Last week, we talked about how many idioms English speakers use in day-to-day conversation, and how learning some basic idioms can help you better understand conversations in the workplace and can make your speech sound more fluent and native-like. Today, we’re going to talk about the other side of the coin: as a native speaker, are you using idioms that make it difficult for others to understand you?
The English language is filled with phrases that don’t mean exactly what they say; most people use slang, idioms, and other figurative language far more often than they realize. Because these phrasings are so common for a native speaker, they typically use them without a second thought. However, any language that isn’t literal can be very confusing for a non-native speaker. Try to think of how you would interpret the following phrases if you had never heard them before: “Drop me a line,” “Cut to the chase,” “That blew me away,” “Get the ball rolling,” “Ahead of the curve.”
To figure out how often you use idioms and figurative language, try recording yourself on a typical business phone call. Take note of how many words and phrases you use that are not literal, and which ones you use most often. When communicating with a colleague or client that isn’t a native speaker of English, try to minimize your use of these phrases, and monitor your listener closely for understanding; if your listener looks confused in conversation, think about what you just said and use the most literal language possible.
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