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Idiomatic Expression and Proverbs


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One of the things that I have found most challenging in any language is getting the sense of certain idiomatic expressions or proverbs. For example, in English we might say, 'That's like the pot calling the kettle black'. Most languages have something similar that you have grown up with and therefore comprehend the meaning but when it comes to explaining it to others it can be vague. What do you think? Are there any tricks to learning idiomatic expression and or proverbs in a new language? Do you have a favorite expression in a certain language that you would like to share?

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I'm afraid I have yet to master a second language enough to even begin to understand idiomatic expressions, except to probably recognize when I was reading one because it did not make any sense to me.  Idiomatic expressions can be challenging to learn even in your native language if you encounter ones you have never heard before. In a foreign language it is even harder.

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I don't know any idioms from any language I've studied. I know I should, but it is so much more tempting to focus on vocabulary or grammar instead. I think it wouldn't be needed though until you live in a country where the language is used. Then you could pick up idioms more naturally.

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I've worked with Koreans for over a decade now. Idiomatic expressions and proverbs seem to be their favorites even though they find them the most difficult things to understand.

While they may be difficult for second-language learners, I understand the need to learn it.  Being able to understand IEs and proverbs signifies a milestone in language learning. It's as if one has now become fluent at the second language when one can readily blurt an IE or proverb with ease.

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I don't know any idioms from any language I've studied. I know I should, but it is so much more tempting to focus on vocabulary or grammar instead. I think it wouldn't be needed though until you live in a country where the language is used. Then you could pick up idioms more naturally.

You're right, if one is just starting out in learning a new language - one should focus on vocabulary and grammar instead. Acquiring a new language in itself is a hard thing to do. Learning idioms and proverbs, while great, should be the least priority when still learning a language. One could easily pick up their meanings when one actually lives in the foreign country.

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Sadly, I don't know any idiomatic expressions or proverbs in the languages i'm learning. I know i've heard them on TV but I wouldn't be able to repeat them now. Learning idiomatic expressions and proverbs in a foreign language should just be easy and normal as learning anything else in that language. It may be best putting each one on flash cards.

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I know some Latin proverbs which have been used as part of the legal lexicon. For instance, res ipsa loquitur is a latin saying for "the thing speaks for itself." Meaning, just by looking at something, you can already tell who the culprit is or what exactly happened. There's also prima facie evidence, which refers to an evidence that tells it all with just one glance.

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I agree it's very difficult to explain some of these idioms and it's much better to just grow up with them, which is probably why we sometimes know a lot of these and what they connote but never even give them a second thought with concerns to what their literal meaning would be or what their origins could possibly have been. Though, I still think that there are probably some idioms that are universal and more or less just translated within languages, but for now I can't think of any.

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  • 2 weeks later...

That is interesting! I only know of them in English and have never really thought about it being in other languages.

In English you leave someone to sink or swim and in Italian you say you leave them to drink or drown (o bere o affogare)

I suppose in every language it is different to the English and it would be interesting to see if anyone else knows a few more.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Being able to understand idiomatic expressions and proverbs often mark the difference between a native speaker and one who is learning the language.  It is also the reason you can't translate word for word but instead have to go by the meaning.  And unless you live where the language is spoken then you always have to work on keeping up with new and changing expressions.

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Here is one that comes to mind, in english and what it's used in spanish to convey the same message:

- "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree", which is sort of the same as "like father, like son". In spanish, we say "de tal palo, tal astilla".

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I think that learning certain expressions in a culture can be really challenging, especially since sometimes one has to understand that culture in order to understand the saying.  In order to understand cultural expressions, I think one has to immerse themselves more than just a little bit in the culture. 

On the other hand, if the expression is just something that can be used for all people, like the "pot calling the kettle black", those kinds of sayings are easy to understand in other languages.

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Sometimes learning a new language we come up with what are almost our own idiomatic expressions when we try to describe something that we don't know the name for.  I know these are not actually idiomatic expressions but they do make the language more colorful. :smile:

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  • 11 months later...

I'm just learning some idiomatic expressions in german, I don't know if I rember it correctly!

- Er ist bekannt wie ein bunter Hund (he is known all over town) --> this is my favourite!

- Aus den augen, aus dem Sinn (out of sight, out of mind. In italian: lontano dagli occhi, lontano dal cuore)

- der Tropfen, der das Fuss Überlauf bringt (I don't know if I wrote it in the right way, but it English it should be "the straw that breaks the camel" or something similar. In Italian: La goccia che fa traboccare il vaso)

- Ich drücke dir die Daumen (I'll crossed fingers for you. In italian: Incrociamo le dita!)

- Ein Hand wäscht die andere (I don't remember in english!)

And so more that I don't remember exactly!

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I'm just learning some idiomatic expressions in german, I don't know if I rember it correctly!

- Er ist bekannt wie ein bunter Hund (he is known all over town) --> this is my favourite!

- Aus den augen, aus dem Sinn (out of sight, out of mind. In italian: lontano dagli occhi, lontano dal cuore)

- der Tropfen, der das Fuss Überlauf bringt (I don't know if I wrote it in the right way, but it English it should be "the straw that breaks the camel" or something similar. In Italian: La goccia che fa traboccare il vaso)

- Ich drücke dir die Daumen (I'll crossed fingers for you. In italian: Incrociamo le dita!)

- Ein Hand wäscht die andere (I don't remember in english!)

And so more that I don't remember exactly!

Good colletion Beatrish!

There are just some minor mistakes, but I am impressed you know all these!

- Aus den Augen, aus dem Sinn (out of sight, out of mind. In italian: lontano dagli occhi, lontano dal cuore)

- der Tropfen, der das Fass zum Überlaufen bringt (I don't know if I wrote it in the right way, but it English it should be "the straw that breaks the camel" or something similar. In Italian: La goccia che fa traboccare il vaso)

- Eine Hand wäscht die andere (I don't remember in english!)

The last one literally means something like 'If you help someone, you can also expect help from that person'. I don't know if there is an idiom for this in English. Most probably there is. Hopefully someone knows the equivalent!

 

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Good colletion Beatrish!

There are just some minor mistakes, but I am impressed you know all these!

- Aus den Augen, aus dem Sinn (out of sight, out of mind. In italian: lontano dagli occhi, lontano dal cuore)

- der Tropfen, der das Fass zum Überlaufen bringt (I don't know if I wrote it in the right way, but it English it should be "the straw that breaks the camel" or something similar. In Italian: La goccia che fa traboccare il vaso)

- Eine Hand wäscht die andere (I don't remember in english!)

The last one literally means something like 'If you help someone, you can also expect help from that person'. I don't know if there is an idiom for this in English. Most probably there is. Hopefully someone knows the equivalent!

 

Many thanks Lingua! Names in German are capitalized and Hand is a female sostantiv. I completely forgot zum. ^^

As regard the last one is something like "If you defend my back, I'll defend yours" in English. In Italian something similar is "Si raccoglie quel che si semina" ("you reap what you sow")

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