Many nonnative English speakers are challenged by idioms and figurative language despite a high degree of proficiency with regard to grammar, stress and intonation, pronunciation and other aspects of communication. It is apparent that the “mastery” of English has to include this essential skill. There are literally thousands of idiomatic expressions in common use. It is not possible to memorize them all. Besides, memorization doesn’t often translate into practical use. We need to remind our students/clients to ask for clarification when they have trouble understanding figurative language.
Let's look at the following examples to see if you or your students understand the figurative meaning.
Have fun and “break a leg!” Circle the letter that defines the underlined idiomatic expression:
1. Go ahead and tell me, I am all ears. a. I am Jimmy Durante’s relative b. I have intense hearing acuity c. I am interested in listening to you d. I just had my ears pierced
2. Can you believe it? I am all thumbs this morning! a. very coordinated b. very clumsy c. learning how to become ambidextrous d. working with an occupational therapist
3. That's like comparing apples and oranges. a. going fruit shopping b. looking for similarities between two different types of things c. being totally confused d. a vegetarian
4. Let’s go back to square one. a. home b. play chess or checkers now c. start over d. move to another location
5. Please don’t barge in. a. interrupt b. make me go on a boat c. push so hard d. put so many people in one room
Answers: c, b, b, c, a
1. All ears means eager to listen. “ You said you weren’t feeling well. Tell me what is bothering you. I am all ears." You can make your own sentence using the correct usage of “all ears.”
2. All thumbs means clumsy. " I tried to insert the needle, but I was all thumbs." Make up your own sentence using the correct usage of “all thumbs.”
3. Comparing apples and oranges means comparing two completely different entities. “That’s ridiculous. Now you are comparing apples and oranges." Make up your own sentence using the correct usage of “apples and oranges.”
4. Back to square one means starting over. “This procedure isn’t going to work. We have to go back to square one.” Make up your own sentence using the correct usage of “back to square one.”
5. (To) barge in means to intrude. “Why did you barge in when I was having a private conversation? Make up your own sentence using the correct usage of “barge in.”
Now practice using these idioms in your daily conversation. To learn more idioms, check out Medically Speaking Idioms.