One of the most difficult aspects of learning any foreign language is being able to understand and use a wide range of idioms. The English language has over 15,000 idioms and native speakers use them very frequently, often without realising it themselves. This can make communication with native speakers confusing.
What is an idiom? An idiom is a group of words which, when used together, has a different meaning from the one which the individual words have. For example:
-How do you know that Sid and Nancy have separated
-I heard it on the grapevine.
Of course, the second speaker does not mean he heard the news about John by putting his ear to a grapevine! He is conveying the idea visually of information spreading around a widespread network, similar to a grapevine.
We use idioms to express something that other words do not express as clearly or as cleverly. We often use an image or symbol to describe something as clearly as possible and thus make our point as effectively as possible. For example, "in a nutshell" suggests the idea of having all the information contained within very few words. Idioms tend to be informal and are best used in spoken rather than written English.
我们使用成语是要表达其它词语无法如此清晰或如此巧妙表达的东西。我们经常会运用比喻和象征以便尽可能清晰地描述事物，因而可以尽可能有效地阐述我们的观点。比如，“in a nutshell”表明的意思是，用很少几个词来涵盖所要表达的全部意思。成语往往是非正式的，最好用于口语，而不要用在非书面表达中。
One of the best ways to learn an idiom is by looking at the context in which it is used. This can be done by concentrating on the rest of the sentence and try to guess the meaning. Many idioms are not that difficult to understand when considered in their context. For example:
We are going to have a surprise party for Tom tomorrow. It's a secret so please don't let the cat out of the bag.
'Let the cat out of the bag' is an idiom. Imagine you don't know what this idiom means; by looking at the words preceding it should be easy to guess that the speaker does not want you to tell Tom about the surprise party. Therefore, 'let the cat out of the bag' must mean something like' reveal a secret' or 'tell a secret'.
“Let the cat out of the bag”是一个成语。设想你不知道这个成语的意思；如果看看之前的单词，就会很容易地猜出，讲话者是不想让你跟汤姆谈及惊喜聚会的事情。因此，“let the cat out of the bag”一定是“揭露秘密”或“泄露秘密”之类的意思。
He was on the carpet last week for being late to work three times.
It was a very long report. It took me three hours to wade through.
Let's call it a day. I'm very tired and I think we have covered the main points of the meeting already.
However, idioms can often be very difficult to understand. You may be able to guess the meaning from context but if not, it is not easy to know the meaning. Many idioms, for instance, come from favorite traditional British activities such as fighting, sailing and hunting. As well as being quite specialist in meaning, some of the words in idioms were used two or three hundred years ago, or longer, and can be a little obscure. Here are some examples:
-Now that the Prime Minister has been elected there will be a lot of jockeying for position to get the key posts in his administration. (Horse Racing)
-I finally ran the book to earth in a second-hand bookshop in Wales. I had been searching for it for three years. (Hunting)
-They took her ideas on board and decided to increase the budget. (Sailing)
-You should fall in with our arrangements; we can't make alternative plans for you. (Army)
-We saw the boss at the bar but we gave him a wide berth. We did not want to talk to him then. (Sailing)
What is the best way to learn idioms? It is best to learn idioms as you do vocabulary. In other words, select and actively learn idioms which will be useful to you. Write the idiom in a relevant and practical sentence so that you will be able to remember its meaning easily. If you can, record the idioms in a file and on a card along with other words and idioms which have similar meanings.