Idioms of the week - Colors

Idioms of the week: colors

In this blog series, we’re breaking down common English expressions that are used in everyday conversation, so you’ll be able to expand your language skills and have fun with new English phrases. This week, we prepared a list of idioms in the theme of colors.

1. out of the blue (noun phrase): without warning, unexpectedly
Ex: He showed up out of the blue on my doorstep this morning.

2. a white lie (noun phrase): a lie about a small or unimportant matter that someone tells to avoid hurting another person
Ex: Mary didn’t want to go to the party so she told her friends a little white lie that she wasn’t feeling well and stayed in.

3. red tape (noun phrase): excessive bureaucracy or adherence to rules and formalities
Ex: It took months for him to get a visa, there must have been a lot of red tape involved.

4. blackout (noun phrase): a failure of electrical power
Ex: The entire city is experiencing a blackout after last night’s storm.

5. to show someone’s true colors (verb phrase): to show the real nature or characteristics of a person
Ex: She really showed her true colors when she was rude to the waitress last night.

6. with flying colors (noun phrase): easily and excellently
Ex: She passed the test with flying colors.

7. green with envy (noun phrase): wishing very much that you had what someone else has
Ex: Her new boots make me green with envy, they’re so pretty!

8. a grey area (noun phrase): a situation lacking clearly defined characteristics
Ex: The main points of the contract are clear but a few details are a grey area.

9. black and white (noun phrase): straightforward, very clear
Ex: The situation is black and white: if we win, we go to the playoffs; if we lose, the season is over.

10. catch someone red-handed (verb phrase): to catch a person in the act of doing something wrong
Ex: I caught him red-handed stealing candies at the store.

Try using these idioms the next time you practice your English skills. You’ll find yourself using them more naturally in conversation in no time!


Travel industry

10 Words For… The Travel Industry

This blog series will explore the top 10 useful words for specific industries, so you can learn the English you can actually use in the real world. This week, we’re looking at some basic concepts and vocabulary words related to the travel industry.

1. reseller (noun): Someone who resells goods and services in exchange for a fee, also known as agent
Ex: Travel agencies can use a reseller to buy group tickets for tourist attractions.

2. quote (noun): give someone the estimated price of a job or service
Ex: The school asked several travel agencies for a quote for the class trip.

3. to charter (verb): to reserve an aircraft, boat or bus for private use
Ex: The group chartered a bus so they would have more flexibility during the trip.

4. layover (noun): a short stay at a place in the middle of a trip
Ex: We have a two-hour layover in Iceland before landing in Paris.

5. accommodation (noun): a place (such as a room in a hotel) where travelers can sleep and find other services
Ex: The client has specific accommodation requests for her trip; she only wants to stay in hotels.

6. booking (noun): a reservation for accommodations or travel, or a ticket purchased in advance
Ex: The agency took care of all bookings, from flight tickets to hotel rooms.

7. package deal (noun): a group of services related to travel or vacations that are sold together for one price
Ex: Their package deal includes the bus tour, hotel room and plane ticket, but they will have to pay for their meals.

8. itinerary (noun): a passenger’s travel schedule
Ex: We finished our itinerary for our next trip: we’ll start in Barcelona, then go to Italy and finish in France.

9. amenities (noun): a useful or enjoyable feature of a place
Ex: This hotel has first-class amenities: a swimming-pool, sauna, spa and high-end restaurant.

10. yield management (noun): the process of frequently adjusting the price of a product in response to various market factors, such as demand or competition
Ex: Airlines practice yield management, which can result in drastic variations in airfare over a short period of time.

For additional practice with industry-specific terms in English, check out the Unit Catalog in your Voxy course for more work-related materials.

Teacher's Corner Header Image

Rebecca Wagoner: Learning English Through Pop Culture

The most common question I’m asked by ESL learners when we first meet is, “How can I become fluent in English?” The answer to this is tricky, because it truly depends on the individual and a number of factors, such as agreeing on what fluency even means. It’s my job to help people become fluent, so I like to give them some real advice that I’ve learned from observing people who speak English as a second language. The learners I’ve met who emit the most confidence with their abilities in English are those who also happen to be well-versed in pop culture.

A learner’s ultimate goal in achieving fluency should be to feel comfortable speaking and writing in a foreign language. Part of that fluency means easily understanding other people, and eventually laughing at jokes and understanding sarcasm. The challenge in achieving this is that the material available in a typical foreign language class tends to cover more formal language skills and grammar, which might fall short when it comes to making friends or developing an identity within a second language. Spoken language is much more nuanced than a textbook can explain.

So how can students learn the depths of real, “natural” English without being fully immersed in it? In short, by watching TV series, movies and online videos. It seems that the next best thing to living abroad is watching people abroad. The type of language in pop culture has a raw edge that is chock-full of different accents, dialects, slang and even mistakes or deliberately incorrect words like “ain’t.” The students I meet who talk with me about the latest episodes of “House of Cards” and “Stranger Things,” for example, are the students who are speaking much more naturally and comfortably about their daily lives.

It has been my experience that being able to grasp the idiosyncrasies in conversations on the big screen translates to a better understanding of the dialogues and quirks of real life. When people watch movies in another language, they absorb phrases they’re more likely to use themselves and they learn a certain level of social expectations within that culture. This familiarity and repetition pulled from pop-culture references helps establish an internal system of acquired language that is especially helpful when it comes to speaking fluently.

So all those reruns of “Friends” might not actually be a waste of time after all. The movies and shows you watch could be helping you form the very language you use to speak.

I suggest finding a show that resonates with your interests and watching it with English subtitles. Choose a show that’s well-paced for your level of understanding—you should be able to tell if it’s a good fit within the first episode. As a basic rule of thumb, if you’re able to follow the storyline of the first episode and you enjoy it, then it’s a good fit. If watching the show frustrates you and you miss half of the dialogue, try watching something with simpler subject material that you can understand with less effort.

For those who don’t have enough free time to start a new series or watch an entire movie, YouTube and Vimeo have a lot of short films that may work better for you. Simply type in “short films” in the search box of the site you prefer, and you’ll find a long list of shorts that range from one to 45 minutes long. I recommend these for someone who’s looking for entertainment without committing to a schedule. Remember to choose a category you’re interested in, whether it’s comedy, horror, drama, animation, or whatever you’re in the mood for.

If you prefer to watch more practical content, I recommend checking out TED talks are relatively short speeches designed to share an idea, and the topics cover a wide range: science, education, technology, health, diversity, art, music, humor, business—and the list goes on. These are great for a quick, informative and inspirational listening session. When you go to, click “Watch” on the top panel, then “TED talks.” Next, you can browse through interesting topics, select English as the language and choose a duration. There are plenty of talks under 15 minutes that are perfect for English learners. These are especially helpful for people studying English for professional reasons or who plan to attend college in English, because they help prepare learners for lectures and presentations.

Ultimately, the goal in watching TV, movies and videos in English is to help learners feel more comfortable understanding their second language. This comfort and familiarity will build a base on which learners gain confidence in speaking with native speakers. Consider this listening practice a form of entertainment while your brain is working hard undercover to achieve the fluency you’re aiming for.

Let us know what you’re watching in the comments below!

Rebecca Wagoner is a Voxy tutor.

Rebecca Wagoner is a Voxy tutor.


Idioms of the week: Halloween

In this blog series, we’re breaking down common English expressions that are used in everyday conversation, so you’ll be able to expand your language skills and have fun with new English phrases. This week, we prepared a spooky list of idioms in the theme of Halloween.

1. to have skeletons in the closet (noun phrase): to have embarrassing or incriminating secrets from the past
Ex: Mike became defensive when I asked him why he got fired. He probably has some skeletons in the closet.

2. devil’s advocate (noun phrase): person who disagrees with others so that there will be an interesting discussion about some issue
Ex: Everybody in the class had the same opinion,so the teacher asked a few students to play devil’s advocate to create a more lively debate.

3. a witch-hunt (noun phrase): an attempt to find and punish people whose opinions are not popular
Ex: Social media have become the ultimate tool of the modern witch-hunt; it’s now really easy for people to share information online and track somebody.

4. make someone’s blood run cold (verb phrase): to shock or horrify someone
Ex: My blood ran cold when I saw police at a crime scene two blocks from my house.

5. ghost town (noun): a deserted town
Ex: The campus turns into a ghost town during the holidays because all the students are gone.

6. pale as a ghost (noun phrase): when a person’s face is lacking color, and he/she appears scared or sick
Ex: Mary was as pale as a ghost when she came to work this morning, so I told her to go home and rest.

7. curiosity killed the cat (proverb): being inquisitive about other people’s affairs may get you into trouble
Ex: When Sara started asking too many personal questions to his new colleague, he simply replied that curiosity killed the cat.

8. night owl (noun): a person who is usually active at night
Ex: I never go to bed before 2 or 3 a.m., even on weekdays—I’ ve always been a night owl!

9. to come back to haunt someone (verb phrase): to cause problems for (someone) in the future
Ex: I never imagined that something I did in college would come back and haunt me 10 years later.

10. over my dead body (noun phrase): in no way, under no circumstances
Ex: “Mom, I’m dropping out of college.”
“Over my dead body!”

Try using these idioms the next time you practice your English skills. You’ll find yourself using them more naturally in conversation in no time!

Task-Based Language Teaching: What Does It Really Mean?

If you Google Task-Based Language Teaching, or TBLT, you’ll find a lot of definitions related to the latest trend in teaching second or foreign languages. But what does it really mean?

TBLT is an approach to language learning that was popularized in the 1980s by N. Prabhu in Bangalore, India. Prabhu discovered that learners were able to learn more effectively when they were focused on a tangible, non-linguistic task like reading a map, than when they were focused on a linguistic task such as using second conditional verb forms.

Similarly, learning a language at its core is simply learning a new skill. And just like any other skill—playing the piano or swimming, for instance—you learn by doing. The sooner you start playing music or jumping into the pool, the sooner you’ll start learning and practicing the skills you need to play an entire song or swim the breaststroke. In contrast, studying music theory or reading a book about swimming techniques may be insightful, but it probably won’t help you achieve your real goal as quickly and efficiently as possible.

TBLT is centered on meaningful tasks using target language (the language being learned) in real-life situations, as opposed to focusing on the target language on its own without any relatable or concrete context. Examples of tasks can range from scheduling a doctor’s appointment and filing a complaint with customer service to answering job interview questions and using small talk with colleagues. TBLT prepares learners for real-world situations, while traditional language teaching that focuses on target language in isolation will not, like a lesson on the past perfect of the verb “to be.” You can easily draw examples of the traditional approach to language learning from your own experience: your high school Spanish teacher may have had you complete irregular verb conjugation exercises instead of role-playing ordering food in a restaurant and applying the target language to a real-life situation. With TBLT, you will never wonder why you’re learning a specific verb tense or set of expressions. The reason will always be related to a real-life situation that is crystal clear to you from the start.

From a language learner’s perspective, a TBLT approach means that your goals and real-life outcomes for learning a new language—whether you want to easily communicate abroad in a country where the language is spoken or work at an international company—should guide your decision when choosing a course, software or tutor. Never lose sight of your goals along the way. For example, if you plan on traveling abroad to Spain and want to learn some Spanish to help you get around, focus on the types of interactions and situations you expect to experience in Spain. Think of common tasks such as asking for directions, ordering food in a restaurant, reading a menu and checking in to a hotel. Don’t spend too much time focusing on language that falls outside of these interactions as it won’t pertain to your experience. And because that language isn’t relevant to your goals, it may discourage you from sticking with it. You don’t need to learn how to describe someone’s eye color (Bob tiene ojos marrones) or learn the comparative in Spanish (El gato corre más rápido que el perro), but you do need to know how to politely ask for information (Disculpe, sabe cómo llegar a la estación de tren?) or how to tell a server that you are a vegetarian (Soy vegetariana. No como carne ni pescado.). This way, you’ll actually be prepared for your trip, you’ll save time and you’ll stay motivated!

More often than not, language learners do not assess their goals when they embark upon the brave journey of learning a new language. They assume that any one-size-fits-all solution will work for their specific needs, but everyone’s goals are different and TBLT acknowledges this as critical to success. If you’re learning English to improve your career versus learning English because you’ll be traveling to New York, the language you’ll need is different. So how could the same exact course help you achieve two very different goals? Instead of choosing a static course designed as a catch-all solution, choose one that is customizable and adaptive based on your unique goals—a task-based and personalized solution.

Mari Nazary is Voxy's VP of Pedagogy and Curriculum.

Mari Nazary is Voxy’s VP of Pedagogy and Curriculum.