Published 26th March 2018

useful idioms for EFl learners

Idiomatic language is a big part of English. A lot of what we say does not actually mean what we say (!), which means that it’s really important for our students to be able to identify and understand idioms and figurative language. We’ve spoken before about this and we’ve given you a list of a few of what we consider our most useful idioms to learn (and so to teach) but due to the sheer volume of idioms our learners are likely to be exposed to, we thought we’d add a few more to your repertoire. Today we’re going to look at idioms related to language and learning.

Useful idioms to teach in the EFL classroom

To pass with flying colours – to pass a test with the best possible marks

A piece of cake – used to describe something that is very easy to do

To know or learn something off by heart – to be able to recite something, usually a poem or song, from memory

To be a bookworm – someone who loves reading

To learn a lesson – to understand something because of a bad experience

To teach someone a lesson – to punish someone as a way of preventing them from doing something again

How to teach idioms in the EFL classroom

As we said before, it’s best to teach idioms in a related set or in context rather than in an unrelated clump. If you’re discussing education in your coursebook, for example, then you could spend some time looking at these idioms. This is best done at the beginning of a learning unit so that the learners will have opportunities throughout the rest of the unit to put them into use.

Instead of teaching idioms related by topic, such as education, you could also teach idioms which are related by language item. For example, you could teach idioms which incorporate animals:

To let the cat out of the bag – to tell a secret

To be pig-headed – to be stubbo

To go cold turkey – to quit something completely, for example smoking

Wouldn’t hurt a fly – used to describe someone who is not at all aggressive

To be a guinea pig – to be a test subject for something, to be the first person to do or try something

or body parts:

To cost an arm and a leg – to be really expensive

To give someone the cold shoulder – to ignore someone

To play it by ear – to do something without planning

To be a pain in the neck – used to describe someone who is annoying

Behind someone’s back – to do something without someone knowing

Even though these idioms can be used in a range of contexts and situations, they are still connected and can be easy to remember as a group. As with any and all language, once you have focused on the idioms in terms of meaning and form, make sure there is plenty of time for practise and revision activities.