When you first start learning the French language or the German language, or any second language, the fastest way to "open mouth, insert foot" is to use idioms like the one I just did. Idioms can make for idiots. Not really, but I love alliteration.
The initial response of my students when I impart that advice is "What's an idiom?" An idiom is an expression or phrase, where the meaning of each individual word does not add up to the message being conveyed. The whole is not the sum of its parts in this case. Therefore, the meaning of an idiom is not at all predictable. This is why they don't translate at all into the second language.
Here are some examples of idioms in American English:
· brain dead. Is your brain really dead? Of course not.
· I am full. What part of you is actually "full"? What are you full of? Don't say it. I know what you're thinking.
· What's up? "up" to a non-English speaker is in an upward direction, over one's head. The sky is up. The sun is up.
We've all been there before, as a student or as the teacher: the teacher finishes talking about a topic and then "broadcasts" a question to the whole group. What happens next? Often, nothing. Nada. Crickets. A whole herd of deer in headlights.
And then after that initial uncomfortable time-span, what then? Usually anywhere from two to five students raise their hands to participate. The others just sit there. Are these other students thinking about the topic, but just not willing to share? Or are they thinking about what they're going to have for lunch? There's no way to tell.
Sound familiar? It should. In the vast majority of classrooms across the United States, this scene is played out a number of times every day. And yet, if you ask teachers to list the problems with whole-group discussion, they can tick them off in a matter of moments. Here are some of the problems that they will usually list:
· The teacher usually does most of the talking
· Only a small percentage of ...