Overcoming idioms as stumbling block

中国日报网 2014-04-04 11:31



Overcoming idioms as stumbling block

Reader question:

Please explain sentence: “Idioms are a common stumbling block for learners of a foreign language.” Stumbling block?

My comments:

How true.

Stumbling block, an idiom in its own right, is the problem here. An idiom, by definition, is a group of words with a meaning of its own that is different from the meanings of each word put together. In other words, you can not always guess out an idiom’s meaning by reading the words individually.

Idioms are often shortened versions of a longer expression. Originally, for example, someone makes the remark that it’s the last bundle of straw that breaks the back of the camel. People hear it and they like it. So they repeat it to others. After a time, usually a long period of time, all people seem to be able to use and understand this expression. Then people begin to shorten the expression for economy and convenience.

So, today, we simply have the “last straw”.

Simple as that.

Not so simple, of course, for the foreign student. Not initially at any rate.

When the foreign student reads “stumbling block”, he may first take it as meaning a block that stumbles. After a while, having come across this term many times in different contexts, he realizes it’s not the block, which may be a rather large rock blocking your way in the street, that stumbles, but it is the person who tries to step over the rock that stumbles.

Hence, a stumbling block is a big rock in the road, over which you may stumble if you are careless. Figuratively speaking, a stumbling block is any hindrance that prevents you from reaching your goal, any goal.

In our example, then, idioms are a common hindrance for the foreign language learner. Without overcoming this hindrance, or problem, the student cannot expect to master a language.

This is true to the native born as well, but it’s a lesser problem for them because they use their mother tongue, another idiom, every day. For them it’s kind of simple. They learn their language by simple repetition.

That’s the thing. All you as a foreign student need to do is do what the native speakers do. Learn a bit today and repeat the process tomorrow. And it will be simple for you, too.

You may argue that the native speakers have people talk to them every day and you don’t have that. That’s true but the process remains the same. Learn something little thing new every day and repeat the process. You may watch movies online and pretend the speakers as talking to you or find some other creative ways to do it but the process remains the same.

And it really is not so complicated.

Anyways, I only have simple solutions. One morsel now, another bit then. Don’t take mouthfuls all the time – that leads to indigestion. One idiom today, another expression tomorrow. Take it easy and repeat the process. This way, you won’t feel the burden and won’t tire yourself out.

Repeat this process long enough and you’ll overcome the fear of idioms as stumbling blocks sooner or later.

And sooner or later, you’ll find idioms no longer to be stumbling blocks, but merely stepping stones.

That’s useful another idiom, but, lest I tire you out, let’s leave that for another day.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



Taking their feet off the pedal?

Turn the tables?

My bad?

Silver bullets?

Bet the farm?

Cooking the book?


(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)




















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