All posts by ICLS

Football Idioms

As was mentioned in the last post, baseball is “America’s Pastime;” however, it is no longer the most popular sport in the United States. That position now belongs to football.  According to the Los Angeles Times[i], Super Bowl LI (2017) was watched by 111.3 million people in the United States.  That means almost 35% of Americans watched the annual championship of the National Football League.  With such popularity, it is perhaps not a huge surprise that Fox (Fox Broadcasting Company, an American television network that broadcasted Super Bowl LI) charged $5 million dollars for a 30-second advertisement during the broadcast. [ii]

Football’s rise to American Sporting dominance in the last half century has led to many football related idioms being introduced into the English language.  For instance, a problem is something that is often presented as something that needs to be tackled.  Tackling is the way that a football player is brought to the ground and “tackling” a problem is a way of saying that a problem will be dealt with in a successful manner.  However, if one does not want to address a certain situation or problem, he or she would “punt” on that issue.  A punt in football occurs when the team on offense decides to kick the ball to the other team, as they have decided that it is too risky to continue to try advancing the ball offensively.  If a decision needs to be made collectively, the group might “huddle” to reach the best conclusion.  Football teams often huddle on the field, so that the quarterback can explain what the team will do.  About the quarterback, he is considered the most important player on the field because he guides the offensive effort.  The Washington Redskins starting quarterback, Kirk Cousins, is a very good quarterback, but the city of Washington is known for “Monday Morning Quarterbacking.”  Monday morning quarterbacking is a process where someone decides with additional information and therefore the decision has become easier to make. A “touchdown” is the most important score in a football game as it is worth six points.  A touchdown occurs when one teams manages to get the ball into the other team’s end zone.  Incidentally, this word is also used in its most literal sense when a plane lands successfully on a runway, as the plane “touches down.”

A football game begins with a kickoff and that term is used to express the beginning of many new events, such as a sale, school year or government campaign.  Kickoffs are performed by the kicker who tries to kick the ball through the goalposts to score three points for a field goal.  However, when the goalposts are moved, the target is changed without notifying someone.  The goalposts are never moved on a football field, but they often are in life and leads to bouts of frustration and futility.  In conclusion, in The United States baseball and football are the two most popular sports and for this reason contribute many idioms to the English language.

– Christian Zimmerman, ESL Teacher and ICLS Blog Contributor



Baseball Idioms

During the presidential campaign of 2016 there was some confusion over a word or phrase that Donald Trump kept using. It was hard to discern whether he was saying the word “bigly” or the phrase “big league.” It was eventually confirmed that he was saying “big league”, but what does this term mean? Big league is a reference to professional baseball in the United States. The “big league” is the one where every professional player aspires to play, Major League Baseball. The Washington Nationals play in the National League’s East Division of Major League Baseball.

It is not surprising that a presidential candidate with years of television experience would use a baseball term. However, President Trump used the term “big league” in a particularly colloquial manner. For example, he said that he would cut taxes big league and that manufacturing would be brought back big league. These uses show that doing something in a “big league” manner means to do it in a significant way.

Baseball is called “America’s pastime” and therefore the American vernacular is full of baseball idioms. To meet or start a discussion over a specific issue, people might “touch base.” This idiom is a reference to when baseball players are on base and occasionally converse with a player on the opposing team. Once a player is on base, he needs to have part of his foot touching the base, otherwise he can be tagged out with the baseball. In a city like Washington, it is common to come across examples of “inside baseball.” This idiom refers to a topic or theme that is difficult to understand if one does not work in nor has experience working in a particular industry. Another example is when someone throws or is “throwing a curveball.” A curveball is either a pitch that is both notoriously difficult to hit, or a situation that is surprising or difficult.

– Christian Zimmerman, ESL Teacher and ICLS Blog Contributor

5 Tips On Learning a New Language

Learning a new language is never easy, and some people go their whole lives only speaking one. But some people successfully learn and use multiple languages in their lifetimes. Sid Efromovich is one such polyglot who speaks seven languages. In a TED talk he gave in 2013 he shared some of his techniques.¹

1. Make mistakes

Language is not like math, where making mistakes is unacceptable. Here, errors are actually encouraged because they underline the nuance of language and act as important tools. By constantly practicing, saying something wrong, and then discovering how to say it right, it is possible to hone your skills and become fluent in no time. If you keep trying to be perfect, you will never really use the language, and thus cannot learn quickly.

2. Scrap the foreign alphabet

Use your native pronunciation as a guide instead of the foreign spelling. For example, if you are a native English speaker and Portuguese fluency is your goal, seeing a word spelled “real” will make you want to pronounce it like you would in English. This will not help you learn the language. Instead, you should learn how to pronounce words based on a system of letters that makes sense to you, such as writing “real” as “hey-ou”, because that’s what it actually sounds like.

3. Shower conversations

To truly facilitate a safe and fun practicing environment, why not have a conversation with yourself in the shower? In practicing both sides of the conversation, you can improve fluency, enhance pronunciation, and use authentic language that you might use in the real world. The result can be greater fluency and a better understanding of what words or phrases need to be reviewed later.

4. Buddy formula

If you know someone who wants to learn your native language, and you want to learn theirs, a great strategy is to buddy up and help each other! An ideal language partnership involves two people who each want to learn their buddy’s native language. Generally, language partners meet on a regular basis and teach each other. This method is free and makes the process fun and engaging.

5. Find a stickler

A stickler is a guide who can correct your mistakes. A willingness to make mistakes is important, but sometimes an outside helper is the only way to learn from those mistakes and improve. The best guides are professional teachers from accredited schools. These teachers have studied language acquisition, know how people learn, and can correct you in a safe space.

Bonus tip:
When I practice a target language, I personally love watching YouTube. Find videos in the target language, play the scenes repeatedly, and practice speaking like the native speakers you watch!
Regardless of what language learning techniques you choose, the right combination of these strategies can lead anyone on the path to success. Good luck, everyone!

– Alex Vera, ESL Teacher and ICLS Blog Contributor

1. Efromovich, S. (2013). 5 Techniques to Learn any Language. TEDxUpperEastSide. Retrieved from

Meet the Staff: Adam McConnell

Meet the Staff: Adam McConnell  

I started my ESL career in Vienna, Austria, where I worked at a school for wine production for two years. It was an exciting experience because Vienna is so beautiful and working with those students was a lot of fun. I’ve worked at ICLS for 7 years, first as a German teacher and then as an English teacher. ICLS is an exciting school because we meet students from all over the world.

What do you love most about your job?

I love working with international students. I always feel that I learn as much from them as they do from me. International students are often the most well-traveled people you can find and it’s very exciting to learn about their backgrounds, countries, languages, and travels!

What is your favorite food and why?

I love food! I think my favorite food is chocolate or hazelnut desserts.

What do you like most about living in or near Washington DC?

I like the fact that Washington DC has many great international restaurant because I love food! Because I like to bike, I enjoy having so many bike trails throughout the area.

Why is learning English important for achieving global success?

English is a global language and knowing English gives students communicative access to the world. Students are able to travel anywhere more easily, and knowing English gives individuals an advantage in the workplace and at the university.


ESL Thanksgiving Writing Contest

What Are You Thankful For?

In light of the Thanksgiving holiday, we have asked our current ESL students and alumni to share with us what they are thankful for this season. Today, we are proud to announce three winners whose essays we are excited to share with you! ICLS would like to thank all of our students for participating in the contest. We are touched by your stories.

Meet the winners

Advanced Category: Cesmel Meledje


Cesmel’s Essay

Thankful, Grateful, Blessed
On this day of joy, it is with a heart full of happiness that I would like to share my gratefulness for having the opportunity to live in the United States. However, I would first like to reflect on the meaning behind the celebration of Thanksgiving, which is a famous tradition held on the 24th  of November when people gather together, enjoy each other’s company, and share food in a familial atmosphere [editor’s note: Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. This year, it fell on November 24th]. This custom began in the early days of British colonies in America four hundred years ago. The Pilgrims’ immigrated here and they had trouble adjusting to the new land. They had arrived too late to grow many crops, and their plants were not suitable for the climate. Most of them died of diseases the first year, but they received help and training from the native inhabitants, the Wampanoag tribe. The Wampanoag brought with them a man named Tisquantuman, who knew some English and helped translate for the Pilgrims. Throughout the year, the Wampanoag held festivals to thank the earth for its many gifts. The Pilgrims had much to be thankful for, so they planned a feast of thanks and special day of prayer. According to the legend, the Pilgrims invited the Wampanoag and there was a big turkey banquet that became the symbol of conviviality. I can relate to this story because just like the Pilgrims persevered through their hardships in immigrating to the United States, I faced a similar situation. With the help of locals, I have overcome my own difficulties in getting used to the life here. This reminds me of how I should be grateful for being so lucky to wake up every day and live in this the United States. I need to embrace every single moment with merriment and a smile because tomorrow may never come, but at least I would have lived to the fullest.

Intermediate Category: Shotaro Ishigaki


Shotaro’s Essay

I am thankful for people all over the world because I experienced a major disaster five years ago in Japan. It was a very big earthquake. Also, the earthquake caused a tsunami. The tsunami destroyed many houses and many people died. Fortunately, I stayed away, so I was safe, but my colleague lost his house. At that time, people around the world helped by donating money and saving people trapped in the rubble. In addition, volunteers came to rescue a lot of people. Today, many buildings have been rebuilt in Japan, and we returned to the life we had before the earthquake occurred. However, I will never forget their assistance. I want to give back to people all over the world, and I hope the world will help each other more.

Intermediate Category: Mark Kim

Mark Kim

Mark’s Essay

I’m thankful for the people in my life. Upon reflection, they always provide me with opportunities. When I was young, my parents always helped me and, when I went to elementary school, my teachers always taught me how to appreciate a good friendship. Also, my friends appreciated me. I had a beautiful childhood. When I went to middle school, I really liked that because I had five friends. I still keep in touch with them today. When I had a problem they came to me immediately. Whatever, whenever. When I went to high school, life was hard because I had to study and train. I graduated with the help of my friends and instructors. When I served in the Air Force, a lot of comrades helped me. Now, I’m living in Washington, DC. Thanks to all the people in my life, I’m able to study English at ICLS. I’m really happy. I’m going to help other people in my life as other people have helped me.

Meet the Staff: Connie Lee

Meet the Staff: Connie Lee

Connie Lee is the Director of the ESL Division at the International Center for Language Studies.  She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in sociology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and holds a master’s degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) from the University of Pennsylvania. Additionally, she holds two certificates: Teaching a Second Language for Business Communication and Training & Assessment.  She has 15 years of experience as an ESL/EFL teacher and program administrator in university-based intensive English programs, education companies, and non-profit organizations in the U.S. and China. She has also provided curriculum development consulting to English language programs in Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.  She is an active site reviewer for CEA (The Commission on English Language Accreditation) and a regular participant at TESOL conferences.

What do you love most about your job?

I enjoy every aspect of my job, but my favorite part is working with students and teachers who are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. It is fascinating to learn about various cultures although I can’t seem to keep up with all the superstitions from different countries!

What is your favorite food and why?

Food is my passion and I love exploring new cuisines, which makes this question a very tough one! But if I must choose only one, I would say sushi because of its simplicity and elegance.

Why is learning English important for achieving global success?

We live in a time where degrees alone won’t get you far. Living in an increasingly global world, practical skills are needed in addition to degrees and cross-cultural experience, and no matter what your goals are, good communication plays a critical role in your success. Being able to communicate clearly and effectively in English will give you an edge you need to get ahead – academically and professionally.