The nuts and bolts of English idioms

Learner Stories

Do you ever get tied up in knots trying to wrap your head around the English language?

Idioms can cause some confusion when you are learning a new language. This is what happened to English Language Partners’ learner Kate Garnyk when she embarked on her English language journey two years ago. Back then she was living in her home country Russia, working as a graphic designer and illustrator. During lockdown, she decided to connect, through online communities, with native English speakers from England, Scotland, Ireland and the US.

When she started communicating with her new friends, she realised that learning a language goes hand in hand with learning the culture. Kate says, “Knowing a language deeper, you understand people better.” Soon idioms came up in conversations and caused a lot of hilarity because they were difficult to explain, which made her laugh.

“Humour comes up when mistakes happen."

The first idiom she came across was 'Down to earth'. “These steps of making jokes with my friends is when I started drawing them. It is easier as a designer and illustrator for me to put my thoughts into a picture.”

With no intention of making a book about English idioms, Kate just started drawing random pictures to explain a phrase, and found the concept of idioms very interesting. They usually don't mean exactly what they say, but can accidentally be taken literally by someone who doesn't know any better.

Moving across the world inspires a new book

Kate moved to New Zealand with her family and wondered what to do with all her illustrations.

She landed on the idea to publish them as a book. The publishing process is not entirely new to Kate – she published two children’s books when she was living in Moscow – but now she had to go through the process in English. Fortunately, a lot of people helped her proof-read the idioms before the book was published.

When Kate moved to Nelson, she walked past the English Language Partners' centre and saw the different language courses on offer. She enrolled in two classes, Speaking and Listening and Upper Intermediate Online. Studying speaking and listening in class helped her build confidence in communicating with people in daily life situations. After finishing the courses, she continued to learn English through self-study.

“It gives me direction in the studying process and encourages to move further. It is a nice feeling to know that I’m not alone in this bendy way of mastering the English language.”

Yes, it takes patience putting on your thinking cap to learn a new language. Kate had a similar experience illustrating her favourite idiom - That is the last straw - which took her several approaches until she nailed it. “It was my little win that I put together two meanings in quite a clear form.”

Now, let’s no longer beat around the bush. If you would like to learn more about English idioms, you can purchase Kate’s book either locally in Nelson at the Cultural Conversations shop or order a copy in your local book shop soon (ISBN 978-0-473-68531-7).

Meanwhile, if you live in Nelson, be sure to visit Kate’s exhibition this month for a giggle about Kiwi slang in the Nelson library.

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