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Communicating in English Language: Phrasal verbs and Idioms

I studied in an ordinary public school. As in most of the ordinary public schools in Nepal, there was only one English course and the English teachers were themselves grappling with the language.  It was always a struggle for me to write or speak a single decent sentence in English.  In this respect, I always envied my friends who had opportunities to study in schools run by native speakers.

In order to compensate this lacking, I had to spend lots of time reading and learning English.  Despite scoring good marks in many English Language tests-when I was exposed to real world especially with native speakers(or those whose command of English close to native speakers)-I realized that my knowledge of English was pathetic.

Below, I am trying to reconstruct the conversion that took place 10 years back.

[Chief of Department, “I have jotted down what budget officer has said in the morning. The bottom line is this year we have to tighten our belt…… My back-of-the-envelop calculations indicate that John’s department is in trouble, Jimmy I wonder if you could bail him out.”

Jimmy grunted, “I‘d rather not. Last time we bent over backwards for him and he didn’t even thank us. Besides, a few months back I’ve warned him that he was barking the wrong tree”.


Needless to say, although many words were familiar to me, as sentences they didn’t make sense to me. Even after spending so much time in English language, I was failing to understand day to day conversations.

I thought that this embarrassing situation is confined to me. However, later I discovered that this problem is rather widespread and is faced by not only me but also by many people from different countries.

It is not uncommon that native speakers are briefed that they have to simplify the language while dealing with foreigners. However, what I have observed is this information quickly escapes their mind when meetings or auditoriums are filled with mixed population: natives and foreigners. In order to attract/impress native speakers, they tend to make the language more interesting at the expense of loosing other half of the audience. Same situation may arise in social context where foreigners are left wondering what native guys are giggling about.

It is true that there are many difficulties in English language starting from vocabulary to different accents of the people around the globe. However, in my opinion, the main problem lies in the extensive uses of phrasal verbs and idioms. For instance, “take after somebody” phrasal verb which is very simple in terms of individual vocabulary and is used often in social context; is not simple to many of us. In contrast, “resembles or have a similar appearance” is within the reach of mundane people.

Nevertheless, since we need to work with each other, in my opinion, the candle needs to be burnt from both ends.

The native speakers while communicating with people like us need to avoid making use of phrasal verbs and idioms as much as possible; on the other hand, people like us need to enrich our knowledge of phrasal verbs and idioms to the extent possible. The good news for those who have access to Internet is there is a plethora of free materials available.

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