Learning Idioms

I shall confess: I love idioms. Period.

I wish I’d know them all as well as a native, but that’s impossible. Phrases, sayings are a part of a whole culture, and they are hardly translatable. So how can we teach them? By raising interest on them: you can tell the story and origins of them, showing pictures that illustrate them or highlighting them in a real situation.


Albert Jack can be considered the top dog in this area of knowledge, his books Red Herrings and White Elephants along with Shaggy Dogs and Black Sheep are both accessible and fascinating to read. Classified by topic and then in alphabetical order, the author explains the origins like it would be an anecdote you’d say to someone over coffee with looking pompous. I was lucky enough to discover them in a workshop I attended a few years ago in Cambridge organised by the Bell School at the Homerton College.

wordpress idioms

2. Pictures:

A very visual way to understand idioms is by visual inputs. I’ve already told in previous posts how much I love the illustrations made by Paula Benítez. She works on demand, so if you tell her that you want an original version or this or that idiom or phrase, she will come up with a fantastic and fancy illustration that your student will enjoy learning. She totally understood what I wanted: not the literal meaning but the ‘real’ one, the one that everybody uses. In that way, they’ll be different to ones typically depicted. However. If you’re looking for some good posters in literal meaning, Cambridge University Press Spain are the best. The team uploads them regularly on their Facebook page.

3. Realia:

Every time I watch a movie o get addicted to a TV show ( yes, I’m a binge-watcher), I can update my English and then I mention it to my students. But an excellent team has done the work for me: Idiomland . And they are good. Awesome. For each idiom you have three posts: the meaning and example, the picture with the literal meaning and (here comes the best part) the use done in a movie or TV show! you can watch clips with the transcript below where actors use any kind of idioms. They can appear in the movie Birdman, Fast and Furious or Lord of the Rings. I think I’ve fallen in love.


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