers. They are one of the many things I need to work on.

Yet, I often question the frequent use of Idioms when talking with non native speakers of English. For example, when I talk to a Thai guy who is not yet accustomed to English, using a idiom like " get a life", he would not understand what I say.
But, I can say in a simpler way like live more seriously. then, he may be able to get what I am getting at.
That is, when I communicate with non native speakers of English ( thais, chinese, argentinians etc), I always make it a rule to simplify a language we use as much as I can, using as easy to understand words and phrases as possible. That is because my sole purpose is just to communicate, not showing off how much vocabularies I have.
I learned this while living with my gaijin friends in a student dorm, helping them learn Japanese.
Somehow, the habit I had picked up during this period of time helped even make my Japanese simple and clear.

what do you think? do you think that idioms should be used among non native speakers?

Kyunglim said...

Hi, I subscribed to your free 7 days e-mail course but I got only one e-mail. Please send me the others.

AJ Hoge said...

I do think its a good idea for non-native speakers to avoid using idioms when speaking to each other.

In fact, I try to avoid using them whenever I speak with non-native speakers.

Idioms become important when speaking to native speakers. They are so common and used so unconsciously that you simply must understand them if you want to chat with native speakers. Unfortunately, most native speakers don't realize how difficult idioms are to understand-- and they don't realize how often they use them. Just remember that UNDERSTANDING idioms is what is important-- you don't need to USE them in your own speech.

Of course, the simple thing to do when you don't understand is to just ask. You can also explain to the native speaker that idioms are hard for you to understand in general :)

AJ Hoge said...

7 Day Email Course

If you don't get one of the emails, be sure to check your "Spam" or "Bulk" mail folder... some email companies put the emails there by mistake.

To avoid this, be sure to "white list" Effortless English in your email account.

If none of this helps, you may need to sign up again for the free 7 Day Email course at:

Sorry about the inconvenience :)

Rookie said...

Hi AJ, I have a doubt, are the same idioms and phrasal verbs ? I heard 101 American idioms, and they use i.e get in or get out, but are they phrasal verbs, right ? another examples are turn off/turn on. Can you help me with this, please ?

Thanks in advance

AJ Hoge said...

Phrasal Verbs, Idioms, Etc...

I suppose phrasal verbs could be considered "idioms"... because often the meaning of the phrase is different than the individual meaning of the words in it (which is how I define an idiom).

Whatever name you want to give them, both phrasal verbs ("two word verbs") and idioms (phrases with separate meaning) are super-common in normal conversation and thus super-necessary to know.

Which is why textbooks make me so crazy-- because they ignore the most common speech patterns in English... and focus instead on obscure grammar points.

That's why most English students do well on grammar tests, can read fairly well... but have a lot of problems with listening and speaking.