|Idioms, set phrases, proverbs and slang in foreign language learning|
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Madeleine Albright, when negotiating with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, remarked that he spoke ‘idiomatic English’. In her mind, this seems to be the highest stage of fluency once can reach. Of course speaking with no accent is nice, but there is just no substitute for the richness and color idioms bring to the language.
Idioms are used to conjure a vivid share mental image that sums up a situation under discussion. It emphasizes a shared conception of an archetypical situation. This is akin to shared memories amongst relatives or private jokes amongst friends. For instance, you may say that the train was on time, but if you say that the train was dead on time, this is a stronger expression.
You need to learn and use idioms as soon as you can. Idioms are fun, and they are a source of constant amusement as you progress in your language learning. They are an essential component of functional fluency. The more you use them, the closer your interlocutors will feel to you.
Idioms can be very rude. You need to know what speech register they belong to before using them. If a British gentleman is indecisive, you could tell him ‘Fish or cut bait’ but also ‘Shit or get off the pot’. Both are fine idioms of the English language, but they belong to different speech register. Say the wrong one and you’ll get kicked out in no time.
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