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Thread: Idiom Frequency

  1. #1
    abra is offline Junior Member
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    Default Idiom Frequency

    This is a question to native speakers: have you heard a learner use idioms naturally?
    Are idioms doomed to remain part of a learner's 'passive' vocabulary, or can they be actually mastered to the extent that they begin to be used productively?

    Is there any guide to idiom 'frequency', so the non-native speaker teacher could know which idioms are used by ordinary people on a daily basis, and which rather belong to the realm of eloquence or creative writing?

    (this question was initially asked in the 'Advanced lessons' thread, but I was afraid it would be lost there - sorry, don't know whether I could just move it to the new thread)
    Thank you in advance,
    Elena

  2. #2
    MrPedantic is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: Idiom Frequency

    Hello Abra,

    My own opinion is that the more noticeable idioms are difficult for beginners to use actively in any language, because it is not easy to learn the contexts in which they are likely to occur without extensive exposure to the language.

    Caricatures of "foreigners" in fiction, etc. often include a misuse of idioms perhaps caricatures in your own first language too. Over-use of idioms can be another problem.

    But I think if you concentrate on learning to recognise and understand idioms in newspapers, magazines, etc., you will also gradually learn the contexts in which they are used, and develop an ear for them. So I would take a realistic but not pessimistic view.

    (Other members may have other opinions, of course!)

    All the best,

    MrP

    Not a professional ESL teacher.

  3. #3
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    blouen is offline Key Member
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    Default Re: Idiom Frequency

    This has always been controversial whether we use idioms or plainly formal English in our conversations with non-natives. Some, usually mediocre non-natives who find idiom-users pretentious and boastful, deem that learning idioms is unnecessary. They even give sarcastic comments and flattery to those devoted learners.

    So how could we make use of these idioms here in a country of people who shows great aversion to idioms?

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    Default Re: Idiom Frequency

    My colleagues from India and my Dutch-born sister-in-law both use idioms as naturally as I do -- granted they have been in an English-speaking country for many years.

    It's hard to think how people not immersed in an English-speaking country could use idioms easily, unless they listen to a LOT of English-language broadcasts and watch English-language TV.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Idiom Frequency

    You're absolutely right Barb. It's dead hard for us to use idioms naturally. Even here in my office where we have this EOP - English Only Policy, people are still averted to the use of idioms. Seldom do I see colleagues who spend time learning them and putting them in use. Having loved the art of English, I hate to hear people find it so odd to hear me (and a few colleagues) use idioms...

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    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: Idiom Frequency

    Mind you, Blouen, you are using 'dead hard' naturally.

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    MrPedantic is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: Idiom Frequency

    Another difficulty with idioms is congruity: if you mix idioms from different dialects or different registers, it can sound very odd.

    (I should have said in my first post: by "noticeable idioms", I mean those picturesque metaphorical phrases where the metaphor is still at least half-alive, e.g. "cut off your nose to spite your face".)

    MrP

    Not a professional ESL teacher.

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