English Language Lessons

Tips and training suggestions for learning English as a foreign language.

Idioms in the Wall Street Journal- A Sampling

Posted by englishlessons on November 18, 2011

Idioms* like “make waves” and “a long shot” are used frequently in English. Tracking idioms in news sources like the Wall Street Journal shows how often they are used and how important understanding idioms is to understanding the meaning in English. A quick survey of just three articles in the Wall Street Journal on a recent Tuesday yielded a total of twenty-six idioms. These ranged from phrasal verbs, like “pin down” to idioms like “bridle at something.”

For non-native speakers of English, idioms can be challenging. It can be very difficult to “catch” the idioms in spoken English if they are new for you. You may hear the surrounding words, but miss the idiom itself. It is usually easier to track idioms in writing as you have the option of reviewing the text. Once you identify an idiom, your next task is to understand it. Sometimes, you can guess the meaning of an idiom from the context in which it is used. You can also check the meaning by typing it into an online search engine along with the word “idiom.”

Using idioms correctly can break down assumptions native speakers make about a learner’s lack of competence in English because of mistakes in grammar or pronunciation. A student told me a story about using an idiom in a job interview in Silicon Valley, Ca. He had struggled in the past in interviews because of his accent. During this interview he told the interviewer that he was creative and knew how to “think out of the box.” He sensed a shift in the conversation and felt that using this idiom effectively had made a difference in how the interviewer saw him. At the end of the interview, he got a job offer.

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*An idiom is a group of words with a special meaning of its own that is not clear from the meanings of the individual words.

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