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The Challenges of Idiom in the English Language

Many language learners say that English is one of the most challenging languages to learn because of all of the rules and unusual exceptions. There are many other people who say that English is so challenging to learn because the language is full of idioms and slang.

Play with Figurative Language

Almost every language has idioms, because people like to play with language and use figurative phrases to help make more sense of what they are trying to express. But, the English language is full of idiomatic expressions and some experts claim there are over 25,000 different idioms used by English speakers. What makes learning the idioms in the English language so challenging is the idea of the idiom itself because they are fixed in format, but when the words are taken at their literal meaning they make absolutely no sense what-so-ever.

Native Speakers Automaticity

So, if English is your second language, you will often be at a loss when you are conversing with native English speakers. Once a native speaker gets talking, he never stops to think about idioms; they have become a natural part of his conversation skills. Native English speakers also do not think twice about using idioms in their written conversation, either. If native speakers stop to think about the idiomatic phrases they use, they will immediately realize why English language learners are so perplexed by them.

These are few idioms to think about:



A piece of cake Really easy
A field day A really fun time
Feeling under the weather Feeling ill
Knock on wood Avoid bad luck


While language learners struggle with the classroom basics of the language, they miss out on the subtleties that come with the idiomatic phrases. Learning a language is not the same as being completely immersed in it. The best way to learn the idioms is get out and talk to the native speakers. In the United States, native speakers appreciate when non-native speakers use English and they are ready and willing to help people understand the English.  Since so many native English speakers only know English, they love being able to share their language and they will explain what idioms mean. However, many native English speakers use so many idioms in place of the literal meaning, so you should not be surprised if a native speaker has difficulty explaining an idiom without using another one.

Mandated Idiom Education

Sadly, in many public schools, second –language teachers are not completely immersed in the language, so they do not know the true conversational idioms. Recently, the United States federal government created a new school curriculum and the curriculum designers include the need for native and non-native speakers attending public schools to learn about idioms. Curriculum designers realized that English speakers in various regions of the United States were not exposed to the same idioms. The lack of balance is no longer a problem since almost every state has adopted the new curriculum, so students in the United States will all have similar language instruction.

Sorry China

The fact that most languages have idioms can make it easier for some non-native speakers to understand the English idioms. Many idioms have similar figurative meanings. For example, most languages have an idiom like “It’s all Greek to me,” but with different confusing languages. The Greek language has a similar idiom: “It’s all Chinese to me”: Íne gia ména kinézika and almost all other languages use Chinese in their similar idioms.


3 thoughts on “The Challenges of Idiom in the English Language

  1. interesting!!! but I think as a foreign english speaker that idioms are useless yet we have the academic english which avoid using Idioms.

  2. Break A leg , It’s another Idiom which means ” Good Lùck ” , so Break a leg Dears 😉


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