How some people might recognize color idioms in their own language.

There are idioms which mention different colors and people will recognize them as translations of their own language, but often enough other words are used in the different languages. Some of the common ones use the colors blue, green and red and are groups of words that combine a preposition with the color such as “out of the blue” or a verb and a preposition such as “He saw red.”

Since the idiom is supposed to give you a meaning which is far from the meaning of the key word or object that creates it, new language students have difficulties being able to image that colors have anything to do with something that is not a refection of a light wave frequency. When the student sees that he “sees red” in his language that is often a good beginning point for the person to see that there may be other similar idioms. In the meantime he will likely absorb other idioms and their expressions.

So the francophone does “sees red” because that is the literal translation for “voit rouge” but he is less likely to get the meaning for “getting the green light” because there is no equivalent in his own language. The way to get around the obstacle for the teacher and the student is to explain an analogy between when a green light represents in the Anglo world and in the world in general. It is the traffic light associated with right to go through an intersection.

Once the language person can make some association of the new idiom to a concept or idea which is prevalent then he is better able to absorb the new idiom. He will also be less likely to translate the words literally looking for an equivalent in his own language especially if there is none.

There are other idioms he may know from popular English songs which uses “feel blue” for example. if the learner has a musical ear he might take advantage of his ability to perceive other idioms in the future. he can also learn that colors have been associated to certain emotions, as blue is associated with sadness and red with anger. green with envy and white with fear as in “white as a ghost.” Others like yellow may be just stated in a simple sentence with the present of be, as in  “you’re yellow,” mean you are a coward.

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