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USING IDIOMS IN ENGLISH TEACHING
作者:李正国    文章来源:本站原创    点击数:    更新时间:2010-11-1             ★★★   【字体:

Summary: This article deals with the uses of idioms in English teaching. It discusses some ways using idioms in the teaching of new words, patterns and grammatical rules and the importance of using idioms in moral education. And it discusses the importance of learning idioms.

 

Key words: idioms; English teaching.

 

It is an issue for us, most of the English teachers, to probe for so long how to arouse the studying enthusiasm of the students to let them better understand and memorize, in English learning, the different uses of new words, sentence patterns and grammatical rules. In this aspect we have some useful experience. That is using idioms in the English teaching. For example, once when explaining the uses of the word “trouble”, using as both a verb and a noun, we used the idiom “Never/Don’t trouble trouble until trouble troubles you.” All the students were much interested in the idiom and they all at once knew the different parts of the speech of the word “trouble”. They said, “It is very interesting that the word ‘trouble’ in the idiom uses as first a verb, then a noun, a noun and finally a verb.” Since then we have been paying more attention to using as many English idioms as we can, in our teaching, to get better result with less effort.

An English idiom, “salt in a language”, is a group of words with a special meaning different from the meaning of its constituent words. It is characterized by its succinct language, interesting expression and rich rhyme and by, grammatically, its semantic unity and its structural stability. When they are read, they can all be recited quite fluently and after they are read, they can all also be pondered over endlessly. All this can, psychologically, interest students’ minds and make them memorize easily the idioms and the uses of the words in the idioms. Also, though idioms are usually semantically opaque, that is, metaphorical rather than literal, idioms are rich in philosophical truth and they are excellent materials in moral lessons. It is in English teaching that moral education resides. They can help improve students’ understanding and ideological level. For example, the famous saying “Not ask what the country can do for you. Ask what you can do for the country.” can encourage all the students to love their country and willing to do everything they can for their country.

Some ways of using idioms in English teaching are as following:

(A) Using idioms in the teaching of new words:

When new words are taught, classes are often made lively and interesting if the teaching is combined with some idioms. It can accelerate students’ understanding and memory to the new words. Such as

(a)             when the new word “perfect” is being taught, we can use the idiom “Practice makes perfect.” and let the students know that it means “shu neng sheng qiao.” in Chinese. So the next time when the new word “practice” is taught, all the students can think quickly of the idiom “Practice makes perfect.” if they are asked “How to say the Chinese saying ‘shu neng sheng qiao’ in English?” and certainly know that the word “practice” is a noun if they learn the idiom by heart. It is the work getting twice the result with half the effort.                       

(b)             the idiom “Strike while the iron is hot.” can be introduced if the new word “strike” is taught to students. We let students know that it means “Seize opportunities in time.” or “Act promptly while action is likely to get results.” and then let them know that it is also means “chen re da tie.” in Chinese. Then the students will see that the new word “strike” can be used as a verb. Of course we will use some other idioms, such as “go(come) out on strike”, “a general strike” and “strike-leader”, in order to let the students know that it can also be used as a noun.                                                                                                                                            (c)  we use the idioms both “Respect yourself, or no one else will respect you.” and “He who respect others is constantly respected.” when the word “respect” is taught.

(B)  Using idioms in the teaching of sentence patterns:

In this way some fixed structure in some patterns can be easily understand and some mistakes that Chinese students can easily make can be reduced. Such as

(a) when the adverbial clause “Where there is too much noise around us, …” is taught, we use such idioms as “Where there is a will, there is a way.” “Where there is no good within, no good comes out.” and “Where there’s reek, there’s heat.” All the idioms includes the clause “where…”

(b) we can use the idioms both “All is not gold that glitters.” and “All are not friends that speak us fair.” to let students learn the meaning of the phrase “not all” in the patterns that mean partial negative. We also use the idiom “All time is no time when it is past.” to educate students not to waste any time possible to study.

(B) Using idioms in the teaching of grammatical rules:

(a) We use the following idioms when teaching the sentence “It’s no use doing something.”

(1) It’s no use crying over spilt milk. (Or: There’s no use crying over spilt milk.)

(2) It’s no use pumping a dry well.

(b) The following idioms can be used when the cleft sentence “It is …that (who)…” is taught:

(1) It is a blind silly goose that comes to the fox’s sermon.

(2) It is a foolish sheep that makes the wolf his confessor.

(3) It is a long lane that has no turning.

(4) It is an ill bird that fouls its own nest.

(5) It is dogged that does it.

(6) It is the first step that costs.

We use so many idioms that we can make students use the pattern fluently.

The last two idioms are especially useful because they are separately equal to the two Chinese old sayings “shi shang wu nan shi, zhi pa you xin ren.” and “wan shi qi tou nan.”

(c) We also use idioms in the teaching of participles used as attributives:

(1) Let sleeping dogs lie. (The present participle “sleeping” in the idiom is used as an attributive, modifying the noun “dogs”.)

(2) A drowning man will catch at a straw. (The “drowning” is also used as an attributive.)

(3) The rotten apple injures its neighbors. (The past participle “rotten’ is used as an attributive, modifying the word “apple”.)

(4) Lost time is never found again. (The word “lost” is also used as an attributive. The idiom means “shi jian yi qi bu fu fan.” in Chinese.)

And we can find a participle in each of the following idioms:

(5) No living man all things can.

(6) Once bit/bitten twice shy.

(7) Wit once bought is worth twice taught.

(8) Nature is the glass reflecting truth.

(9) Constant dropping wears the stone. (It means “di shui chuan shi.” in Chinese.)  

(B)  Using idioms in the moral lessons:

English idioms are rich in philosophical truth in many ways and they are excellent materials for moral education. In many countries in the world, many moral standards are similar, or almost the same. For instance:

(a) in the aspect educating everyone in the importance of making good use of precious time and of working hard:

(1) Time is money.

(2) Time past cannot be called back again.

(3) Time and tide waits no man.

(4) What youth is used to, age remembers.

(5) When an opportunity is neglected, it never comes back to you.

(6) Wisdom is better than gold or silver.

(7) Yesterday will not be called again.

(8) One is never too old to learn.

(9) ……  

(b) in the truth that time will try everything:

(1) Time tries all.

(2) Time tries truth.

(3) Time cures all things.

(4) Truth is the daughter of time.

(5) ……  

(c) in the aspect of virtues:

(1) Virtue is a jewel of great price.

(2) Virtue never grows old.

(3) Virtue is the only true nobility.

(4) Virtue is her (its) own reward.

(5) …… 

(d) in the aspect of educating people in solidarity:

(1) The voice of one man is the voice of no one.

(2) The voice of the people is the voice of God.

(3) Two heads are better than one.

(4) There is safety in numbers. (It equals “ren duo shi zhong.” in Chinese.)

(5) ……

We can find many other idioms in many other aspects. They are wonderful materials to students who must learn, at school, such other virtues as unselfishness, courage, discipline and love of one’s country.

For non-native speakers who want to command English fluently, the study of idioms is indispensable. We all know that one obvious way of distinguishing a native speaker of English from a non-native one is by his knowledge and correct use of idioms. The distinction is that native speakers use idiomatic expressions naturally and unconsciously while non-native speakers cannot do this. So a non-native student needs to learn them before using them. We use so many idioms in our teaching in order to help our students, non-native English speakers, to get a knowledge of the syntactic function, transformational and corrective restrictions, their variants and stylistic features and finally to use them appropriately and correctly.

 

Reference:

Zhang Yunfei & Zhou Xiqian, 1985,  “An Introduction to Modern English Lexicology”, Beijing Normal University Press.

(9353 words)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

 

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