Have you ever tried to learn new idioms? It’s a difficult process. Idioms are a strange part of every language. They seem to mean one thing, if you read them literally. However, they have a completely different meaning than they first appear. This makes it very hard to pick up new idiom phrases for English learners.
A major part of scoring a high band score on the IELTS speaking test is your ability to express yourself fluently in English. Candidates who can do this are comfortable discussing a wide variety of topics and can accurately insert English idioms and collocations into their answers.
However, idioms and collocations can be difficult for English learners to use because they require advanced knowledge of English usage. Frequently, learners turn to word lists to try and memorize these English phrases, but this approach is ineffective. An idiom is a common phrase with a figurative meaning. The phrase may mean one thing literally, but it will have a completely different figurative meaning.
The most effective way to learn idioms is through using them in your everyday speech. Work on Your Idioms by Sandra Anderson & Cheryl Pelteret gives learners the ability to both learn new idioms and practice using them in a simple, straightforward way.
The authors wrote this book with a tight focus. There are 25 sections each dealing with a specific category of idioms. Each entry begins with the idiom itself followed by the meaning. Next, there are example sentences of the idiom in use and notes on its usage and origin.
This is a focused presentation of idioms. There isn’t any unnecessary information given to the reader that would cause any confusion. It’s simple and straightforward. The book seeks to give you the information about each idiom and immediately set you to practicing.
Each idiom showcase is followed by practice exercises. These allow you to identify the situations where the idiom is commonly used. Every idiom introduced to you in the section will have an exercise associated with it. This way, you get a little practice with every idiom.
However, the most useful part of the book are the included “Your Turn!” sections. These are short exercises that ask you to write about topics in your daily life, while trying to include the idioms you learned in your answer.
In addition to the exercises, each unit contains a Your Turn! activity. These are designed to help you use the idioms to talk about your own ideas or experiences.Anderson, Sandra & Pelteret, Cheryl, Work on Your Idioms. Collins, 2014.
This takes the study from passive to active. These activities ask you to reflect on your own life in English and try to work idioms into your answers in a natural way. This is exactly the type of practice you want to be doing to acquire idioms naturally. You want your idiom usage to sound natural to other speakers of English. The best way to do this is by active practice. Simply reading about the idiom is not enough. It will go in one ear and out the other.
25 Categories of Idioms
The authors present just over 300 of the most common idioms in British & American English. This is more than enough for any learner. The book is split into 25 different sections dealing with different subjects.
- Knowledge and understanding
- Memory and mind
- Priorities and decision
- Help and encouragement
- Involvement and interest
- Starting and stopping
- Honesty and fairness
- Anger and irritation
- Fear and frustration
- Success and failure
- Trouble and difficulty
- Safety and risk
- Authority and control
- Limitations and restrictions
- Loving and liking
- Happiness and sadness
- Health, illness, and death
These are all 25 of the book’s section. They deal with the most common situations you can speak about in English. This gives the reader a wide variety of idioms they can incorporate into their speech. The tight, focused presentation of each subject also allows the reader to pick and choose which idioms are most relevant to them.
You don’t need to scour through the entire book and search every page for a specific idiom. The book’s sections make it easy to find specific idioms for a particular subject.
Contributing to this easy reference is the index. If you have a specific idiom in mind, you can consult the book’s index and immediately find information on that idiom. This makes the book useful for not only practice but reference as well.
Clear, In-Depth Discussion
Each entry for the book’s idioms are explained simply in one sentence. The authors include whether or not the idiom is considered formal as well. This is important information to know because you want to ensure you are addressing others with the proper formality when speaking to them.
The notes and examples included with each entry are invaluable. Due to the nature of idioms, it can be difficult to understand their usage. If you read an idiom literally it may mean one thing, but the underlying meaning might be completely different. The notes are useful for understanding why an idiom means what it does and the examples show you exactly how it is used.
The book’s appendix even includes a discussion on understanding idioms. It explains in-depth the way idioms are used and the reasons for their meanings. This is meant to help the reader grasp the different type of English idioms and more easily memorize them.
The book even includes tips for studying idioms. It presents useful ideas for the reader to implement effective idiom study into their daily life. It emphasizes context learning, which I think is very important for learning new vocabulary. If you want to know more about learning English in context, check out my article on the topic.
Plenty of Practice
By far the best part of this book is the practice. The authors included a wide variety of exercises including active writing activities. This ties the book together nicely and it’s fantastic to see its inclusion. The structure of Work on Your Idioms is what I look for in practice material. A book like this should include clear, simple, and straightforward information for the reader. After presenting the information, the book should give the reader an opportunity to practice.
This is vitally important for memorization. You will not remember anything you do not practice. Repetition is the mother of memory.
Included Answer Key
Many times authors neglect to include an answer key with their material. This may be because they intend for the book to be used in a classroom setting or perhaps for some other reason. Regardless of the author’s intent, this situation is incredibly frustrating and greatly diminishes the book’s usefulness for the reader.
Luckily, Work on Your Idioms includes a complete answer key for all the exercises included in it. This makes it trivial for the reader to check their understanding as they work on the material provided in the book.
Importance for IELTS
The IELTS speaking test evaluates your English speaking skills. Part of the examiner’s evaluation looks to see if you can use English idioms (to learn more about IELTS speaking expectations, check out my article here).
It’s difficult to learn new idioms without learning them with some context. Context is very important when learning new vocabulary. This is especially true when learning idioms. The meanings of idioms are not always clear. This makes it difficult to use new idioms while speaking or writing. You need to learn some additional background information to use idioms properly.
This is why I recommend this book to IELTS speaking candidates. This book introduces 300 of the most common English idioms and allows you to practice them immediately. It presents them in a clear and easily understood way.
This allows candidates to quickly become familiar with new idioms and have a chance to practice them. It isn’t a replacement for actual conversational experience, however. You should still be looking for opportunities to practice verbal English conversation to prepare for the test.
If you can find opportunities to practice using new idioms during conversation, you will find it a lot easier to remember them and use them in natural ways.
Overall, Work on Your Idioms is a fantastic book for the English learner who wants to know more about English idioms. It is a clearly written and well presented book which introduces idioms and allows readers to practice them.