Yoda-ese is pretty easy to interpret.
The title above comes out in your brain as: “So, hotshot, you think you’re ready; you have NO idea!”
It relays attitude, perspective, and a bit of acid wit.
Idioms are a bit like that.
Take this one for instance: “Pull yourself together.”
Depending on the tone, this could convey:
- “I’m so sorry you’re feeling this way.”
- “Take a moment before you act.”
- “Whatever you do, DON’T PUSH THAT BUTTON!”
Idioms are not idiotic, but they sound that way to foreigners.
We are all foreigners in some country.
Let’s flip it around
Imagine you’re in a grocery line in Paris. You overhear the couple in front of you:
Black-haired girl with dragon tattoo: “What are you going to do about that man who is blackmailing you?”
Sandy-blond dude with 3-day-old beard: “It’s not your problem; take care of your own onions.”
That’s what you get if you pop it into your translator, but what did the dude who could double as 007 really say?
They are speaking in French, and he said, “It’s not your problem; mind your own business.”
If you were a native French speaker, that would have made sense to you, onions and all, as, “Ce n’est pas ton problème, occupe-toi de tes oignons.”
If English is not your native tongue, but you are trying to make money writing in English, idioms can be especially perplexing.
Fortunately, the resources online are practically endless, and free.
I’ve researched and cut it down to four sites to share with you here.
The motivation to learn a language so that you sound like a native speaker, however, must come from you.
Become a Jedi of the English idiom
Here are four fantastic resources I’ve identified for immersing yourself in idioms and learning them in fun ways.
This link will take you to an alphabetical list with the idiom, it’s meaning, and another column telling you whether it is used ‘all by itself’ or within a sentence. They are not only working with idioms here, but also ‘expressions’ and ‘proverbs.’ It’s a wealth of straightforward info.
In the same vein, but where you can download a list of common idioms in the English language: Smart Words.
Here you can look up over 100 movies, and the site authors keep working on this and adding more.
I just tried looking up The Incredibles because I don’t think about how much idiomatic language there is in movies, and The Incredibles makes me laugh.
Download a guide with the main characters’ names and descriptions, a plot summary, and then this wonderful list of “some words and expressions that you may not know,” lovingly and clearly explained.
This particular guide is over 30 pages! And it finishes with some questions that test comprehension.
Awesome. I like reading it just to recall great moments in the movie.
#3 The ESL Café is rich with grammar lessons, quizzes, and help with pronunciation just to begin with. This link goes directly to the idioms page again, and just starting with “all right” in the “As” (another alphabetically organized list), I learned there are three ways to use “all right”, for example:
- as an expression of reluctant agreement.
- meaning fair; not particularly good
- or meaning unharmed; in satisfactory condition
Each one includes the usage in a two-line conversation. It’s helpful and has some expressions I didn’t find elsewhere.
#4 ESL Bits
This site isn’t particularly geared to idioms, but as I perused so many sites, this one drew me in and made me think how helpful it could be to a learner of English, so I’ve included it.
It includes an idiom section, but the site is more a stepping off point into grammar, usage, and more advanced learning.
This link takes you right to a page I was amazed by. You can listen at two speeds, read along, and hear speakers with different accents. These are real stories about real people. Get in on news, history, current events, hurtful and helpful things people do to/for each other.
On your way to learning idioms, you learn much more!
I can’t list all the sites I found researching this article, but I can’t resist this one where the choices of the speeds and dialects of English spoken are more varied than some.
If you’re a heavy-duty internet searcher, you might even run into delightful little posts like this one listing 24 Romanian sayings that clearly fit the definition of being idiomatic.
My problem isn’t ESL, though I do struggle with it some days.
My problems are: FSL, GSL, ISL or YSL. You can substitute ANY other language: French (tongue-tied), German (can’t do the Rs in the back of my throat), Italian (okay when I’m singing it), Yoruba (Chinese).
I’m not trying to write for billboards in Paris; I wouldn’t think of it.
But if my livelihood depended on it, I’d be studying French idioms until I could hear them in my head at night. I’d read them until I could speak them out loud with confidence. I’d practice them until I could write them down as effortlessly as I do in English.
“S’occuper de ses oignons.” Remember the literal translation?
“To take care of one’s onions. “And it means, “Mind your own business.”
…Will wonders never cease.
Have any sites you have found that you find super helpful? Share them in the comments!
Kate Casper is a writer, teacher and copyeditor who would love to help you with your writing. Follow her lead to receive Weekly Writing Tips and inspiration. Polish your writing and marketing skills, and earn money as you grow. KateCasper.com