“Show Your True Colors” Language Learning Fun With Idioms

Language Learning Fun With Idioms, Multicultural Kid Blogs

Idioms are a great way to have some language learning fun. In this article, we learn about idioms and explore fun idiom activities in the classroom and at home.

What is an Idiom?

An idiom is a phrase with an underlying meaning that’s generally agreed upon by a large group of people. This meaning can’t be understood by knowing the words alone. The easiest way to recognize idioms is by looking at a few familiar examples.

breath of fresh air

In the US, some common English language idioms are:

  • A breath of fresh air
  • A piece of cake
  • Over the moon
  • When pigs fly

The meanings of these phrases are obvious to a native English speaker in the US because they’ve been heard in context many times. However, these phrases are indeed idioms because they have meanings that are more than the sum of their words.

If you look up popular idioms from other cultures, it’s easy to see that their meanings are also not discernible from the words alone. For example, it wouldn’t be obvious that the Russian phrase “to hang noodles on someone’s ears” means you are fooling them.

Idioms Are Important For Language Learners – And Fun!

Golden Opportunity Hmong, Fun with Idioms

Learning a new language is no “walk in the park!” You may find yourself so focused on vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar, that you’re hesitant to add any more work. But idioms are an important part of language learning, too.

Every language and culture has thousands (maybe even tens of thousands) of idioms. This means that there’s a significant amount of casual communication conducted by way of idioms.

Without lessons in local idioms, communicating effectively is going to be more difficult. Plus, learning idioms is one of the most fun parts of learning a new language! 

Fun With Idioms: Teaching Tips

Start by choosing a handful of idioms to explore with your language learners. Make your choices based on the most likely social scenarios they will find themselves in, depending on their age and development level.

Make lessons fun by using idioms in sample sentences, and asking students to guess their meanings from their context. You may want to include pictures that illustrate when and how the idioms would be used.

Remember to have students practice how to use each idiom properly since this type of communication can be very nuanced. It’s best to teach idioms verbally, and have students practice by role-playing.

Learning Idioms In Diverse Classrooms

Once in a Blue Moon Burmese, Fun with Idioms

Learning idioms is a great way to celebrate diversity and bring multicultural learning to a classroom. It also helps students get a better sense of the history and spirit of a community.

It’s also an enjoyable way to enhance the school-home connection. Students can ask their parents for strange or amusing idioms in their home languages to share with the class. Classmates can try to guess the meanings, or match each idiom with its meaning.

Another fun activity for younger students is making drawings that illustrate their favorite idioms for their classmates to guess.

Or, try comparing and contrasting idioms in different languages. Some examples:

Icing On The Cake

In English, a special finishing touch is ‘’icing on the cake,” whereas in Spanish it would be called the “cherry on the cake”.

Feeling Blue

In English, a sad person may “have the blues,” but in French, that person would “have the cockroach.”

down to earth

In English, a practical person is “down to earth,” and in Spanish, that person would be described as having their “feet on the earth”.

For more fun learning English idioms in a multicultural setting, check out the Language Lizard Idiom Series, which makes use of clever illustrations representing characters and settings around the world. 

What are the strangest or most amusing idioms you’ve heard in any language? Comment and tell us about them below!


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Anneke Forzani founded Language Lizard (www.LanguageLizard.com) to provide educators, librarians, and parents with resources that develop literacy skills among English Language Learners, build inclusive classrooms, and celebrate cultural diversity. Language Lizard offers bilingual books in over 50 languages, multilingual audio resources, multicultural posters, and free lesson plans to support multicultural classrooms. The company also runs a blog (blog.languagelizard.com) for parents and teachers working with language learners and culturally diverse students. Anneke is the author of Building Bridges with Bilingual Books and Multicultural Resources (a manual to support culturally responsive teaching) and With Flying Colors: Color Idioms (a multicultural idiom book).
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