English idioms

Idioms are expressions or phrases with figurative, non-literal meanings, which easily confuse language learners. They are often unique to a country or region and, as such, offer a glimpse into local cultures and ways of thinking. Learning English idioms can be great fun and very useful.

Familiarising yourself with idioms truly deepens your knowledge of the colloquial, everyday language which will give you a great advantage if you are thinking about travelling, working, or settling in that country. If you’re heading to the UK and want to impress the locals with your English abilities, brush up on your idioms sharpish!

Turn yourself into an advanced level English speaker

If you’ve been learning English for a while and have reached a level where you can hold your own in everyday situations, it’s time to take it to the next level. Having knowledge of some of the most common idioms will help you communicate better, and give you a deeper understanding of songs, TV shows, and books in English. Not to mention using them will impress any native you meet and chat with!

As idioms are often regional, native English speakers that are not from Britain could also do with studying British idioms if they plan to visit the UK. Knowing these phrases demonstrates deeper cultural awareness and will aid in social integration, earning respect for your language skills from the Brits in no time.

A good place to start

We’ve come up with a list of 11 frequently used British idioms for you to peruse and add to your vocabulary. Once you’ve learned the real meaning of these idioms and how to use them correctly, you’ll sound like you’ve lived in the UK for years.

  1. You don’t know your arse from your elbow – we are not referring to someone who has a poor understanding of biology, but instead someone who has made a mistake or keeps getting things wrong. Be careful with this one, it’s best used in very informal settings!
  2. Working your socks off – this has nothing to do with removing anyone’s socks and actually refers to a person that is working extra hard.
  3. It’s a piece of cake – if the English were actually referring to cake with this one, we’d need more bakers! When used this means that something is really easy.
  4. I’m over the moon – an unlikely place to be, unless we are referring to being really happy, a much more frequent occurrence.
  5. The ball’s in your court – not only used when playing sport as you may have guessed, it actually means that the decision or power lies with you. It’s your choice.
  6. You’re barking up the wrong tree – no dogs involved when using this term, or trees for that matter! It simply means that the person in question has misunderstood, or got the wrong idea.
  7. Biting off more than you can chew – this phrase is not about some hungry person stuffing their face with food. Instead, it refers to someone who has taken on more than they can manage.
  8. It costs an arm and a leg – don’t worry, no limbs have been used as a form of payment! This is a way to express that something was very expensive.
  9. At the drop of a hat – no reference to headgear here; this just means that something is done instantly.
  10. You’ve missed the boat – this doesn’t mean you’re late for your travel plans or missed your holiday, it’s an expression of being too late to make the most of something or having missed an opportunity.
  11. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch – you don’t have to be a farmer to use this one! This expresses the need to wait for an outcome before assuming a result.

The importance of learning English idioms for language professionals

If you’re a language teacher, interpreter, translator, or content writer working in a foreign language or between a foreign language and your own, knowledge of idiomatic terms is crucial. Idioms and proverbs are an ideal way to directly connect with a native speaker, crossing linguistic and cultural barriers and demonstrating mastery of their language.

This is why at BeTranslated we assure all our professional translators are certified native speakers, guaranteeing cultural sensitivity in our translations, both in understanding the source text and writing the final translation.

Now you’re well on your way to communicating like a true English speaker!

Now that you’ve started learning some British idioms, you’ve taken a huge step towards sounding like a true native. Remember there are hundreds of more idioms out there! Why not challenge yourself to learn one a day for the next two weeks?

Are you working on your English in order to improve relations with British clients? Are you in need of a reliable translation service to work on your business documents, marketing material, or web content, in a professional and authentic way? Contact BeTranslated today for more information or a free, no-obligation quote.