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Dave makes the grade

David and some of Concordia's international students take on popular idioms
December 7, 2011
By David Adelman

This week Wendy Magnussen, the conversation leader of the English Conversation Group, invited me to join some international students at Concordia as they took on “idioms and phrases.”

It took me a New York minute to remember what an idiom was, but then out of the blue the words of my high school English teacher popped into my mind. “Perk up your ears and listen closely, idioms are all around us. It’s what defines our culture.” At the time, I thought this was mumbo jumbo, but when it rains it pours. I decided to put my teacher’s statement to the test. (Sorry to beat a dead horse.)

We started with introductions. Xu, from China, talked about seeing “the first snow fall ever for the first time in my life this week and [I] thought it was really heavy.”  “You haven’t seen anything yet,” joked Antoine, who is here from France.

When the next three consecutive members of the group say they are studying software engineering, Antoine from France cries out in question: “If you work with computers, why can’t any of you ever help me with my computer issues?”

It was obvious that this group liked a little fun while they were picking up the finer points of the English language.

Wendy split the group into teams of two and instructed us to create sentences out of a sheet of idioms that she handed out. I’m partnered with Baolam (most recently from France, but originally from Vietnam).

Baolam and I reviewed the words assigned to us — “bored to death” and “you’ve got to be kidding.” Talking out loud, I try to make a sentence with it: “If that TV show went on for a second more, my head would have certainly exploded. I was bored to death.” “You’ve got to be kidding, I thought it was an interesting program,” responded Baolam. We both laughed.

Going over the idioms as group, we stopped at “going Dutch.” Wendy defined it as splitting a restaurant bill, usually used in the context of dating. Alex, from Mauritius (a small island-nation off the coast of Africa), asked how someone should bring up the subject without feeling uncomfortable.

Our simple exercise allowed the phrase “going Dutch” to put a foot in the door for a broader discussion of culture and dating etiquette. Antoine questioned why people from the Netherlands are associated with paying restaurant bills.

Idioms sparked a great discussion on gender roles, monetary symbolism and courtships among these students from France, China, Japan, Vietnam, Iran and Mauritius.

The group called it a day, but I couldn’t throw in the towel just yet. Idioms are part of our everyday conversations. There are hundreds of modern funky phrases like “let’s Google it” or “drop me a text” or “hitting the club.”  They provide a window into our society’s way of life.

I’m going to hit the sack, but what idioms and phrases do you say the most? Leave a comment so my new conversation group friends can get a leg up.

Related links:

•  English and French conversation support
•  International Students Office

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