Canadian Idioms: Improving Your Ability to Communicate Naturally

June 2, 2017 by Lauren McKenzie

How's it going, eh?

The IELTS exam includes a very broad variety of language - and for good reason. The more topics candidates have to interact with, the more they will have to demonstrate their proficiency in English. Candidates may speak about bicycles, festivals, and pollution and read about Vikings, insects and computers. The more topics candidates are familiar with, the more prepared they will be to deal with the material on the IELTS exam.

Killing two birds with one stone.

Idioms and idiomatic language can seem overwhelming to language learners, but many expressions travel through different languages. For example, an Arabic-speaking student once referred to, "the relax before the winds." It was soon translated to the common English version, "the calm before the storm." The student was from a country that experienced sandstorms, thus the expression was more relevant to their culture.

What expressions from your first language translate to English and how is the expression changed to reflect different cultures? Making these connections can help you to remember expressions and integrate them into your daily use of language. Try repeating the expression using the intonation and rhythm of native English speakers. This will improve your speech, thus killing two birds at once.

Using Idioms: What's your cup of tea?

The best way to unlock the mystery of idioms and expressions is to ask in the moment if you are in a conversation. If you are currently enrolled in English classes, you may find that you don't hear a lot of expressions and idioms in class. Language teachers know that idioms can be very confusing for language learners and may avoid using them in class. You can ask your teacher to include more idioms in class. Another option is to carry a notebook and to write down expressions you hear and then bring them to class for discussion, or look them up on the internet if that's your cup of tea.

Variety is the spice of life.

The internet has so many practice sites for IELTS it can seem overwhelming. There are many good websites for different kinds of learners. Find something you enjoy and start small, using one new expression a day, at least three times will give you a starting place. Other forms of media can be very useful for being exposed to new expressions.

The same old song...

There are so many common expressions that you read and hear on a daily basis that you may not even be aware of them. For example, many popular songs are written with expressions that are part of everyday speech. Of course, some expressions come from song lyrics, but it's more likely that the song you hear on the radio will use very common and idiomatic language.

Find a few singers you like, look up the lyrics and learn the songs. Singing along in English will improve the rhythm and fluency of your speech as well as your ability to recognize idiomatic language. Play the radio in the background as you work or rest. This is the easiest way to be exposed to idiomatic language without sitting down to study with a traditional tool, like a book.

Using idiomatic language requires that you recognize expressions when you see them, and the only way to do that is through curiosity and repetition. The IELTS exam is challenging, and the more exposure you have to IELTS materials and different sources of information, the more prepared you will be to reach your goal on the exam.

Lauren has been teaching English for close to fifteen years in universities and language schools in Halifax, NS. To meet the needs of her students, she began her own study of the IELTS exam nearly five years ago and has since taught preparation workshops. Lauren lives in Halifax, NS where she enjoys hiking and live music as well as travelling, studying languages and reading nonfiction.

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