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?!

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! 

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

Literal translation: Neither feather nor down! Answer: To hell!

What it means: Good luck… Answer: to mean ‘thanks’.

2. English: to let the cat out the bag

What it means: to reveal a big secret

3. Portuguese: Pão, pão, queijo, queijo

Literal translation: Bread is bread and cheese is cheese

What it means: it’s really simple

learn portuguese idiom

4. French: ça coute la peau des yeux

Literal translation: It costs the skin of your eyes

What it means: it’s really expensive

5. Swedish: Ingen ko på isen

Literal translation: there’s no cow on the ice

What it means: don’t worry

swedish cow idiom

6. 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

7. Italian: Buono come il pane

Literal translation: as good as bread

What it means: description of someone kind and good

8. 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

china sun idiom

9. German: Schwein haben

Literal translation: to have a pig

What it means: to have good luck

pig idiom

10. Flemish: Helaas Pindakaas

Literal translation: Unfortunately, peanut butter.

What it means: Never mind, that’s a shame.

What are your favorite foreign language idioms? Find a language partner to share yours with on Tandem today, or share them with us on Facebook and Twitter!


5 Phrases to Impress Your Chinese Clients

| Language | No Comments
This week’s guest blog post comes from Chineasy, an amazing company that helps teach Chinese characters using a groundbreaking visual method. The post is particularly useful for our readers who...

5 Tips for Your Next Winter Vacation

| Tandem Tips | No Comments
It’s pretty much winter here in the Northern Hemisphere and we’re all gearing up for a few months of hot tea and cozy evenings by the fire. However, for some...


| Language | No Comments
If you’ve ever lived in a foreign country where they speak another language, you’ll remember the difficulty of getting to grips with the local slang. Unfortunately, there are some things...