Beverly Hills Lingual Institute
Beverly Hills Lingual Institute
Beverly Hills Lingual Institute
Beverly Hills Lingual Institute

Blog   |   Language, Learning and Culture

Classes in More than 25 Languages return to blog index

Idioms from Around the World

A friend asks you if something will ever get done, and you reply, "when pigs fly."

If your friend has lived in an English-speaking culture for any length of time, they'll probably understand that this means "never."

The statement might make little sense if literally translated into another language.

Though their figurative meaning might differ from the literal, idioms have an important role to play in language and communication. They'll amplify your message in a way that draws your audience in and helps to awaken their senses.

Knowing idioms in other languages is the difference between mechanically parroting a series of words in a grammatically correct fashion, and beginning to "think" in that language.

Idioms can also be a clue to the customs and values of a foreign culture.

Besides, they're cool. The first time you use a foreign idiom, to the evident appreciation of a native speaker, is one of triumph.

Here, then, are some idioms from around the world:

Arabic
يد واحدة ماتسقفش
(Eid wahda matsa'afsh)

"One hand doesn't clap"
Teamwork or cooperation is necessary for success
Armenian
Գլուխս մի՛ արդուկեր
(Klookhys mee artooger)

"Stop ironing my head"
Stop annoying me!
Chinese (Mandarin)
杯弓蛇影
(bēi gōng shé yǐng)

"Seeing the reflection of a bow in a cup and thinking it's a snake"
You're worrying about things that don't exist
Czech
chodit kolem horké kaše
"To walk around hot porridge"
To beat around the bush
Danish
At have en pind i øret
"To have a pin in your ear"
To not listen to someone
Dutch
Het kost me een rib uit mijn lijf
"It costs me a rib from my body"
It is too expensive
Filipino/ Tagalog
yakap-Hudas
"A hug of pretense"
Insincere
Finnish
Päästää sammakko suusta
"To let a frog out of your mouth"
To say the wrong thing
French
Ca m'a coûté les yeux de la tête
"It cost me my head's eyes"
It is too expensive
German
Ich verstehen nur Bahnhof
"I only understand the train station"
I don't understand a thing about what that person is saying
Greek (Modern)
Τρέχει χωρίς να φτάσει
(Tréchei chorís na ftásei)

"Running without arriving"
Very busy
Hebrew
סוף העולם שמאלה
(Sof ha'olam, smolah)

"At the end of the world, turn left"
It's in the middle of nowhere
Hindi
जंगल मेँ मोर नाचा किसने देखा?
(jangal mein mor naca kisne dekha)
"Peacock danced in the forest, who saw?"
Even a good thing has to be made public
Hungarian
Bagoly mondja verébnek, hogy nagy fejű
"An owl says to a sparrow that they have a big head"
Finding a fault in someone else that you yourself possess
Italian
Un cane in Chiesa
"A dog in church"
An unwanted guest
Japanese
猫をかぶる
(Neko o kaburu)

"To wear a cat on one's head"
You're pretending to be nice
Korean
당근이지!
(dang-geun i-ji)

"It's a carrot"
It's obvious
Macedonian
Na neroden Petko kapa mu skroile
"They sewed a hat to Peter who is not born yet"
Don't count your chickens before they're hatched
Norwegian
å gå som katta rundt den varme grauten
"To pace around hot porridge like a cat"
To beat around the bush
Persian/ Farsi
آب از دستش نمیچکه
(Âb az dasteš nemiceke)

"Water does not trickle out of his hand"
He or she is tight-fisted
Polish
Słoń nastąpił ci na ucho?
"Did an elephant stomp on your ear?"
You have no ear for music
Portuguese
Empurrar com a barriga
"To push something with your belly"
To keep postponing an important chore
Romanian
Corbul în zadar se spală, că negreaţa nu şi-o pierde
"A crow is never the whiter for washing herself often"
You can't do the impossible
Russian
Галопом по Европам
(Galopom po evropam)

"Galloping across Europe"
To do something hastily
Serbo/ Croatian
Lud ko struja
"As crazy as electricity"
Crazy, not the sharpest tool in the shed
Slovenian
Po toci zvoniti je prepozno
"It's too late to ring after the hail"
Don't cry over spilt milk
Spanish
Dar calabazas a alguien
"Give them pumpkins"
To reject someone
Swahili
Usipoziba ufa utajenga ukuta
"If you don't seal a crack in the wall, you will have to rebuild the wall"
A stitch in time saves nine
Swedish
Det är ingen ko på isen
"There's no cow on the ice"
Don't worry
Thai
ชาติหน้าตอนบ่าย ๆ
(Chāti h̄n̂ā txn b̀āy)

"One afternoon in your next reincarnation"
It's never going to happen
Turkish
Aç it fırın deler
"A hungry dog will break through a bakery"
A starving person can do impossible things
Urdu
اندھا کیا چاہے دو آنکھیں
(Aandha kya chahe do aankhein)

"Blind eyes what two eyes"
A wish coming true
Vietnamese
Chí lớn thường gặp nhau
"The big ones often meet"
Great minds think alike
Zulu
Uthanda ukubukwa njengesiyephu
"He likes to be looked at like a long-hairy goat"
He likes to have all of the attention
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