Vol. 5. No. 1 R-5 April 2001
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Traveling the World through Idioms

Judi Kadden (1998)
Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press
Pp. xvii + 264
ISBN 0-472-08529-8
US $18.95; UK £14.50

This book is a sequel to Traveling through Idioms by the same author[1]. The aim is to learn idioms in context and to memorize them through a set of exercises. Learning idioms, or just words, can be a daunting task when the vocabulary items consist of lists or disconnected sentences. Here, there is an attempt at unity and cohesion through various means. Each unit starts as a letter to a certain Rebecca who is thinking about going to work in another country and tries to get some information about places in that country. The letter is followed by a battery of exercises that make the students use the 13 new idioms contained in each letter again and again, both in written and oral exercises.

The countries "visited" are Brazil, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Israel, Mexico, South Africa, and Thailand. Each unit starts with a few facts about the country followed by the letter from a friend who has lived there for some time and who tells Rebecca about why he or she thinks this is a great country. Each idiom is underlined and thus clearly identified. The first exercise consists in guessing what the idioms mean and offering possible definitions. The next exercise provides examples of use of the idioms and encourages students to write their own examples in short paragraphs including the idioms. The instructions are so precise that it seems difficult to go wrong here.

In the "Mix and Match" exercise, more examples are provided. The sentences are cut into two parts, and beginnings and endings have to be matched. Unfortunately, it is always the idioms themselves that are cut, so the matching does not really have to take the context into account. All the student has to do is find the next word in the idiom. For example "Can you drum" is in the left-hand column and "up interest among the staff so we can offer English classes?" is in the right-hand column. It would have been better to cut after the idiom, thus ensuring that an idiom is matched with a context and/or structure. In the second part of this exercise, each idiom is followed by four words. Students have to choose the word that best relates to the idiom. I found an impossibility in the third sentence of the first unit, but I have not done all the exercises. This may be an isolated case.

The "Is it True?" section refers to the introductory letter and asks students to say if the statements are true or false and then rewrite them, using an idiom. This is quite a good writing exercise. [-1-]

The next exercise is called, mistakenly I think, "Collocations." It is an exercise where three propositions are offered to complete a sentence containing an idiom and one has to be chosen. It is a good exercise but it has nothing to do with collocations. Rather the structure of the sentence is the determining factor in deciding which proposition to choose.

In "Fill the Blanks," students may choose any idiom from the book to complete the sentences, which may prove impossible when one is just starting out but is probably rewarding when one is at least half way through. Next, proverbs are proposed and students are required both to find an explanation about their meaning and use the idioms they have studied to illustrate them.

A black and white drawing in "Picture It" invites students to write more sentences containing the idioms. The pictures are not terribly exciting. The pair work that follows uses the color photographs in the unit (which are rather well chosen for each country) for some work on word categories (nouns, adjectives, adverbs, etc.) and more use of idioms. The group work encourages students to refer to their own experiences to use the idioms.

Each chapter ends with a composition with a choice of subjects, in which students have to use some of the idioms.

As I said before, if students go through a chapter thoroughly, the idioms will stay in their minds forever. It would be a wonder if, at the end of the unit, the 13 idioms were not memorized. I am afraid there is a little bit of overkill here.

As this is an intermediate-to-advanced level book, I am not sure that copying in the book the sentence or paragraph in which an idiom appears is really a profitable exercise; in the same way, the copying again in the bookmarks section seems a bit childish. A good index with the idioms and page references (some idioms appear in more than one unit) would have been just as useful.

The idioms, on the whole, are well chosen. I have a few reservations, however. First, to me an idiom is different from a phrasal verb. Phrasal verbs are a whole other area of vocabulary difficulty. Here, catch up, give in, and show around are treated as idioms. Neither would I call idioms phrases such as let me know, day and night, the whole time, or do the dishes/laundry.

The layout of the book is nice, making it pleasant if students want to learn idioms on their own. The activities one can do on one's own are probably enough to learn the idioms. When we finally get to the pair and group work, I am afraid students might feel reluctant to work on the same 13 idioms any longer. I am sure mine would.

Editor's Note

[1] Traveling Through Idioms (Kadden, 1996), The University of Michigan Press, was reviewed in TESL-EJ Vol. 3, #1, November, 1997, R-3.

Nicole Décuré
Toulouse University

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