An idiom is a group of words (or a phrase) which cannot be fully understood from the words alone. That means if an alien came to Earth and learned every single word in the English language, the alien still wouldn’t understand idioms.
To understand idioms, you need to look at the whole phrase and take it as one unit of language. You then apply a definition to this unit and then you start to understand the idiom.
Here is an example of an idiom:
Go back to the drawing board.
If someone said this to the alien, it would be rather confused! It might look around for a board or a drawing or a drawing board. It would think, “Why do I need to go back?”
Now let’s add some context:
The scientist’s latest effort to find a cure has failed so it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
With some context, the alien still isn’t sure what the idiom means. Now we can explain that the idiom go back to the drawing board means to start planning something again because the first plan failed. Suddenly the sentence starts making sense!
This is exactly how we’re going to master idioms in this book. The simple way. Learn the definition, then read and listen to many example sentences.
Why should you learn idioms? As we’ve seen, idioms aren’t always easy to understand, even with context. It’s important you read and listen to the idiom many times so that it sticks in your brain.
Native speakers use idioms a lot. If you want to understand everything that’s being said or written in an English movie, song, drama, TV series, podcast, book, magazine, website etc. then mastering idioms is key.
If you can use idioms in your spoken English, you instantly upgrade your English to a higher level. Understanding and using idioms is a sign of real fluency, so it’s a huge step in reaching your goals in English.