You’ve been attending our English language school in Hawaii, and you feel you can easily master the English language. You’re proud of your accomplishments and the fact that you can now understand those who speak the language, and engage in a conversation with a fair amount of confidence. You know about nouns, verbs, adjectives, and all those words that sound alike, but have different spellings and meanings. Now you’re hearing phrases or groups of words that, to you, just don’t make much sense. Idioms – what are they, and why should you care?
Idioms are simply phrases, words, or expressions that are unusual and typically don’t make much sense to a person who isn’t a native speaker of English. An example of this is, “It’s raining cats and dogs outside.” Of course, cats and dogs are not falling from the sky, but this idiom means the rain is coming down heavily – that you would likely get soaking wet or drenched if you were to go outside. Why is it important to know some of the most common idioms in the English language? Because people use them so often, and you want to know what they mean!
Here are a few examples:
Keep your chin up. This simply means not to give up – to stay strong in a difficult or challenging situation.
Cut to the chase. Perhaps someone’s been dragging out a story and you hear someone tell that person to “cut to the chase.” This simply means to get to the point or the important part. Of course you never want to use this idiom in certain situations, as it can come across as disrespectful or rude. For instance, you wouldn’t want to tell your English teacher to cut to the chase!
Under the weather. If you hear someone say a student is absent because he or she is “under the weather,” it simply means that student is sick or not feeling well. You could be under the weather if you’re drained of energy after working too hard or if you have a headache or allergies.
Go cold turkey. That sounds strange, doesn’t it? This idiom simply means someone is stopping a habit or potentially dangerous behavior all at once, instead of gradually or over time. For example, someone who smokes cigarettes may go cold turkey when quitting, meaning that person quit suddenly. Someone who drinks a substantial amount of alcohol on a daily basis may decide to stop the addictive habit all at once. This is going “cold turkey.”
Hit the sack or hit the books. When you think of the word “hit” you likely think of someone physically striking something. In this case, someone who says they’re going to “hit the books” means they’re going to study. When a friend says it’s time to “hit the sack,” he or she means it’s time to go to bed.
Let the cat out of the bag. When someone uses this idiom, it usually means that person, or someone they’re speaking of, accidentally revealed something that was to be kept secret, such as a surprise birthday party or marriage proposal.
Piece of cake. While a slice of chocolate cake sounds delicious, if someone says “this is going to be a piece of cake” it simply means the task or job is going to be easy and not challenging. This could even be used in the context of taking a test in school when a student feels he or she will pass the test easily. “The math test is going to be a piece of cake!”
There are hundreds of idioms that are commonly used by native English speakers, so it’s important you become familiar with them over time – after all, you want to know what your friends, co-workers, or classmates are talking about!
Considering an English language school in Hawaii? At Intercultural Communications College we offer exceptional programs to students of all ages. Visit our website and learn more about what we have to offer, today.