learning with steve: are idioms important?

In this new series, we will be sitting down with our Founder and language expert, Steve Kaufmann for some Q&As. Each week we will be touching on topics relating to language and how it applies to LingQ’s language learning methodology.


Idiomatic expressions have always been a challenge when learning a foreign language. How important is it to understand idiomatic expressions?

I don’t pay much attention to idioms when I learn languages. There is so much to learn and so many new things in the language to get used to, that I leave idioms till much, much later. In any new language everything is at first strange. The words are new. The structure and word order are new. There are new and strange ways of expressing things that we have to get used to. This keeps me fully occupied as I listen and read and try to get a feel for the new language, occasionally referring to simple grammar books.

Idioms are very specific to the culture of the language you are learning. Just as with slang, you have to have almost native level proficiency to use them correctly. In time if I come across certain idioms often enough I will get used to what they mean. As I study further I may even reach the point one day where I can use them. But that is usually far off into the future. I think it is almost presumptuous to try to use idioms and slang before we achieve a solid level in the language.

How would you approach learning idioms?

I would mostly ignore them at first. When we start in a new language there are lots of things that are unclear and difficult to understand. It is only through continued exposure to the language that the picture starts to become clearer. The fog  slowly lifts, as I like to say. Much like a jigsaw puzzle, which becomes clearer as we are able to find more and more of the pieces, the language gradually starts to take shape. We will learn the idioms when we are ready to learn them.

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