You just started your new job at an American company. On your first day, your boss comes by your desk and tells you how excited she is to have you to join and how she will help you learn the ropes.
As your boss walks away, you scratch your head and wonder, “what does it mean to learn the ropes?” As it turns out, your boss just used an idiom.
What is an idiom
An idiom is an expression that has a meaning different from what the meaning of the words is. Idioms are used in everyday life, at the workplace, and in the classroom. You may have developed a vast vocabulary, but your ability to understand idioms will be essential to fitting in a work environment.
How to learn idioms
The best way to learn idioms is to practice the phrases that are commonly used as idioms. Then when those idioms are used in conversation, you can recognize them and interpret it with the right meaning.
Here are five common idioms frequently used in the American workplace. You can practice pronouncing these idioms on ELSA, under the topic Business – with our 12 new lessons added today!
- Learn the ropes [lɜrn ðə roʊps]
Learn the rope does not mean that you will be learning about ropes. Instead, it means to understand a particular job or activity. It’s your first day at work, and your boss wants to make you feel comfortable about going to her for help when you are learning to do your new job, so she tells you “I’m here to help you learn the ropes.”
- On the same page [ɑn ðə seɪm peɪʤ]
This means that there is agreement on what is being done or said. You can use this phrase to describe two people who are in agreement or who understand each other’s points of views. Suppose you told your coworker about a new company policy and your co-worker tells you that they understand. You can say to them “Sounds like we’re on the same page.”
- Beat around the bush [bit əˈraʊnd ðə bʊʃ]
This means to avoid speaking directly about a topic. Suppose one of your employees is a week late in turning in their status report. You ask them if they are having problems with completing their work on time, and they tell you that everything is cool. You can say to them “Let’s not beat around the bush here. I know that your status report is a week late.”
- Best of both worlds [bɛst ʌv boʊθ wɜrldz]
This means to be in a situation where you can benefit from two different opportunities. For example, suppose your colleague tells you that they are working from home one day a week and how much they enjoy it. You agree with them and say “By working from home, you get the luxury of staying home with the benefits of having a job. It is the best of both worlds.”
- In your best interest [ɪn jʊər bɛst ˈɪntrəst]
This means that something is for your benefit. This does not mean that something is very interesting to you. You can use this phrase to describe an opportunity or event that can benefit the person you are speaking to. For example, suppose you want to tell your coworker that they should inform their boss about a problem they’re having at work. You can say:
“It is in your best interest to talk to your boss about it.”
Once you’ve mastered these idioms, you will be able to respond effectively to your boss. You can even throw in your own idiom “We’re on the same page then. I am planning to learn the ropes quickly so I can start contributing as soon as possible.”
If you are serious about speaking English like an American and find yourself working for an American company, do spend some time learning about idioms so you can effectively communicate in the workplace. It is in your best interest to memorize these five common idioms!
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