What are Idioms?
Idioms are expressions that do not have a clear direct meaning. They are not intuitive expressions. You must learn the special meaning that each idiom has because you cannot often guess the meaning just by reading or hearing the words.
In the past, most students studied idioms by reading them in a book and memorizing their meanings. This is not the best way to study idioms. You can learn them by reading, but if you study by reading, you will not get the best results.
What Happens When You Study Idioms by Reading?
When you study by reading, you transfer a meaning onto one set of images. The images are the written words on the page. Mostly this is a very abstract way to learn something. And it is slow because we need our thinking brain to come and remember the meaning when we encounter these idioms. The thinking brain is powerful but slow. We often learn things with the thinking brain by reading.
The study by reading also helps us to train the reading part of the brain. If you are going to speak with people in English this is not the best way to learn. Reading and speaking are so very different. You have lots of time to understand and respond when you read but not very much time to understand and respond when you listen to English. So, if you are going to speak with people, then it is better to learn through listening practice.
In short, reading practice does not build listening skills as much as listening practice does. Many people say they know this but then ignore it when they study. The reading practice supports your listening practice, but it does not replace it.
What Happens When You Study Idioms by Listening?
When you study idioms by listening, you give meaning to a sentence with an idiom in it. That sentence is a set of sounds. The sound centers of your brain (listening and speaking) are closer together and ‘talk’ to each other better so the listening practice also transfers skills to your speaking.
You also learn to apprehend the idiom faster. When you are listening, you are hearing the whole meaning in one unit (what the person says is bundled together in one big sound chunk), and you get the meaning altogether. This is another way of saying you see the whole forest instead of seeing one tree at a time. You can get the meaning of the whole set of words almost at once because speaking is faster. With practice, the listening part of your brain becomes very fast.
Listening practice helps you train the listening part of the brain. That means you are getting even better at listening just by practicing listening to idioms, so listening generally becomes even easier. That means it becomes easier to really understand people when they are speaking to you. And when you listen to idioms they are usually in context.
You will study the idiom in context much more frequently, because when you do listening practice, the idiom appears in a sentence, or even better, in a story. Learning idioms in context makes it easier to understand the meaning, and it makes it easier to remember the meaning. Our minds often change the sounds into pictures and idioms used in context help us to make those pictures in our minds easier so we can remember them easier. Then you can use it easier.