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Learning proverbs 

Do you use proverbs and sayings a lot in your mother tongue? Which ones are your favourite? And have you noticed what kind of people are really keen on interspersing their speech with proverbs?

I know that my mum and grandmas like them a lot, but I’ve got a strange feeling that this habit doesn’t do them much good. It rather gives the impression that they don’t want to make an effort to find the right words to express their ideas and lazily go with “you know … (proverb)” instead.

So I tend to avoid proverbs myself, except for the most common ones, like to kill two birds with one stone, practice makes perfect, the grass is always greener and no news is good news. But then it’s me and I may be wrong. What’s your attitude towards proverbs?

Anyway, at the higher levels students are supposed to know and understand at least the most common proverbs. Using them might be more tricky because you may get them wrong in terms of the register (the situation) and use them (completely) out of place.

So, what to do then? 🧐

First you can find a list of the most popular proverbs currently in use (and not it’s raining cats and dogs). A quick search gave me this:

Then cross check the list with YouTube videos (or look up the proverbs of which you have doubts on YouGlish. For example:

These first two steps will help you to clarify the meaning, see in what contexts and by what ages these proverbs may be used, and get used to hearing them.

Then you can try to just learn them by heart. For this I’ve found an activity that can make it quite fun. It’s very similar to the guessing games I wrote about earlier (especially game 2), so the algorithm will be the same. The attached worksheet has only twelve proverbs but you can make a similar one for yourself with any other ones.

Next, you’ll need to choose the proverbs you like and feel like using. This is very important because all of us have our own language preferences, and at one point you may want to “transfer” some idiomatic language from your L1 into English (or another language). So already at the stage of learning the proverbs you can prepare the needed ones and think of the situations where you could use them (or ideally write your own examples with them).

Now you’re ready to try them out (cautiously) in a real conversation and watch the reaction of your speaking partners. If they don’t wince, cringe, make funny faces or laugh, you’re fine =)) If they do, that will be a wonderful opportunity to get very useful feedback and adjust your use of the proverb accordingly 💪🏻

If you chose just two proverbs for yourself, what would they be?

Photo by Tim Wildsmith on Unsplash

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