We were asked about the best way of learning English idioms. We hope the following information helps you all with this.
As you probably already know, an idiom is an expression that has a different meaning to the literal meaning of its words. And as you also probably know, they are commonly used in English and many people get frustrated trying to learn them and feel that it is an impossible task.
But don’t worry! Dr. English is here to give you some advice, ideas and resource for how to learn idioms.
Rule number 1: Don’t panic!
Many people get really frustrated, worried or obsessed with idioms. It’s true that they are used a lot in English, but you don’t need to know all of them. Learning idioms is a natural process, just as it is to learn the rest of English. It takes time and you need routine and regular practice. It’s best to learn them little by little, than to try to learn a lot at one time.
Rule number 2: Don’t memorise
Unfortunately, memorising idioms isn’t the best option. You might be able to remember them in the short term for an exam. But if you want to be able to understand and use them naturally, then you have to learn and practice them in a different way. If you’re interested in learning more about the best ways of learning English in general, take a look here.
Rule number 3: Context is Key
It is essential to learn idioms in context if you want to spontaneously and naturally understand and use them in your communication.
- Reading is a powerful way of learning vocabulary through context and this is the same for idioms. Reading is also great because you can read as slowly as you need to and read one part more than once to understand its meaning. Make sure you’re reading something that’s good for your level, because you should be able to learn the idioms through the context without checking too much in a dictionary.
- We have found a great website where you can read short stories that contain a large variety of idioms. There are also practice activities available.
- Songs are a great place to find idioms and learn them in a context. We would suggest you listen and read the lyrics at the same time. Songs are specifically powerful because of our natural capacity to remember lyrics of songs. Idioms will be easier to remember if they are part of a song.
Rule number 4: Use images to help you remember
Connecting images with the idioms can help you remember them easier. The brain can remember more when it sees things.
We highly recommend two fantastic books written by the same author, Michael Barton. He is a young English-speaking adult with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and he finds English idioms very confusing! This is because he processes the world around him in a literal way. Both books are related to this confusing world of English expressions.
- It's Raining Cats and Dogs - This is Michael Barton's first book. It is a 'picture dictionary' of the most common idiomatic expressions in English. All the illustrations in this book are his original drawings.
- A Different Kettle Of Fish - This book is a short autobiography of a trip to London, where Michael Barton opens your eyes to the world of ASDs and the confusion that idioms can cause. There are illustrations of the expressions and a full glossary at the end of the book.
Rule number 5: Keep a notebook of Idioms
Every time you find a new idiom write it in a special notebook or a particular part of your general notebook. Find the definition and write the idiom in an example sentence. Review your notebook regularly.
Rule number 6: Use the idioms
The only way to really learn idioms is by using them in context and most importantly in real-life situations.