Why are Idioms Difficult for ESL Learners to Understand?

The best place to begin understanding idioms is to look at the origin of an idiom.

Bang for the buck, is an idiom that reflects the amount of value you can get for the amount of dollars you have shelled out. The same bang (item) for less money would be the typical approach when shopping for the identical items. Going to five different stores for the identical item might yield five different prices. If you purchased and paid the least amount of money possible, you have gotten the most bang for the buck possible for that item. The “bang” is a metaphor for reward, return, value or best priced item. The “buck” is the dollar amount paid.

Imagine a very large firecracker you purchased for $ 1.00 and a small firecracker that you paid the same amount. When you light the fuse on the larger one, that bang (sound) is just, ok. Next, you light the smaller firecracker and to your surprise, the sound is amazingly loud. The best bang for the buck is the smaller firecracker. After all, you are looking for the loudest noise when you are buying firecrackers and is irrelevant to size. Remember, dynamite comes is small packages!

Why do we call the United State Dollar a buck? Back in the history of the US when the territories were being settled it was common place for the settlers to hunt deer, caribou, elk … etc. They would eat the meat and use the skin or hide of the animal for making clothing and blankets to protect themselves from the weather elements such as rain, snow and the bitter cold. So why the buck? Buck is the name of a male deer. The settlers that needed supplies like bullets, gun powder, boots, services and anything else they were unable to make themselves, had to be purchased or traded for. Since there was not a standard currency available in the most remote regions of settlement territories, settlers would trade buck skins (animal skins) as a form of payment or barter. The trading post would then ship the skins and furs back to the East coast of the US for use in manufacturing items for retail purchase.

Understanding the above is an example why Native speakers understand idioms. Through the educational system and acquisition at a young age, makes idioms a piece of cake. This type of background information is what we’ve learned growing up and makes for a natural foundation in understand metaphoric and term meaning when using idioms. I do not ever remember learning about idioms in school, but instead by learning through acquisition.Teachers never asked us to remember the numerous idioms. Idioms were learned by hearing adults use them. It goes full circle as my example mentioned above. If you have an expanded vocabulary you can more easily navigate idioms and comprehend the context of use, however the metaphoric meaning use can trip up even advanced learners.

I think the most daunting task for ESL learners is not to get stuck on an unfamiliar idiom expression during a conversation or when reading. Allow it to go over your head to get past the idiomatic word or expression and understand the context for communication of its global meaning. Try reading between the lines, it has been my experience in the classroom that most student have a sixth sense of whether something expressed is negative, positive, personal, spoken in jest or in being serious.

Example; if an American is smiling and or laughing then it is not to be taken as serious and anything spoken, I mean anything is posed with the intent of humor or maybe pulling ones leg.

The disadvantage to English learners is that as native speakers, we discount idioms as anything other than normal communication, since we have had a lifetime of practicing them. At the same time we can communicate without them, it’s our language’s bread and butter. We sometimes find that people who do not use them as perhaps tip toing through a minefield in hopes of not hurting themselves by an idiom exploding out of their mouth. Well it is hard to do and very boring for the person having to listen to the black and white noise of such a colorful language. Idioms are about timing and appropriation. If students try to use them incorrectly and or too often, then it can be conveyed as a form of shtick.

ESl learners have to realize that you can ask your instructor to teach you all the possible idioms recorded throughout history. It is better to put the ball in his court by asking your instructor to use the common idioms at every opportunity during lessons and conversations in and outside the classroom. This will give students a chance to look past an idiom and draw their own conclusion about its relation to context. Students should out of the blue ask their instructor the meaning of the expression and what similar idioms can be used in place of the topic expression. American idioms are a dime a dozen with several idioms that mean the something can be interchanged, e.g. … busy as a bee, busy as a beaver, working like a dog or working your butt off … etc.

Most importantly while you have spent an arm and a leg on a crash course  learning and improving your English skills. Try and practice speaking English at every opportunity in and outside of the classroom. If you bolt out of the classroom and revert to the use of your native language for communication, sooner or later you will realize missed opportunities to refine your skills taught in the classroom and one less chance for a feather in your cap. Students need to go all in and immerse themselves in English to get a return on their language investment.

How to Deal with Issues of Culture Shyness in an ESL Classroom?

We find it hard to believe that some ESL students wanting to learn English have issues with not wanting to speak in a classroom with other students present for the same purpose. If you are coming from a shy spoken Asian culture, you can afford to become outspoken or  go outside of your comfort zone in order to become effective with English.

English is in no way a shyly spoken language. English is about using many directions to send the same message. There are no limits when speaking English amongst friends. After that you may want to filter your usage or go about the message in a different way that is less direct or more mannered.

Most American English conversations are filled with idioms, antidotes, metaphors, sarcasm and yet can be very direct all in the same breath. Americans love this type of innuendo shtick! It’s our litmus test of sorts. The test is this can you follow or maybe lead an important conversation. Sometimes deal or no deal.

The Brits can be just as sharp tonged as Americans, but disguise it best with their exclusive form of fouter. Remember the Brits started English, but it’s who sends the precise message with the bigger stick on the table that is communicating the most effectively.

So why not jump into English?  Set your goal to lead English conversations instead of just following conversations.  Learn with understanding why it is the largest and fastest growing language in the world. I would say that the future is in knowing at least two languages and English proficiency being the most important in one’s future. There is nothing more impressive than going to another country and having full understanding of its language, it tells you everything about a culture’s goals, values, and future.

Please give us your opinions, thoughts and feedback, so everyone can benefit. If you are from a “Shy Culture” here’s your chance to shatter the mold!

Why do English Learners need IELTS, TOEFL and TOEIC preparation and what is an effective preparation curriculum?

International English Language Testing System (IELTS), Testing of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), and Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) success are needed by ESL students for several reasons.

Some students are wanting high score certifications for continued education in English speaking countries. The higher the score the more choices you have as far as a university’s given minimal requirements. Students planning to continue their education in the USA will also undergo the SAT test or an equivalent test for general knowledge leveling before entering a university.

Students that want to work in and English speaking country need one of the mentioned certifications for immigration requirements as well as working permit. Again the higher the certified score the more marketable you are, it can also be a negotiation point for better pay and future advancement within the organization.

Just to immigrate to some English speaking countries will require a minimal English competency. Different counties have their own specific requirements for English competency.

TOEIC has two parts Listening/Reading and Speaking/Writing you can take one or both parts depending on your reason(s) for needing it and the requirements of the English speaking country such as Canada’s immigration requirements.

The best all-around test is the IELTS and TOEFL four part English certification examination. These tests include the four areas of English skills: listening, reading, speaking and writing. Anybody going to an English language country and expecting to prosper academically or as part of the work force should realize the importance of all the skills involved with the language. If you’re not sure of your exact plans and want to get a head start in any future that involves migrating to an English speaking country, I would suggest the Cambridge IELTS or iTB TOEFL preparation programs. Plan to get the highest band score possible. These certification exams are not cheap and are valid for two years.

This is just a general answer to why students need these certified test. Go anywhere online to find your exact answer or ask your question here and I will research the best answer for you.

Jay Odell

Why do ESL schools in the Philippines insist in offering 1 on 1 courses as part of the curriculum?

We feel native English speaking teachers in the classroom is most important when navigating and improving English skills. One on one classes are only for special needs students and should be short term and instructed by a native speaker. Local English spoken by Filipinos is at best upper beginner level. The relevance of their conversational skills has little to do with the content and active parts of speech that you find in the US, Canada, UK and other English Speaking countries.

So, why do most ESL schools in the Philippines insist in 1 on 1 courses with a Filipino “teacher?” There are several reasons in using this strategy:

  1. The School heads are by local law required to be a native Filipino.
  2. Most ESL schools in the Philippines are owned by non-English speaking owners that rely on the Filipino school head to provide and hire teachers because the owner’s English skills are less than the school head.
  3. By hiring at least ten Filipino employees the owners are eligible for free G9 status in terms of immigration. Meaning the owners are allowed to stay in the Philippines for free.
  4. Filipino’s rate of pay is far less than a Native English Speaking Instructor.
  5. Most often the Filipinos hired, are college nursing students or graduates that work for very little money (60 – 90 pesos per hour). In fact, in order for Filipino nurses to work in an English speaking country, they have to pass the IELTS exams with a 7 or better band score in the four English skills of listening, reading, speaking and writing. So, the conclusion can be made that if a nursing student or graduate is teaching English to persons as a second language, it is inferior English the student is learning.
  6. Native English speaking teachers earn 250 – 400 pesos per hour, making it ineffective for owners to offer Native English 1 on 1 courses. This means no large salaries for the owners.
  7. Also, the Philippine education from day one of elementary school has a stronger emphasis on singing and dancing rather than relevant education and English language skills. This gives the owners a staff that is willing to sing and dance at the Christmas party and perform skits at graduation.

Given all of the above facts about 1 on 1 English with a Filipino “teacher”, who do you think is the big winner or the big loser?

Is it the Filipino “teacher”, the foreign owners who themselves are using English as a second language or the student that is paying the least amount of money for the least amount of English education?

What is ESL?

It stands for English as a Second Language (ESL). It is the use or study of English by speakers with different native languages which is commonly known as second language learners or L2

English is a language which has great reach and influence; it is taught all over the world under many different circumstances. In English-speaking countries, the English language teaching has essentially evolved in two broad directions: instruction for people who intend to live there and for those who do not. These divisions have grown firmer as the instructors of these two “industries” have used different terminology, followed distinct training qualifications, formed separate professional associations, and so on.

Crucially, these data:text/mce-internal,two arms have very different funding structures, public in the former and private in the latter, and to some extent this influences the way schools are established and classes are held. Matters are further complicated by the fact that the United States and the United Kingdom, both major engines of the language, describe these categories in different terms: as many British observers have had attributed to them, the saying goes that “England and America are two countries divided by a common language.”

Cited from: http://en.wikipedia.org