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Impressive Idioms in 10 Languages to Make You Sound Like a Native Speaker

We’ve all been there: you’re speaking in a foreign language with a native speaker and all is going well, until suddenly they say something completely bizarre. You understand the words, but the meaning is totally lost on you. “It’s raining cats and dogs?”… What on earth does that even mean?!

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What are idioms?

Idioms are phrases whose meanings are not clear from their literal form, and so are mostly understood only by native speakers of a language (unless non-native speakers sit down and learn them). Every language has these interesting set phrases that seem bizarre when translated in a literal sense, but have fascinating figurative meanings. So, if you want to sound more like a native speaker in the language you are learning, then idioms are a fantastic - not to mention hilarious - way to show off your skills.

Take the English phrase “to be full of beans”, for example, which means to have lots of energy. That excitable dog running around the park probably didn’t eat beans for breakfast, but he is still full of beans! Using idioms in a foreign language requires a good knowledge of vocabulary and situational context. When used correctly though, they can make your language sound colorful and exciting. And best of all, they make you sound more fluent! They are also a really useful way to gain insights into the culture that surrounds the language you are learning.

Luckily for you, we’re on hand with a fun list of idiomatic expressions in 10 languages that might just help to clear up a few things next time you are chatting with a native speaker and they start saying something strange! And of course using idioms is a sure-fire way to ignite conversation and impress your Tandem partner. So why not try out a few of these phrases and wow your language partner on Tandem today!

English: to let the cat out the bag

  • What it means: to reveal a big secret

Russian: Ни пуха ни пера!... Answer: К чёрту!

  • Literal translation: Neither feather nor feather!... Answer: To Hell!
  • What it means: Good luck!... Answer: Thanks!

Portuguese: Pão, pão, queijo, queijo

  • Literal translation: Bread is bread and cheese is cheese
  • What it means: it’s really simple

Portuguese idiom, Bread is bread and cheese is cheese

French: ça coute la peau des yeux

  • Literal translation: It costs the skin of your eyes
  • What it means: it’s really expensive

Swedish: Ingen ko på isen

  • Literal translation: there’s no cow on the ice
  • What it means: don’t worry

cow in field

Japanese: 井の中の蛙大海を知らず (I no naka no kawazu taikai wo shirazu)

  • Literal translation: A frog in a well does not know the great sea
  • What it means: people often judge things from their narrow experience and do not consider the world outside - don’t be narrow minded.

Italian: Buono come il pane

  • Literal translation: as good as bread
  • What it means: description of someone kind and good

Chinese: 风和日丽 (fēng hé rì lì)

  • Literal translation: the wind is mild and the sun is bright
  • What it means: you’re having a good day

Flemish: Helaas Pindakaas

  • Literal translation: Unfortunately, peanut butter
  • What it means: Never mind, that’s a shame.

German: Schwein haben

  • Literal translation: to have a pig
  • What it means: to have good luck


What are your favorite foreign language idioms? Join the language exchange community on Tandem today!

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