Tag Archives: English

Top 5- Commonly Used English Idioms

Living in China,I’ve had many Chinese people ask me about English idioms that I’ve never heard of and some that aren’t typically used these days.  Its tough to come up with a list of only 5, but I thought I’d start off with a list of my Top 5 Commonly Used English Idioms.  This is not a scientific list of the most frequently used idioms, but a list of some idioms that I hear and say often.  There are many more idioms out there so feel free to list your favorites in the comments!

You can’t judge a book by its cover – This means that people or things don’t always turn out to be the same as your expectations based on appearance.  I often use this when someone or something turns out to be different from my first impression based on how it looks.  You can say this when food tastes better than it looks or even when it tastes worse than it looks!  If someone looks very friendly and turns out to be mean, or if someone looks mean and turns out to be friendly, this is a common idiom that you can use.

Hit the nail on the head – This is an expression you can use when something is absolutely correct.  “You/He/She hit the nail on the head” is commonly said when a person says something that is exactly right.  When you ask someone a question that they get right, you can say, “You hit the nail on the head!”

Have eyes bigger than one’s stomach- This is something that you can say to someone that thinks they can eat more food than they can.  If you go to dinner and order five dishes for yourself, and can only eat one or two, someone may tell you that “your eyes are bigger than your stomach!”

Jump on the bandwagon- This is something that you say when someone likes something only because it’s popular.  It’s commonly used in sports when someone starts supporting a team or athlete when they start winning.  Another example is if your friend starts listening to Justin Bieber because everyone else does, you can say “He/She jumped on the Justin Bieber bandwagon!”

Once in a blue moon – A blue moon is the name of the second full moon that appears in a month, it happens once every couple years, so it is a rare event.  To say something happens “once in a blue moon” means that it is very uncommon.  For example, if you rarely go to the movie theater, you can say, “Once in a blue moon, I go to the movies.”

Electronic Dictionaries: help or harm?

I first came to Shanghai, China in February 2011 without knowing a single word of Mandarin Chinese. Before I got here, my friends told me that Shanghai was a big cosmopolitan metropolis where people were used to speaking at least English and Mandarin Chinese. However, it wasn’t until I got off the airplane that I finally understood that I was in ANOTHER country with a completely different language and culture, thousands of miles away from home. I was terrified.

Wise words can be fuzzyCreative Commons License Kevin Dooley via Compfight

Breaking down the language barrier is definitely the most difficult thing I have had to overcome here in China, because it’s not only about learning and memorizing grammar rules and new words. It’s also about understanding why things are said, as well as when, with whom, and how they are said. I guess it’s the same for every language you learn, right? But, with learning Chinese there is a difference: there are thousands of characters! 

Studying a language that uses characters is extremely confusing at first. When many of us grow up, we learn that “a” is “a”, “b” is “b”, etc. We give each and every single letter a phonetic value that stays the same even if we study other languages such as French, Italian, Spanish, even German or Norwegian (although their alphabets include a few different letters).

In my first Chinese class, my head almost blew up when I was told that “你” is pronounced “nǐ”. After a lifetime using an alphabet, I was now going to learn to read what I thought were “drawings”. That was when I was introduced to the world of the electronic dictionaries. When I started my Chinese class, I felt like an outcast because most of my classmates had at least a dictionary app on their mobile devices and were using it to follow the class. Meanwhile, I was still carrying around a cumbersome Chinese – English dictionary.

Slowly but surely, I decided to put aside my “chubby” friend and explore these amazing tools until, finally, I got used to them. What I came to realize as time passed by is that most students rely completely on these devices or apps for everything when they are learning a new language, Chinese in this case. I remember most of my classmates were scared of speaking Chinese without consulting with their Electronic Dictionaries first.

So my question is: Are Electronic Dictionaries harmful or helpful to a language learner? 

Personally I believe that it all depends on the user. It is true that these devices are programmed to support many languages, many words, and many sentences; but, what they are missing is the “human” factor which is nothing more than the real situations of daily life and the interaction with other people.

Electronic Dictionaries make literal translations, therefore they will translate “¿qué onda?” (Spanish) as “what wave?”, because that is the direct translation.

  • qué = what
  • onda = wave 

However, “¿qué onda?” is a very common phrase we use in Spanish to say “what’s up?”.

Dependency on these machines is inversely proportional to the confidence the language learner has with their own language skills. In other words, if the fear of mispronouncing a word or phrase or writing them incorrectly is never overcome, the fluency with the language will depend on the usage of the device.

Electronic Dictionaries are helpful if they are used as a studying tool, but become harmful once our communication skills depend on them.

universal thank you noteCreative Commons License woodleywonderworks via Compfight

Don’t get me wrong, I still use my dictionary app when I don’t know a word I hear or see on a sign and will probably use it forever because, the truth is that we will never stop learning new things about a language. That’s the beauty of it!