Many years ago when I was going to school in Montreal I roomed with students from Malaysia, Taiwan, Nicaragua, and Montreal. They all knew english
as a second language and were going to an english
university. They were all functioning well within the formal structure of the education system. It didn't take long for me to discover that they often had puzzled looks on their faces as I was speaking. I was probably one of the few people they interacted with outside of school. This was because I was joining my words, using slang and idioms that they were not taught. It soon became constant enquiries from my room-mates to get my hidden meanings behind what I was saying. Once I starting explaining myself it was if they were learning an whole new language . They loved learning how to say things more naturally and with added dimension and interest. Most people learning another language want to fit in once they are using it, they don't want to be treated as if they don't belong.
For a phrase to be an idiom the words together have a different meaning then if we were take the dictionary look up each word individually. If we think back through our daily lives and what is said throughout the day it would be hard not to come across idioms and slang. We like to take short cuts and use phrases that do not technically make any sense in the english
language. Idioms and slang have evolved over time and under cultural conditions. Many go back to the bible and other ancient cultures. We like to use slang and idioms to make the language more interesting, less formal and pin point the meanings we are trying to convey better. We could say, “You shouldn't try doing so many projects right now.” or we could say, “I think you have taken on more then you can chew.” The 2nd phrase is just more interesting and can be used in other situations. All languages have idioms and slang unfortunately they don't always translate the same. In english
, “Kick the bucket.” means to die. In french
it is translated as, “ to eat dandelions by the root,” so because of this it is not always possible to translate from a students native tongue. As a final note, it is William Shakespeare who is credited with more idioms then any other english
author. Some of his phrases are; “A forgone conclusion, As dead as a doornail, fancy free and a sorry sight.
It is important for foreign language students to learn idioms and slang because if they were to arrive in a english
speaking country they may find many phrases people are saying are incomprehensible. They may have thought because they worked really hard at learning english
that they are ready to take on the world. Unfortunately they find that people are using phrases and sentences that don't make any sense. This will happen because people have taken phrases like, “Where are you wanting to go?” to “where'd ya wanna go?” To a person unfamiliar with this it doesn't make any sense.
Idioms and slang should be introduced to the students after they have learnt the formal methods of conversation and writing are fully understood. Introducing too much might make them not want to learn proper forms and this would be a dis-service to them. Idioms and slang can be introduced by showing authentic materials such as TV shows, movies, magazines and advertising and posters. Students can be given lists of idioms and slang and present them in skits, role-plays, games and writing short stories. We can cater idiom and slang usage for the type of students that we have. For business
students these idioms could be; belt tightening, pull one's weight, generate lots of buzz, to drum up business
. For young students the idioms could be; how's it hanging, put it there.
In closing idioms help give more interest to our language and in turn give the esl
student more incentive for learning english
Improve your spoken english