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Monday, December 31, 2012

Thumbs Up

Thumbs Up

Meaning: a sign that means “good” in the U.S.

Example 1:
Ted: I was so nervous during my presentation in class this morning! I really wanted to do well in front of all those people.

Sheila: Really? You didn’t look nervous at all. I thought you did a great job.

Tom: Well, I started out kind of shaky, but when the teacher gave me the thumbs up from the back of the class, I became more confident and relaxed.

Sheila: That’s good. You deserve a big thumbs up for such a great presentation!

Tom: Thank you! Are you ready for your presentation tomorrow?

Sheila: I don’t know. After I start, could you give me the thumbs up to make me more confident!

Ted: Sure! I know you’ll give a great presentation.

Example 2:
Kim: Wow! That movie was great! I’m giving it a big thumbs up!

Gina: Really? What was it about?

Kim: It was an action movie and the excitement never stopped. There wasn’t one slow scene in the whole movie.

Gina: Well, if you give the movie a thumbs up, then I’ll have to see it. We like the same kind of movies.

Kim: You should definitely see it. You won’t be disappointed!

Thumbs up shows that someone or something is good, especially when it comes to a performance or action with good results. In example 1, Ted was giving a presentation and was doing well, so his teacher gave him a “thumbs up” from the back of the class. We usually use thumbs up with the verb “give.” In example 2, Kim loved the movie she saw, so she gave it a “thumbs up” meaning it was really good.

This idiom can be found in the LSI textbook Speaking Transitions. This book is used in the level 4 Listening/Speaking classes. For more information, please visit:

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Up to a Point

Up to a Point
Meaning: not completely, partially, not fully

Example 1:
Terry: I don’t know what to do. I’m so upset!

Sarah: What’s wrong?

Tom: My roommate is so messy! All I ever do is clean up after her.

Sarah: Really? Have you tried to talk to her about it?

Tom: That’s the problem. She is so nice and when she first moved in, she warned me that she wasn’t very clean. I mean, I can handle a messy house up to a point, but it’s ridiculous when I find pieces of bread under the sofa cushions!

Sarah: Wow. I guess that would get annoying. Why don’t you just tell her that? Just say that you have been able to handle this situation up to a point, but now it is just too much and she needs to make some changes.

Terry: You’re right. I will talk to her and hopefully things get better. Otherwise, I’ll need to find a new roommate and that’s hard.

Sarah: Well, good luck!

Example 2:
Kelly: I’m really happy with my new job and I’m getting a lot of hours, so I’ve been able to save a lot of money.

Jenny: That’s great. Do you work on the weekends, too?

Kelly: Yes, I do. I can work weekends up to a point, but if I do that for too long, I’ll get really tired.

Jenny: You should probably tell your boss so that he doesn’t expect you to always work weekends.

Kelly: You’re right. I’ll let him know that working on the weekends is only temporary.

Up to a point means partially or not completely. In example 1, Terry is able to tolerate his roommate’s messy habits partially, or somewhat, but he is at the point now where he cannot handle it.  In example b, Kelly is happy to be working a lot of hours so that she can make more money. However, she can only work a lot on the weekends for a while and doesn’t want to do it permanently.

This idiom can be found in the LSI textbook Reading Horizons, 2nd edition. This book is used in the level 6 Reading/Vocabulary classes. For more information, please visit:

Monday, December 17, 2012

To Hit the Jackpot

To Hit the Jackpot

Meaning: To have really good luck or to be very successful at something

Example 1:
Tom: I was looking for an apartment for so long that I was about to give up. But last Sunday, I hit the jackpot! I found an absolutely perfect place.

Sarah: That’s great! Where is it?

Tom: It’s only two blocks from the school, so I can walk every day. Also, there is a supermarket and theater right across the street. Plus, it has a really nice pool where I can have parties on the weekend. And it’s only $600 per month!

Sarah: You really did hit the jackpot! How did you find it?

Tom: A friend of my uncle Bob needed to rent it fast and wanted someone responsible. I guess that would be me!

Sarah: Congratulations!

Example 2:
Kelly: You and Sam make such a good couple. You really hit the jackpot when you met him!

Jenny: Yes, I know. When you consider how we met, then I really consider myself lucky.

Kelly: Really? How did you meet?

Jenny: Well, I crashed into him at a stoplight while on my way to work. There was a lot of damage to his car, and I thought he would hate me instead of asking me out on a date!

Kelly: What a nice guy! I guess he was able to ignore your bad driving skills and get to know you as a person.

Jenny: Hey! I’m not that bad! I just made a mistake. Besides, I really did hit the jackpot that day. Who knows about the future?

To hit the jackpot means originally meant to win a lot of money when gambling or playing a game. However, it is commonly used to show when someone is lucky at finding a good deal, like the apartment in the first example. Also, if someone finds a good friend or spouse, it can also be used to express luck (see example 2).

This idiom can be found in the LSI textbook Reading Horizons, 2nd edition. This book is used in the level 6 Reading/Vocabulary classes. For more information, please visit:

Monday, December 3, 2012

make up your mind!

Example 1: I just can't make up my mind! Should I go to El Camino College now, or stay at LSI to study English for 6 more months?! Someone help!

Example 2: You need to make up your mind soon. El Camino's application deadline is coming up, so you need to make a decision soon!

Explanation: make up one's mind = make a decision
The decision should have more than one option. In example 1, the student is deciding between El Camino College or LSI. In Example 2, they are urging their friend to decide between El Camino College and LSI.

I need to make a decision = I need to make up my mind
She needs to make a decision = She needs to make up her mind
We need to make a decision = We need to make up our minds

This idiom  can be found in Reading Savvy, 1st Edition. This book has been used to teach Level 5 Reading/Vocabulary. To learn more, please visit

to Wipe Out

Example 1: Be careful when you are out on the ocean surfing! If you aren't paying attention when the next wave comes, you could wipe out and get hurt!

Example 2: So many trees were wiped out in the fire. 

Explanation: wipe out can be used in many different ways. 

In example 1, wipe out means fall. When used this way, wipe out is a phrasal verb to describe a fall off of a movie object such as a surfboard or skateboard and is commonly related to sports. This expression is often informal. 

In example 2, wipe out means destroy. When used this way, wipe out is often used in the passive voice. Ex: The city was wiped out by the fire. This is often used to describe very serious situation with large scale destruction. 

This idiom can be found in the book LSI Reading Savvy, 1st Edition. This book is used to teach Level 5 Reading/Vocabulary at LSI schools. For more information

Thursday, November 29, 2012

To People Watch

Idiom: "To People Watch"

Context #1:
Joe: I have to pick up my friend today at the airport.  I hate going to the airport.
Chuck: Really?  Not me!  I love sitting in airports.  It's a great place to people watch!
Joe:  Yeah I guess that's true.
Context #2:
Sally: I went Christmas shopping at the mall last night.  It was so crowded!  There were way too many people.
Bill: Yeah, I know.  Every year before Christmas the mall is a zoo.  I let me wife do the shopping while I find a comfortable place to just sit and do a little people watching.  There are so many interesting things to observe.
Meaning: "to people watch" is an expression used to describe the activity of just watching the different kinds of people in a public place. Usually someone "people watches" just out of curiosity.  This idiom can be found in the book LSI Speaking Transitions. This book is used to teach Level 4 Speaking/Listening at LSI schools. For more information

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Idiom: Soulmate

Context #1:
Sara: Guess what?  My boyfriend asked me to marry him!
Jane: Wow!  That's great!  You finally found your soulmate.
Context #2:
Jim: So do you think everyone just has one soulmate?
Bill: Well, I think that it is possible to have more than one choice when it comes to deciding on who to spend the rest of your life with.
Meaning:  "soulmate" is an expression used to describe the one person you want to spend the rest of your life with.  This idiom can be found in the book LSI Reading Savvy.  This book is used to teach Level 5 Reading/Vocabulary at LSI schools.  For more information visit:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

To be a Must

Idiom: to be a must; used as a verb ("must" being a noun). 

First Example:
Maria: I'm so excited!  I'm going to Disneyland this weekend.
Neil: Have you been before?
Maria: No, I've never been.
Neil: You'll have a great time
Maria: Which rides should I go on?  I like fast rides.
Neil:  Then you should definitely go on Space Mountain.  It's a must.  And the railroad and Matterhorn are pretty fun as well.

Meaning: While "must" is normally used in English as modal, it can be used as a noun meaning something that is indispensable or required.  However, while "must" usually has a formal meaning when used as a modal, it's often used as a noun in informal situations, when someone is giving a suggestion of something that is worth doing.  In the example above, Neil says that the ride Space Mountain is a must, meaning that Maria should make sure to go on it.  Usually, "must" is used as a noun in the phrase "to be a must."

Here is another example:
            Having a car is a must if you hope to live and work in Los Angeles.  While the public transportation is acceptable for visitors, it's usually not reliable enough for everyday commuting.

Meaning: In this case, it's being suggested that a car is necessary for those living and working in Los Angeles due to unreliable public transportation.

This idiom is from LSI's new edition of "Reading Horizons," which will be used in the Level 6 Reading classes. For more information, please visit   

Friday, November 16, 2012

"on the surface"

Example 1:

 Hi Gina, how are you and Michael doing? You look great!

Karen: Hi Mark! We're good--but totally crazy with the kids right now...!

Mark: Well, it seems like you're handling everything okay.

Karen: Ha! Maybe it looks like that on the surface... but I'm so stressed out! I had no idea how much work kids are!!

Mark: Well, just let me know if you need a break. Sue and I would love to babysit, and you and Michael can take a night off.

Karen: Thanks so much, Mark!

Example 2:

Barbara: Hi John! How's your new job?

John: Hey Barbara! It's going well, thanks!

Barbara: Is it what you expected?

John: Of course not! (laughs) You know there's always more than what you see on the surface... I have a lot more responsibilities than I thought I would have!

Meaning: at first glance, outward appearance (there is more than what you see in the beginning or on the surface)

In Example 1, Mark thinks Gina looks great--but really she is stressed out because she's so busy with two small children!

In Example 2, John explains to Barbara that there is a lot more for him to do at his new job than he thought at first.

The idiom "on the surface" was taken from Unit 10 (L.A. vs. N.Y.C.) in LSI's textbook Reading Transitions for Level 4 Reading/Vocabulary classes.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"to make a move"

Example 1:

Hey Ryan! So... how's it going with the new girl at Starbucks? Have you asked her out yet?
Ryan: No, not yet... It's hard to talk to her at work, but I think she knows I like her!
Jerry: Man, are you waiting for her to make a move?

Ryan: Haha! Very funny! Actually, I don't like it when a woman asks me out the first time.
Jerry: Why not? Are you old-fashioned? If a woman makes a move, you know she's really interested.
Ryan: That's true, I guess--I just feel more traditional about asking someone on a first date.
Jerry: Well, don't wait too long, Jerry--or some other guy might make a move first!

Example 2:

August: So Amy... white goes first... make a move!

Cynthia: Hmm, I don't know all the chess pieces yet....


August: There's only one way to find out. Try one and you'll learn as we play.
Cynthia: Okay, I just have to protect my King and Queen, right?
August: Exactly! And white goes first. I'm black, so you make the first move.

Meaning: to try to start a romantic relationship with someone, to try to advance your position

In Example 1, Ryan likes a woman who works at Starbucks, but he's a little afraid to make a move and ask her out on a date. His friend, Jerry, is pushing him to just go for it.
In Example 2, August and Cynthia are playing a game of chess, but Cynthia has never played before. She doesn't know how to make a move with her chess pieces to start the game and advance. 
Usage notes: We make a move when we want to advance our position. We can make a move to try to get a promotion at work, win a game, and start a relationship with someone. 
The idiom "make a move" was taken from Unit 9 (The Speed of Romance) in LSI's textbook Reading Transitions for Level 4 Reading/Vocabulary classes.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Steer Clear

Idiom: Steer Clear

Example 1:
Are you on a diet? You'd better steer clear of the bakery! You know they always put the best cookies in the window and you might get tempted!
Example 2:
If you are going to Downtown LA, I advise you to steer clear of the 110 freeway. I heard on the radio that there was a big accident and traffic is pretty terrible at this time. 
steer clear + of + noun
steer clear = avoid  + something
This expression is often used to warn people about something they should avoid. In example 1, they suggest avoiding the bakery (with many delicious sweets) while their friend is on a diet. In example 2, the person is advised to avoid the freeway because of heavy traffic.

This idiom was taken from the LSI textbook titled "Reading Horizons," which is used to teach Level 6 Reading/Vocabulary classes at LSI schools. For more information please

average joe

Example 1:
These politicians don't care about the average joe. They only worry about other rich people. 
Example 2:
Jack Smith's story is amazing! Last year he was just an average joe and now he is a world famous rock star! How did he do it? 
average joe = average man
An average joe is a regular male person who is usually not exceptionally attractive, talented, or wealthy. Average joe is a common expression that is used when referring to an ordinary member of society.

This idiom was taken from the LSI textbook titled "Reading Horizons," which is used to teach Level 6 Reading/Vocabulary classes at LSI schools. For more information please

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Time (be) Up

Idiom: Time (be) Up

Context #1 -
Teacher: Ok class, please put down your pencils and give me your tests.  Time is up!
Student: But I'm not finished yet!
Teacher:  Sorry, I can't give you extra time to finish.
Context #2 -
John: I can't believe my time here in Japan is already up!  I've been here for a whole year teaching English and now I have to go back to California.
Sally:  Yeah this year has flown by!  We're going to miss you.
John: I wish I could stay longer.
Meaning: the idiom "time is/was up" is used to describe the fact that the time someone had to do something has run out.  When the time you had to do something is gone, we say your "time is up."  This idiom was taken from the LSI textbook titled "Reading Transitions," which is used to teach Level 4 Reading/Vocabulary classes at LSI schools. For more information please

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

To Get in Shape

Idiom: To Get in Shape

Context #1 -
Sara:  I can't believe I'm getting married in 2 months!
Jane:  I know...I can't wait to see you in your wedding dress.
Sara: Oh yeah, thanks for reminding me.  I have 2 months to get in shape for the wedding.  Time to hit the gym!
Context #2 -
Jim: I heard your son is playing on the high school football team this year.
Tom: Yeah, he's really excited!  But he's not too excited about all the practices they have.
Jim: I understand.  It takes a lot of hard work to get in shape for the football season.  He'll survive!
Meaning:  the idiom "get in shape" is used to describe the process of exercising or working out with the purpose of getting into great physical condition.  This idiom is taken from the LSI textbook "Reading Connections," which is used to teach Level 3 Reading/Vocabulary classes at LSI schools.  For more information please visit

Thursday, October 25, 2012

On the Tip of One’s Tongue

Idiom: On the Tip of One’s Tongue


Rory: Laurie! You have to help me! Something’s really bothering me!

Laurie: Sure, Rory. What’s going on?

Rory: Well, I was listening to a song that I really like, but I can’t remember the name of the singer! It’s on the tip of my tongue!

Laurie: Ok. Do you remember the name of the song?

Rory: Ummmm…no.

Laurie: That’s not helpful. Do you remember what the singer looks like?

Rory: Yeah. He has long black dreadlocks. He’s a really good piano player as well as a singer.

Laurie: All right, now we’re getting somewhere. What else can you tell me about him?

Rory: Um…he always wears sunglasses.

Laurie: He always wears sunglasses? Why does he always wear sunglasses?

Rory: Oh, he always wears them because he can’t see. He’s blind.

Laurie: Rory! Are you thinking of Stevie Wonder?

Rory: Yes! That’s it! Thank you so much! I feel better now!

Laurie: No problem. I can’t believe you forgot Stevie Wonder’s name…

This is an expression that we use when we can remember what something looks like, sounds like, etc. but we can’t remember the actual name of the object or person. It is often used, for example, when we can remember someone’s face, but we can’t remember their name. We can almost remember the name, but not quite, and it’s a very frustrating feeling!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

To get to know

Idiom: To get to know:  used as a verb

Example 1: At first, the new-hire wasn't sure about his co-workers; but now that he has gotten to knowthem, he enjoys their company.

Example 2: When you arrive in a city for the first time, traveling around and finding new things is usually difficult. Once you get to know the city, however, everything becomes much easier.

Meaning: "To get to know" suggests that something that was unfamiliar or "unknown" becomes familiar or "known." "To become familiar with" is a synonym.

"To get to know" is an idiom found in unit 4 of Reading Transitions, a Language Systems International text book used for Level 4 students.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Second Nature

Idiom: second nature; used as a noun

First Example:
John trained Luana on a new job at work.  At first, she was very nervous about it, and she was afraid she would do it wrong.  But after doing it for a couple days, it became second nature to her.  She can't believe she ever thought this was difficult!

Meaning: "Second nature" is an adjective phrase that is used to describe a behavior or trait that has become such a habit, it almost seems to have been part of a person from birth. This idiom is usually used to describe something is easy and natural for one person (but not necessarily to other people).  In the example, Luana was at first nervous about her new task at work, but she quickly learned that it was actually very simple.  Notice that the phrase is followed by "to her."  While not required (as in the next example), "second nature" is commonly used with "to +person."

Here is another example:               
Son: Mom, do you think I'll pass my driving test?
Mom: I'm sure you'll be fine. And if you fail the first time, you can take it again later.
Son: I'm sure you passed your test the first time.
Mom: Actually, I failed my first two driving tests.
Son: Really?!  But you're such a good driver.
Mom: Like you, I was really scared during my driving tests.  Plus, I was a pretty terrible driver.  I ran a stop sign during my first test, and I hit another car in my second test before I could even leave the DMV. 
Son: Wow!  I didn't know that!
Mom: I've driven a lot since then, and now it's second nature; I don't even think about it when I drive.  I'm sure you'll be fine.  And think of this way: even if you fail the first time, you'll probably still do better than hitting a parked car in the parking lot.
Son: Thanks mom.

In this case, the son is nervous about his driving test since he's a new driver, but his mom explains that now that she has been driving for years, driving is second nature to her.  She doesn't even think about how to drive because she just knows how.

This idiom is from the upcoming edition of LSI's book "Reading Horizons," which will be used in the Level 6 Reading classes. For more information, please visit