Learn 5 Common English Idioms to Describe People

KrystalListening and Speaking:Beginning

Krystal, Level 1 Listening and Speaking Instructor

Sometimes, even when you know a lot of English, you can have difficulty finding the right words or phrases to describe people’s appearance and personality. Having the right words to describe the different people that you meet is helpful. Here are 5 English idioms that you may hear when people are describing others.

1.   Has a heart of gold – hǽz ə hɑ́rt ə́v gól

  • A person who has a heart of gold is very kind and considerate.
  • Example: She has a heart of gold. She’ll always help anyone with anything.
  • ʃí hǽz ə hɑ́rt ə́v góld. ʃíl ɒ́lwèz hɛ́lp ɛ́niwən wɪθ ɛ́niθɪ̀ŋ

Image courtesy of inkfoundry.com 

2.   Pain in the neck – pén ɪn ðə nɛ́k

  • A person who is a pain in the neck is very annoying or a bother.
  • Example: My little sister is a pain in the neck.
  • máj lɪ́təl sɪ́stər ɪ́z ə pén ɪn ðə nɛ́k.

3.   Happy-go-lucky – hǽpi gó lə́ki

  • A person who is happy-go-lucky is very cheerful and carefree all the time.
  • She is a happy-go-lucky girl. She’s always so cheerful.
  • ʃí ɪ́z ə hǽpi- gó- lə́ki gə́rl. ʃíz ɒ́lwèz só tʃɪ́rfəl.

4.   Hard as nails – hɑ́rd ǽz nélz

  • A person who is (as) hard as nails is unsentimental and shows no sympathy.
  • He doesn’t care who he hurts. He’s as hard as nails.
  • hí də́zənt kɛ́r hú hí hə́rts. híz ǽz hɑ́rd ǽz nélz.

5.   Average Joe – ǽvərɪdʒ dʒó

  • A person who is an average Joe is someone who’s just like everyone else; a normal person.
  • He is an average Joe student. He isn’t rich and famous.
  • hí ɪ́z ǽn ǽvərɪdʒ dʒó stúdənt. hí ɪ́zənt rɪ́tʃ ǽnd féməs.

Now you give it a try. Can you think of people you can use these idioms to describe?

Is there an English idiom you don’t understand? Post your idiom question below as a reply, or send me an e-mail (kkillcre@aum.edu) and tell me about it. I’ll try to help you understand it better.

Happy Learning!

Image courtesy of chappellroberts.com


Need Listening Practice? Try NPR

Robin, Level 2 Listening and Speaking Instructor

Robin, Level 2 Listening and Speaking Instructor

Listen up! Many listening students wonder how they can find resources for listening and speaking. For speaking, there is no better practice than speaking with a real person. Remember to speak constantly, to anyone who will talk with you.

However, maybe you just want to practice listening. There is no reason to ever run out of listening resources, and there are three reasons why: N-P-R. NPR means National Public Radio, and is some of the most high quality and realistic listening you could ever hope to find. The three benefits of NPR are: accessibility, variety, and authenticity. 


NPR means National Public Radio, and is some of the most high quality and realistic listening you could ever hope to find. You can listen in your car (on your way to school) on the radio at 89.9 FM. The Internet is also available. Go to NPR.org to explore the big website.

which way

Speaking of big, the website has hundreds of options. You can listen to almost any topic you want, including news from your home country. Are you interested in gardening? Maybe you want to hear about a soccer match in England? NPR.org has so many stories to listen to, you will never run out. What’s more, there are often transcripts to each story, which means you can read while you listen.

NPR is not a textbook, which means everything on the website is real. Real English can be difficult to hear sometimes, so it is important to practice whenever you can. NPR gives you chances to hear English from all over the world. You may hear British reporters, Australian interviews, or expert chefs from the American South. Real English is varied, so the variety on NPR is very useful for all learners.

Practicing your listening and speaking is, of course, very important. Knowing which resources to use is sometimes difficult. Many learners want to practice, but don’t know where to go. NPR.org is a useful place to start. Explore the website, listen to the stories, and read along if you can. There’s no reason not to improve!

Intelligence Discussion Topic


Obie, Level 5 Listening and Speaking Instructor

Obie, Level 5 Listening and Speaking Instructor

In Listening and Speaking class, we started a chapter on the ideas of the mind and memory. Along with that discussion came the question of intelligence…what is it, how does it work, etc. Watch the video below and determine based on the definition of intelligence if you think these dogs are intelligent.

Intelligence is the idea of taking in information and applying it to some aspect of life.


Do you think the animals in the video are showing intelligence or not?

Listening Practice

Kody, Level 3 Listening and Speaking Instructor

Kody, Level 3 Listening and Speaking Instructor

Directions: Read the dialogue about alternative energy. Look up any new words.

Carl: Uh! What’s that smell?

Jody: I’m working on my latest invention. I’m turning our old food into an energy source for our car and our house.

Carl: Why? There are already lots of types of renewable energy that power cars and homes, and none of them smell like this!

Jody: Well, I think I’m onto a better alternative. Imagine being able to recycle your unwanted food into fuel. That’s the wave of the future.

Carl: You mean you think that it would be more efficient than wind power and solar energy? There are geothermal and hydroelectric power plants that already provide energy for lots of homes and businesses.

Jody: But I’m using food that would otherwise be wasted.

Carl: I hate to break it to you, but if you want to convert food into fuel, there are already different types of biofuels that work pretty well.

Jody: You mean somebody has already beaten me to the punch?

Carl: Yes, and I bet they’ve found a way to do it without this stench!

You can listen to the audio here.


Source: English for Everyone Blog: ESL Podcast 866

Importance of Word Stress

In speaking class, we try to emphasize the importance of word stress to students. Word

Toby, Level 4 Listening and Speaking Instructor

Toby, Level 4 Listening and Speaking Instructor

stress is very important to knowing how to properly pronounce words in the English language. In the English language, word stress deals with the syllables involved in each word. Most English words will have one syllable said louder than the other syllables. This is very confusing for many students since most students can not remember which syllable is stressed in a particular vocabulary word. Moreover, when suffixes are added to the vocabulary words, students become even more confused. As a result, I would like to give a few hints for students to follow when it comes to word stress for words that include suffixes.

In English, suffixes cause word stress to change among the various syllables of a word depending on what the suffix is. For example, you may have a suffix that causes the syllable before the suffix to be stressed. On the other hand, you may have a suffix that makes the second syllable before the suffix to be stressed. Still, you may have some suffixes that are stressed in the word. See the chart below for a few examples. I hope this helps you to understand how to pronounce confusing vocabulary words that include suffixes.

This list is in no way meant to show the only suffixes. There are many more suffixes in the English language. These are just a few of the common suffixes. (Examples taken from American Speechsounds Workbook; p. 201)

Stressed syllable Suffixes Examples
 Syllable before suffix  -ic; -ical; -ity; -tion; -graphy; -ia; -ial; -ian; -ible; -inal; -ious; -logy; -nomy; -sion  

  • conditions
  • quality
  • illegible
  • statistics
 Second syllable before suffix  -ary; -ate; -graph; -ize; -tude   

  • congratulate
  • itemize
  • photograph
  • vocabulary
 Stress the suffix  -arily; -ee; -eer  

  • engineer
  • guarantee
  • employee
  • career

Language Assistance Program (LAP)

Emily,  Level 2 Listening and Speaking Instructor

Emily, Level 2 Listening and Speaking Instructor

I am very excited to announce that we will be participating in the Language Assistance Program (LAP) this term in our Listening and Speaking course. In this program, Auburn University Montgomery students from the School of Nursing will be sitting in our class every Tuesday. These students will be helping our ESL students with daily class activities, pronunciation, and conversation skills. For our first week of LAP assistance, our class will be holding Conversation Circles. Essentially, Conversation Circles are mini conversations that encourage students to practice their English communicative ability. I have provided a list of topics that our class will work through during this term. I hope you guys enjoy!

Emily’s Level 2 Listening and Speaking: Conversation Circle


-Introduce yourself to your partners.

Topic #1: Food

  • What’s your favorite food in your country? Describe how to make it.
  • What are your favorite foods here in the United States? Are there any foods here that you don’t like?

Topic #2: Holidays

  • What are the most important holidays in your country? How do people celebrate them?
  • Which holiday is your favorite? Why?
  • Do you celebrate any American holidays? Which one do you like best? Why?

Topic #3: Landmarks

  • Describe a famous landmark or attraction in your country.
  • If I’m going to your country on vacation, what should I be sure to see and do?

Topic #4: Children

  • In your country, what role do children play in the family? Do they do household chores or help families earn money?
  • Should teenagers work at paying jobs, or focus entirely on school?
  • Do children in your country help make any family decisions?
  • How do you think children’s lives are different in the United States?

Topic #5: Relationships

  • Describe dating customs in your country. What’s appropriate? What’s not?
  • How is dating different in the United States?
  • How do people celebrate weddings in your country? Describe a wedding you attended — your own or someone else’s.

Topic #6: Vacations

  • What’s the best vacation you ever took? Where did you go? What did you do?
  • If you had unlimited time and money for a dream vacation, where would you go?

Topic #7: Jobs

  • What’s the best job you ever had? Why was it good?
  • What’s the worst job you ever had? Why was it bad?

Topic #8: Hobbies

  • What do you like to do when you’re not working?
  • Do you play any sport?
  • What’s the most popular sport in your country? Is it popular here?

Topic #9: Household

  • When you were growing up in your country, what chores did your parents do?
  • Did your mother and your father do different chores? Which chores were for men and which for women?
  • Do people still have to do those chores now? Why or why not?

Topic #10: Future

  • Are you in school?
  • What is your major?
  • What are your plans for the future?

Sources: LETC Teachers’ Corner

conversation partners

Pronunciation Practice

During this term in Listening and Speaking, our level one class has focused on common problems with pronunciation. Through repetitive practice of certain word sounds, our class has definitely improved our pronunciation! We are excited to share some helpful methods of pronunciation practice that we have enjoyed this term.

1. Minimal Pairs:

Sound 1: /i:/                       Sound 2: /I/

Heel                                       Hill

Sleep                                     Slip

Leave                                    Live

Reach                                    Rich

Sheep                                   Ship

Sound 1: /ʃ/                        Sound 2: /tʃ/

Ship                                       Chip

Sheer                                    Cheer

Share                                    Chair

Wash                                     Watch

Sheet                                    Cheat


2. Sentence Use:

Is that the (bell/bill)?

The green (heels/hills) are very high.

Jim wants to (sail/sell) his boat.

Go get the (pen/pan).

She (left/laughed) after the speech.

There is a (bag/bug) on the chair.

3. Tongue Twisters: 

Suzie sold seashells down by the seashore.

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

The thirty-three thieves thought that they thrilled the throne throughout Thursday.

Roberta ran rings around the Roman ruins.

If Stu chews shoes, should Stu choose the shoes he chews?

Wayne went to Wales to watch walruses.

4. Top 10 Pronunciation Tips from rediff.com:

 i. Observe the mouth movements of those who speak English well and try to imitate them.

When you are watching television, observe the mouth movements of the speakers. Repeat what they are saying, while imitating the intonation and rhythm of their speech.

ii. Until you learn the correct intonation and rhythm of English, slow your speech down.

If you speak too quickly, and with the wrong intonation and rhythm, native speakers will have a hard time understanding you.

Don’t worry about your listener getting impatient with your slow speech — it is more important that everything you say be understood.

iii. Listen to the ‘music’ of English.

Do not use the ‘music’ of your native language when you speak English. Each language has its own way of ‘singing’.

iv. Use the dictionary.

Try and familiarize yourself with the phonetic symbols of your dictionary. Look up the correct pronunciation of words that are hard for you to say.

v. Make a list of frequently used words that you find difficult to pronounce and ask someone who speaks the language well to pronounce them for you.

Record these words, listen to them and practice saying them. Listen and read at the same time.

vi. Buy audio books.

Record yourself reading some sections of the book. Compare the sound of your English with that of the person reading the book on the tape.

vii. Pronounce the ending of each word.

Pay special attention to ‘S’ and ‘ED’ endings. This will help you strengthen the mouth muscles that you use when you speak English.

viii. Read aloud in English for 15-20 minutes every day. 

Research has shown it takes about three months of daily practice to develop strong mouth muscles for speaking a new language.

ix. Record your own voice and listen for pronunciation mistakes. 

Many people hate to hear the sound of their voice and avoid listening to themselves speak. However, this is a very important exercise because doing it will help you become conscious of the mistakes you are making.

x. Be patient.

You can change the way you speak but it won’t happen overnight. People often expect instant results and give up too soon. You can change the way you sound if you are willing to put some effort into it.

Emily, Level 1 Listening & Speaking Instructor

Emily, Level 1 Listening & Speaking Instructor

What is Black Friday?

Thanksgiving is a major holiday in the United States when Americans give thanks for many different things. Moreover, there is a famous day that usually overrides the Thanksgiving festivities for many families  This day is Black Friday. Recently, many of my students have been asking me, “Toby! What is Black Friday?”

Well, Black Friday is a day where many shoppers in the United States wake up very early (or never go to bed) to go shop at stores that open very early in the morning to get the best shopping deals of the holiday season. This day is usually a very long day for retailers who make a large portion of their yearly profit on this major three-day shopping weekend.


If you are interested in finding out more information about Black Friday, check out this video from YouTube that explains it all. It has some very good information, and it is set up to allow you to actively listen for information to help you answer the questions.

Have fun watching this video and Happy Shopping on Black Friday Weekend!

Toby, Level 5 Listening & Speaking Instructor

NPR is a great site for listening practice!

If you are interested in having another source of listening practice, visit National Public Radio online (www.npr.org). This site has a variety of topics that you can choose from, and has a box you can type in a topic to search for things that interest you. Most of the audio files have a transcript that you can use to follow along with. This would be beneficial for you to be able to see the words and their pronunciations. Before viewing the transcripts, try writing down the Main Idea and some Details (words and other information) that you hear. After writing down all the things you can pick out of the listening, view the transcript and compare the information you wrote down to that in the transcript. So, take some time to practice a little on your own with this very useful resource. As always…ENJOY!!!


Obie, Level 4 Listening & Speaking Instructor

Stop Studying and Start Practicing!

Many people say they have been studying English for years, but they can’t speak English. One reason is that language is learned best through practice.

Here are four ways to get you practicing English.

1. Speak Only English – It is a very simple way to practice. When you go home, don’t switch back to your native language. Try to continue speaking English even when you are not in class. This could be strange at first, but it will help you become familiar with English.

2. Speak with a Native – Don’t be shy about this one. Find a native speaker to meet with regularly. You can meet daily, weekly, or when works for you. Go to a coffee shop and just sit and talk about anything you want. Try not to focus on a book or grammar too much.

3. Post in English – You probably already use Facebook or Twitter. Try posting your thoughts, messages, or comments in English. This will allow you to share your English with many people very easily. You can receive comments and read what others think about your ideas.

4. Listen in English – If you watch a movie, watch it in English. You can watch it with or without subtitles. This can help you hear and see situations in English and listen for correct pronunciation. You can watch old movies or new movies. Invite friends to join you and enjoy your favorites.

So the next time someone asks you if you speak English, say yes!

Kody, Level 3 Listening and Speaking Instructor