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Understanding American Phrases

Global Immersions Recruiting - Sunday, March 24, 2019



Often times when learning a new language, the most difficult step entails deciphering not only the literal translations but also the figurative context clues of a new culture. Americans have many catch phrases or quirky sayings that may seem bizarre to a foreigner. We as Americans are so accustomed to the phrases, that sometimes we forget that the phrases may not make sense to new people. Today we will share some of the most common American phrases and explain what they mean in context!

Let’s start with some of the most typical American phrases. First, is the expression “Break a leg!” If one were to interpret the phrase literally, it may seem that you are wishing harm on someone. However, figuratively ‘to break a leg’ really means that you are wishing someone good luck! The phrase is often said when someone is about to perform in some fashion whether that be in a play, giving a speech, or taking an exam. So, if someone tells you to break a leg, you respond with thank you.



Another common phrase is “Knock on wood!” This is exclaimed when someone wants to prevent a previous statement from bringing bad luck. For instance, if I were to say to you, “You are going to do great in your interview!”, you may respond by saying “knock on wood” as you do not want to jinx my confident statement (because you want to do well). If you are close to a wooden object such as a table or desk, it is also normal to physically knock on the wood in an effort to ward off bad luck.

Another Americanism is “Piece of cake” which in literal terms means, ‘that was easy!’. It is most appropriate to say piece of cake after you have already completed or are planning to complete a task that was simple to accomplish.



Finally, you may hear someone use the expression “under the weather” as a way of signifying that they are not feeling very healthy or may be feeling ill. Again, the expression is figurative and should not be deciphered as being physically under weather. The expression is most commonly used like I, he, or she are feeling a bit under the weather.

In addition to wording, understanding tone is fundamental in order to grasp Americanisms. One phrase that foreigners often are confused about is “Tell me about it” especially when said in a sarcastic tone. This phrase literally means asking someone to explain or elaborate on a situation they mentioned. However, when used in a sarcastic tone, ‘Tell me about it’ is said to express agreement with a previous point that was made in the conversation. In other words, it is synonymous to saying, I know what you mean.

Interested in learning more Americanisms? Learn more here. Remember, the more you practice your English and the more Americans you speak with, the more expressions you will learn!

As always, we want to hear your stories and experiences. Share with us your favorite immersion experiences by using #HomestayBoston or sharing @globalimmersions!
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