Did you know that today is “National Eat a Red Apple Day?” Not only are apples a nutritious and delicious snack, but they also have a long association with teachers and have become symbolic as the perfect gift for them in some form. The image of apples often appears on mugs, journals, paperweights and awards, presented to teachers during or at the end of the school year. In fact, gaining favour with the teacher was the origin of Bing Crosby’s 1939 song “An apple for the teacher will always do the trick when you don’t know your arithmetic.” However, the subject of today’s blog is not about apples, although I could talk up their uses until the cows come home. It’s about teaching and in particular, introducing phrasal verbs and idioms to adult learners.

What are idioms and phrasal verbs and why teach them together? Idioms are groups of words put together in a particular order that have a different meaning than if the words were on their own. Some idioms can be very difficult to understand out of context while others can be more straightforward. Phrasal verbs usually consist of two or three words that include a verb and an adverb or preposition. Some phrasal verb meanings are discernible and others that can’t be translated literally, are almost like idioms. It is important to understand each of these because they can be found everywhere, in newspapers, magazines, online articles and English fiction. At first, they may seem complicated but in fact they can be a lot of fun. They are part of our informal writing and everyday conversations used to express ideas or opinions in a creative way. In daily life when we are busy, we might say, “I don’t know if I am coming or going” or one that was heard quite frequently in the past year when access to hair salons was limited, “I’m having a bad hair day!” In the above paragraph, illustrations of both phrasal verbs and idioms are used; promoting apples by talking them up and of course there are no cows in this article, the phrase means it would be a lengthy discussion about apples since cows are not hurried creatures. Idioms are often used for humorous or ironic effect such as “you’re pulling my leg” or “famous last words.” There are hundreds of these phrases, this is just the tip of the iceberg – see what I did there?!

Deciphering idioms is possible when read or heard in context however, it is a great deal more challenging for ESL (English Second Language) learners, they may not understand the cultural point of reference and therefore cannot make the connection. It is important though to know how to use these and teaching them idioms will help them sound more Canadian, become more fluent and be better listeners. It can be a bit of a code-breaking game at first before the student learns how the phrases come together but using dialogue around the sample will bolster their understanding. Using pictures will help explain the context and working with themes will demonstrate how similar words can have different meanings. When teaching them phrasal verbs, it is significant to focus on the preposition rather than the verb to determine the meaning. For example, to call off – off meaning remove therefore cancelling a meeting is removing yourself from the meeting and letting people know. It may not always be a piece of cake, but the one thing to remember, the key to success when teaching any learner something new, is to make it an enjoyable experience. One way to do this might be to show this cartoonish little video about idioms that’s explains them with a catchy tune.


Talking about the weather is such a part of a Canadian’s vernacular, what better way to showcase a few more of these fun phrases in this little exercise – can you pick them all out?

This past Sunday, the Hamilton TiCats had home game advantage, hoping to advance to the Eastern final and then secure a spot to play for the Grey Cup on Sunday, December 12th. When I first got up early that morning, I was feeling a little under the weather but after popping some Tylenol, I soon was feeling right as rain. The wet snow was continuing to fall so I advised my husband “dress warm or you’ll catch your death.”  Even leaving ahead of time, we knew we’d have a bit of a walk to the stadium after we parked the car so even more reason to bundle up. Once the game got underway, it was clear that there was not a snowball’s chance in hell the players weren’t going to go down without a fight. We clapped, we cheered, and we sang and the TiCats rewarded us with a victory. Unfortunately for the Montreal Alouettes, they were left out in the cold, to wait and do battle again next year.

For those Game of Thrones fans, winter is coming!