Skip to content

Idioms for English Language Learners

An idiom is a phrase that says one thing but means something different. They are used across all cultures and languages, and can be particularly confusing for early and new language learners because they do not mean what they say.

The popular English idiom, Don’t spill the beans doesn’t refer to actually “spilling beans.” It means “to not disclose a secret.”

Îl scoti din pepeni is a Romanian idiom that translates in English to To pull someone out of their watermelons – meaning “to drive someone crazy.”

Idioms are an important component of vocabulary development in any language. Understanding the metaphorical nature of idioms and learning the background of the phrase are helpful in deciphering their meaning.

A new series by Language Lizard helps children explore English idioms in a multicultural context and provides free lessons and activities to support culturally responsive teaching.



Disclosure: We received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes; however, all opinions are our own. This post contains affiliate links. By clicking through and making a purchase, we receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. All proceeds help support our free global education website. Thank you!

Idiom Book Series for English Language Learners

Language Lizard Idiom Books explain common English idioms using multicultural illustrations and English example sentences. Bilingual versions of the books provide idiom translations and meanings in a second language, making the idioms easier for English language learners to understand.

The Language Lizard Idiom Book Series consists of four titles:

Fresh as a Daisy – English Nature Idioms

Icing on the Cake – English Food Idioms

The Lion’s Share –  English Animal Idioms

With Flying Colors –  English Color Idioms

The books are available in English and in bilingual editions with the following languages: Arabic, Burmese, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Hmong, Spanish, Telugu, and Vietnamese. (More languages are coming soon!)

Each book includes:

  • English audio of the book
  • History & Meaning of the idioms in the book
  • Multicultural Lesson Plans & Activities
  • Additional Resource Links


We had a great time exploring a bilingual edition of With Flying Colors – English Color Idioms by Anne Forzani and illustrated by Dmitry Fedorov.

Each two-page spread features an idiom written in English and translated in another language (this one is Burmese), along with it’s meaning. A caption for the illustration provides an example of how it’s used.

With Flying Colors English Color Idioms

The QR code on the last page linked us to helpful teaching resources on the Language Lizard website.

A brief background with the meaning and history of each idiom in the book added to our understanding of the phrase and facilitated great conversation and additional examples.

We started with the cover: with flying colors means to accomplish something almost perfectly. The phrase dates back to when war ships used to return to their home port with flags flying from their masts. This was to show they had won a victory in a battle.

How does knowing the background of the idiom help you understand the cover illustration? (The performer is doing her routine almost perfectly)

Can you use the idiom in a new sentence? (I passed my test with flying colors.)

More color idioms include having a “green thumb” – which is based on the fact that handling plants can cause a person’s fingers to turn greenish. Interesting multicultural references include shelling peas in England and pinching tobacco plants in America.

Being caught “red handed” dates back to the 1400s in Scotland and refers to criminals being caught – with blood on their hands.

We also learned idioms from around the world and in different languages. We particularly enjoyed comparing idioms. For example, in English a sad person may “have the blues,” but in French that person would “have the cockroach.”

PLUS, there are additional resources – including  three FREE lesson plans!

  • Lesson Plan 1: Understanding Idioms and Figurative Language  Explore figurative vs. literal language and introduce the concept of idioms.
  • Lesson Plan 2: Learning Color, Nature, Food, and Animal related Idioms  Learn the meaning and usage of some common English language idioms while appreciating multicultural stories and illustrations.
  • Lesson Plan 3: Understanding the History and Context of Idioms  Trace the origins of idioms and their relation to history, culture, and language. Classroom idioms activity.

Language Lizard offers books and free lesson plans that promote an understanding and appreciation of different languages and cultures. Browse titles and/or search by language.

The books are also available on Amazon & Bookshop

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2021 (1/29/21) is in its 8th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.
Eight years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues. Read about our Mission & History HERE.

Read our other book review for this event, Story of the Mongolian Tent House. Learn how the white ger was inspired by nature and later became a symbol of friendship and harmony.

MCBD 2021 is honored to be Supported by these Medallion Sponsors!

FOUNDER’S CIRCLE: Mia Wenjen (Prgamaticmom) and Valarie Budayr’s (

Platinum Sponsors: Language Lizard Bilingual Books in 50+ Languages, Author Deedee Cummings and Make A Way Media

Gold Sponsors: Barefoot Books, Candlewick Press, Capstone, Hoopoe Books, KidLitTV, Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.

Silver Sponsors: Charlotte Riggle, Connecticut Association of School Librarians, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, Pack-N-Go Girls

Bronze Sponsors: Agatha Rodi and AMELIE is IMPRESSED!, Barnes Brothers Books, Create and Educate Solutions, LLC, Dreambuilt Books, Dyesha and Triesha McCants/McCants Squared, Redfin Real Estate, Snowflake Stories, Star Bright Books, TimTimTom Bilingual Personalized Books, Author Vivian Kirkfield, Wisdom Tales Press,


MCBD 2021 is honored to be Supported by these Author Sponsors!

Poster Artist: Nat Iwata

Authors: Author Afsaneh Moradian, Author Alva Sachs & Three Wishes Publishing Company, Author Angeliki Stamatopoulou-Pedersen, Author Anna Olswanger, Author Casey Bell , Author Claudine Norden, Author Debbie Dadey, Author Diana Huang & Intrepids, Author Eugenia Chu & Brandon goes to Beijing, Green Kids Club, Author Gwen Jackson, Author Janet Balletta, Author Josh Funk, Author Julia Inserro, Karter Johnson & Popcorn and Books, Author Kathleen Burkinshaw & The Last Cherry Blossom, Author Keila Dawson, Maya/Neel Adventures with Culture Groove, Author Mia Wenjen, Michael Genhart, Nancy Tupper Ling, Author Natalie Murray, Natalie McDonald-Perkins, Author Natasha Yim, Author Phe Lang and Me On The Page Publishing, Sandra Elaine Scott, Author Shoumi Sen & From The Toddler Diaries, SISSY GOES TINY by Rebecca Flansburg and B.A. Norrgard, Susan Schaefer Bernardo & Illustrator Courtenay Fletcher, Tales of the Five Enchanted Mermaids, Author Theresa Mackiewicz, Tonya Duncan and the Sophie Washington Book Series, Author Toshia Stelivan, Valerie Williams-Sanchez & The Cocoa Kids Collection Books©, Author Vanessa Womack, MBA, Author Veronica Appleton & the Journey to Appleville book series

MCBD 2021 is Honored to be Supported by our CoHosts and Global CoHosts!

MCBD 2021 is Honored to be Supported by these Media Partners!

Check out MCBD’s Multicultural Books for Kids Pinterest Board!

FREE RESOURCES from Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Diversity Book Lists & Activities for Teachers and Parents

Homeschool Diverse Kidlit Booklist & Activity Kit

FREE Teacher Classroom Activism and Activists Kit

FREE Teacher Classroom Empathy Kit

FREE Teacher Classroom Kindness Kit

FREE Teacher Classroom Physical and Developmental Challenges Kit

FREE Teacher Classroom Poverty Kit

Gallery of Our Free Posters

FREE Diversity Book for Classrooms Program