At school, we tend to be taught English from a grammatical and vocabulary-based point of view. This is, of course, really important but sometimes it means we miss out on other things that learning languages offers us. As a teaching assistant of English, I give conversation classes to a wide variety of students in which we look at themes and situations which are relevant to everyday life. Most recently, we have been looking at two topics which I think are a lot of fun and are linked: idioms in English and British humour. English is a language rich with phrases that are both weird and wonderful and that people use in everyday speech. Yes, it's great to know all the technical vocabulary about the economy, for example, but in an everyday situation it's more likely that the people you interact with will be using a different kind of language. It's great to see the students' reactions to some of the idioms and colloquial phrases we use in Britain, and even better to hear them using these phrases themselves! Let's look at a few examples.
1. It's a piece of cake!
This phrase does not mean you are going to eat a piece of cake, unfortunately! It actually means that something is really easy to do or achieve!
2. To laugh your socks off
I used this one in the title, as you may have noticed! It means that you find something really funny, so you are laughing a lot!
3. To have a knees-up
Again, this phrase isn't really to do with the action of your knees but actually refers to having a party or a get-together with friends and family!
So you can see from these few examples that English idioms can be a bit misleading at first sight. But you will hear native speakers saying many things like this, so why not have a look on the internet to see if you can find some more examples to add to your knowledge! All this leads to the excitement that is British humour. The British are known for their subtle, sarcastic and sharp sense of wit which is often lost in translation. Our sense of humour often involves mocking yourself and others, so it teaches you not to take yourself too seriously. There are lots of TV series and comedians that are great to watch and you can find lots on YouTube. Remember not to worry if you don't understand first time – perhaps try and watch the video a few times to see if you can understand the jokes. Also, try not to take the jokes too seriously or personally – British humour can be quite ironic but it's all in the name of comedy and isn't supposed to be offensive! I think both of these things bring you closer to the language and to the culture you are studying. What do you think?
Are you interested in learning idioms and common phrases? How is the sense of humour in your country different to British humour?