Non-native perspective on idioms

Charles Wells charles at FREUDE.COM
Wed Mar 14 18:26:21 UTC 2001

Frank Abate said:
It is also true that "non-native speakers" have a perspective that is of
great value to lexicography.  In English, it is well known that "non-native
speakers" are often far better at detecting idiomatic expressions than
"native speakers".  There are a number of Japanese dictionaries of English
idioms, for instance, which have been real eye-openers for me as to what
seems unclear to someone learning English as a second/later language.
Native speakers use English idioms, and use idiomatic English, often without
realizing that they are using words metaphorically, playfully, or whatever.

We have learned much from the four exchange students who have lived with us
over the years.

Example that recently came up:

I am going to a movie tonight.
--means I am going to a movie theatre to see a movie.

I am going to watch a movie tonight.
--means I am going watch a movie run in someone's home on a VCR

Our student said the second and meant the first.  If I heard someone say

I am going to see a movie tonight

I would assume this meant in a theater, but perhaps that is a function of
my age (63).

--Charles Wells

Charles Wells, 105 South Cedar St., Oberlin, Ohio 44074, USA.
email: charles at
home phone: 440 774 1926.
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