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Idioms for English Language Learners

Updated on May 22, 2011

Learning English can be challenging enough for someone from another country. Quite often, English is not the primary language spoken at home and many ESL (English as a second language) students are often exposed to comical idioms and expressions that just make no sense to them whatsoever! I believe it is necessary to include lessons on idiomatic expressions for all grade levels. This hub is not a lesson plan, but just a listing of some of the more perplexing idioms some of my students have encountered and the meanings that have made sense for them.

  1. Skate on thin ice - to take a big chance; to take a risk of suffering negative consequensces.


  2. Let the cat out of the bag - to give away a secret.
  3. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. - People can be encouraged, but you can't force them to do something.
  4. Read between the lines - to know or discern the true or hidden meaning of a fact in actions or documents.
  5. More than one way to skin a cat - there are several different ways to reach the same goal or solve a problem.
  6. If the shoe fits, wear it - if a statement applies to you, you should admit that it is true.
  7. Watched pot never boils - when you are anxious or impatient for something to happen, it takes longer.
  8. Ring a bell - something sounds familiar or comes to mind.
  9. Put your best foot forward - make the best attempt possible.
  10. Out of the woods - out of danger or trouble.





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    • Catlyn profile image

      Catlyn 6 years ago from Somewhere in the OC

      Heinz ~ Thanks so much for taking the time to read and respond. I appreciate your input and hope to read some of your Hubs in the future.

    • profile image

      Heinz Steinbrenner 6 years ago

      In German, there is "die Sau rauslassen" (lit.: "to let the sow out") which means "to paint the town (red)", "to party hard", "to get wild" etc.

      And there is "die Katze aus dem Sack lassen" (lit.: "to let the cat out of the bag") which means the same as in English, "to (finally) reveal a secret". I have never heard "to let the pig out of the bag" (lit.: "das Schwein aus dem Sack lassen") in German.

    • Catlyn profile image

      Catlyn 9 years ago from Somewhere in the OC

      Thanks for sharing Tom! Hmm, how would "let the pig out of the bag" in German?

    • profile image

      Tom Kay 9 years ago

      From memory the Germans say 'to let the pig out of the bag'.

      Funny how national differences can affect the same idiom!

      Idioms and articles seem to prove the most difficult (or least easy depending on your outlook) for those studying English as a second language.

      Idioms are great!