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Idioms muddy the water

Do you understand that headline?


How about this:

I wanted to buy my partner a gift, but it cost an arm and a leg, so planned to mull it over with a friend. We got our signals crossed and ended up at different coffee shops, so I’m just ready to throw in the towel.

How’s that for concrete language?

I once observed a math class in which the teacher, in an attempt to clarify the need for estimating in real-life situations, found no less than five different ways to name the concept, all within a twenty-minute mini-lesson. His heart was in the right place in trying to illustrate what he wanted them to understand, but for low-level English Language Learners, our tendency in English to seek multiple ways to say what we mean is incredibly confusing.

So how can we fix this?


Teachers need to deliver comprehensible input. Students need to comprehend. So if you’re going to talk in idioms, name them. Teach them. Un-muddy the waters.

And then the sky’s the limit.

One way you could do this is simply to record yourself and review your language. Find out what is coming out of your mouth. We often don’t even notice what we are saying.

Another is to ask a colleague to observe with the specific instruction to listen for idiomatic language. I don’t think we ask often enough for colleagues to observe us. Isn’t it our job to work on perfecting our practice? And yet, it’s easy not to do anything.

After all, we have things to do. We’re busy people.

But taking a few minutes to simplify your language, to make the abstract a little more concrete, could have big payoffs in the end.



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