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.
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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.
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.
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.
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