Monday, March 16, 2015

Let's get started! English Idiom fun - "Straight from the Horses Mouth!"

Magical, Mysterious Idioms!

Idioms - those charming expressions that don’t make any sense to those who are learning English as a second or a foreign language! It's a struggle to decode these phrases - they just don’t translate well!  And it's super-hard to guess the idiom meaning from the meaning of an individual word...


 "Straight from the horse's mouth." - So, what does that mean?

Real-Life Idiom Stories - Straight From YOU!

I am an ESL teacher and also the mother of an ESL student adopted from Colombia over 10 years ago. So, I “eat, sleep and breathe” ESL, 24/7! It can takes a long time for a second language/foreign language student to become English proficient. Even after a decade,  many gaps still remain in AJ's English vocabulary,  especially in his understanding of idiomatic expressions. With AJ's permission, I'll be sharing some of his interesting "Idiom Adventures." 

Where's the fun? One ESL Student's Take on Jokes and Idioms 

Here is what AJ said about the challenge of learning idioms - and the isolation he feels when he “misses" the "punch line” of a joke: “Some jokes I call ‘old people’s jokes” and stories ‘old-fashioned tales’ because I don’t get them. It’s no fun hearing jokes or sayings I don’t understand. When I do get it, it feels good to laugh!”

ESL Students love learning idioms!

A Chinese English Language Learner at a local elementary school told his ESL teacher that learning idioms "is my favorite thing to do.” Second or foreign language learners welcome idiom breaks from the routine of ESL/EFL lessons and academic classwork. Idioms are fun, colorful, cryptic phrases that, when imagined, make you scratch your head and smile at the same time!

Helping each other to understand idioms...

Shall we "give it a go"?


Learning idioms is like learning a secret code. Let's Decode!

Teachers, do you catch yourself using idioms? With all of our other responsibilities, most of us give minor attention to teaching idioms.

  • We easily forget how often we use idioms in our daily communications and forget to ask their ESL students, "Do you understand this phrase?” and offer to explain it if they don’t get it. 
  • I hope this blog will be a forum to promote idiom awareness. It's just second nature - how often do we catch ourselves using phrases with double-entendres or phrases that “go over the student’s heads.”  (How many idioms have I used just in the introduction to this blog?) 


ESL/EFL students, how often do you encounter idioms in your reading – in textbooks, novels, poetry, magazines and comics? How many times every day do you hear phrases you don’t understand – at school, at home, at the movies, on TV

  • How does this impact how you relate to kids at school? With your teachers? 
  • How does this lack of understanding what other people say make you feel? 

Here's a quote from an English Language Learner who knows how you might feel:
As a student I could talk. I could express my ideas and opinions. When I came to this country I became mute.”   - Second Year ESL student
 Ready to have some FUN with our English? 


 ESL/EFL students and teachers, you are living this Idiom Adventure. Please share your stories and let’s have a few laughs as we learn!


I can’t wait to hear about your Idiom Adventures!

More antiquated idioms! We may enjoy words from our past...But, our kids are saying, “Huh?”

 Here's a great read by Richard Lederer!


By Richard Lederer

About a month ago, I illuminated old expressions that have become obsolete because of the inexorable march of technology. These phrases included: don't touch that dial, carbon copy, you sound like a broken record, and hung out to dry.

A bevy of readers have asked me to shine light on more faded words and expressions, and I am happy to oblige: Back in the olden days we had a lot of moxie. We'd put on our best bib and tucker and straighten up and fly right.

Hubba-hubba! We'd cut a rug in some juke joint and then go pitching woo in hot rods and jalopies in some lovers' lane.

Heavens to Betsy! Gee whillikers! Jumpin' Jehoshaphat! Holy moley! We were in like Flynn and living the life of Riley, and even a regular guy couldn't accuse us of being a knucklehead, a nincompoop, or a pill. Not for all the tea in China!

Back in the olden days, life used to be swell, but when's the last time anything was swell? Swell has gone the way of beehives, pageboys, and the D.A.; of spats, knickers, fedoras, poodle skirts, saddle shoes, and pedal pushers. Oh, my aching back. Kilroy was here, but he isn't anymore.

Like Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle and Kurt Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim, we have become unstuck in time. We wake up from what surely has been just a short nap, and before we can say, I'll be a monkey's uncle! Or This is a fine kettle of fish! We discover that the words we grew up with, the words that seemed omnipresent as oxygen, have vanished with scarcely a notice from our tongues and our pens and our keyboards.

Poof, poof, poof go the words of our youth, the words we've left behind. We blink, and they're gone, evanesced from the landscape and wordscape of our perception, like Mickey Mouse wristwatches, hula hoops, skate keys, candy cigarettes, little wax bottles of colored sugar water, and an organ grinder's monkey.

Where have all those phrases gone? Long time passing. Where have all those phrases gone? Long time ago: Pshaw. The milkman did it. Think about the starving Armenians. Bigger than a bread box. Banned in Boston. The very idea! It's your nickel. Don't forget to pull the chain. Knee high to a grasshopper. Turn-of-the-century. Iron curtain. Domino theory. Fail safe. Civil defense. Fiddlesticks!

You look like the wreck of the Hesperus. Cooties. Going like sixty. I'll see you in the funny papers. Don't take any wooden nickels. Heavens to Murgatroyd! And awa-a-ay we go! Oh, my stars and garters!

It turns out there are more of these lost words and expressions than Carter had liver pills.This can be disturbing stuff, this winking out of the words of our youth, these words that lodge in our heart's deep core. But just as one never steps into the same river twice, one cannot step into the same language twice. Even as one enters, words are swept downstream into the past, forever making a different river. We of a certain age have been blessed to live in changeful times.

For a child each new word is like a shiny toy, a toy that has no age. We at the other end of the chronological arc have the advantage of remembering there are words that once did not exist and there were words that once strutted their hour upon the earthly stage and now are heard no more, except in our collective memory. It's one of the greatest advantages of aging. We can have archaic and eat it, too.