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									                                               Comparison idioms 1


     Running head: COMPARISON IDIOMS




Comparison Idioms Between English And Vietnamese

                Đinh Lan Khánh

                   Class 4B07

             University of Pedagogy
                                                                                Comparison idioms 2


                                               Abstract

As a foreign student learning English, comparison idioms are really a big problem for me as well

as other learners. There are over 3000 idioms in the dictionary, so understanding and memorizing

all of them are a hard issue. Some students, even though, live in America or England for such a

long time, they are still unable to understand what the native people are saying. In a circle of

students, native English speakers speak to other native speakers differently from the foreign

students. And the foreign students here is unable to follow what they are saying to each other.

More than that, comparison idioms are one of major aspects that can easily discourage a person

in conversation with each other if he/she does not know what to imply. If somebody ask me: Is it

necessary to study an idiom like “rain like cats and dogs”?, I will asnwer Yes because idioms are

part of daily speech. It makes our utterances smoothly and transmit the information to listeners in

a smart way. As a matter of fact, in this essay, we will firstly find a clear view of the definition of

idioms and some structures to recognize a comparison idiom, then will be a part related to

contrastive analysis; that is similarities and differences between english and Vietnamese

comparison idioms; lastly, some problems and solutions of studying idioms may be important to

learners.
                                                                         Comparison idioms 3


                                 Definition of idioms

1. Definition

      Idioms have become very popular with the linguistic learners; however; not everyone

      can find the complete definition for this term. Each professor has his or her own

      assumption and we, the learners, have to consider much when we want to apply those

      idioms into study. For example, the Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and

      Applied Linguistics, idioms were defined as: “an expression which function as a

      single unit and whose meaning cannot be worked out from its separate parts.”.

      Moreover, with the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, the writer defines idioms

      differently: “a phrase or sentence whose meaning is not clear from the meaning of its

      individual words and which must be learnt as a whole unit.”

      As we have seen, definition of idioms is quite different between the Longman

      Dictionary and Oxford one and maybe different from other books as well, but on

      reflection, they do not have much conflict, all of those share the basic idea: “they are

      words, phrases or expressions that cannot be taken literally; when used in everyday

      language, they have a meaning other than the basic one you would find in the

      dictionary.”.

      Learning them make understanding and using a language a lot easier and more fun.


2. Structure used for comparing

       Although we have worked out some definitions of idioms above, most of learners are

       still confused with the question: “How can we identify an idiom of comparison?”.

       Consequently, identification should be taken into consideration so as to have an

       insight into different types of idioms of comparison. There are various ways of
                                                                         Comparison idioms 4


     identifying based on different criteria because the exploration is quite hard and

     unfeasible. Here are just two main ways that have been considered most:

             Identification based on component words or phrases

             Identification based on grammatical structure


a. By word and phrase

   With this aspect, idioms of comparison can be divided into three groups:

 Comparison with adjectives

   This kind of comparison can be constructed as the following structure:

             As + adjective + as + (a/an/the) Noun

   It is used to describe the similarities between people, things or places. However, in this

   structure, the similarities are exposed in a clear way, explicitly rather than other

   structure. The meaning as well as the characteristics of the adjectives are conveyed

   symbolically through some related things in our lives so that people can easily think of

   when they come across those adjectives. For example: as sharp as razor, as innocent as

   love, as unchangeable as the past, as jolly as a sandboy. In Vietnamese idioms, typical

   examples of comparison are: nhát như thỏ đế, đen như than, đẹp như tiên…

 Comparison with verbs

   Unlike adjectives, comparison with verbs has a different structure

                            Verbs + like + a/the + Noun

  This structure is used with some certain verbs that have simple meanings, but when

  taking part in forming an idiom, it can make the action mentioned clearer and more

  explicable, emphasize the behaviours of the goals in each utterance, and give the reader

  a deep understanding, easier to comprehend thanks to its simplicity. We can find some
                                                                                 Comparison idioms 5


          instances such as: crawl like a snail, fight like cat and dog, live like there’s no

          tomorrow….. Vietnamese idioms utilise: bò như sên, đánh nhau như chó với mèo, sống

          như không có ngày mai…

     Miscellaneous comparison

          Although many idioms follow a certain rule as being mentioned above with adjectives

          and verbs as well, some kinds of comparison do not follow any regular patterns.

          Consequently, the number of those kinds are just small; they are mostly used by the

          native speakers in everyday spoken language to make their verbal communication more

          and more vivid. Some structures that we may come across:

                                          (Verb) + like/as + a clause

                                       (Verb) + like/as + a verb phrase

                                       (Verb) + like/as + a noun phrase

                                          Like + noun + like + noun

          Here are the idioms to exemplify: (to be) like a bull in a china shop, (to have) a memory

          like an elephant, to look as if one has been dragged through a hedge backwards….

          Vietnamese idioms utilise: như hạn gặp mưa rào, tiền vào nhà khó như gió vào nhà

          trống….


     b. By grammatical structure.

          Despite lots of idioms of comparison based on grammatical feature, it can be divided

          into three main popular kinds that have a comparative meaning with Vietnamese one.

          Here is the table between English and Vietnamese idioms:

Table 1
                                                                           Comparison idioms 6


English and Vietnamese comparison idiom equivalents

                                                                   Vietnamese idioms
                            English idioms

                                                                         A như B
                               as A as B
                                                                      Quý như vàng
                            as good as gold
                                                                     Nóng như đổ lửa
                         as warm as sunbeam

                                                                          Như B
                               Like/ as B
                                                                    Như hai giọt nước
                         Like two peas in a pod

                                                                         A như B
                              A like/as B
                                                                     Như cá mắc cạn
                      Feel like a fish out of water
                                                                 Theo như hình với bóng
                        To follow like a shadow



    Similarities and differences between English and Vietnamese idioms of comparison

                                       through culture.


   1. Similarities

      Each country has its own culture and tradition; as a matter of fact, idioms follow those

      rules because as we have discussed above, the metaphor of idioms derived from the real

      life, the real image. However, there are still some coincidences between English and

      Vietnamese idioms of comparison. We can find the similarities in the way people think,

      observe and express ideas through different cultures. To be more specific, here are some

      English idioms that have exact Vietnamese equivalents:

             English idioms                                                Vietnamese idioms

             1.As black as coal                                            Đen như than
                            Comparison idioms 7


2.As black as ink           Tối đen như mực

3.As black as midnight      Tối như đêm

4.As bright as day          Sáng như ban ngày

5. As big as an elephant    To như voi

6. As blind as a bat        mù như dơi

7. As bold as brass         Mặt dày mày dạn

8. As brave as a lion       Can đảm như sư tử

9. As busy as a bee         Bận như ong

10. As clear as day         Sáng như ban ngày

11. As clean as a whistle   Sạch như chùi

12. As cold as ice          Lạnh như băng

13. As cunning as a fox     Gian như cáo

14. As dead as a doornail   Chết đứng như tượng

15. As dry as a bone        Trơ như xương

16. As fresh as a daisy     Tươi như hoa

17. As good as gold         Quý như vàng

18. As hard as nails        Rắn như đanh

19. As light as a feather   Nhẹ như lông

20. As light as air         Nhẹ như không khí

21. As pure as snow         Trong trắng như tuyết

22. As quick as lightning   Nhanh như chớp

23. As sharp as a razor     Bén như dao cạo

24. As silent as the dead   Im như chết
                                                                           Comparison idioms 8


          25. As slow as a snail                                          Chậm như sên

          26. As slow as a tortoise                                       Chậm như rùa

          27. As solid as a rock                                          Cứng như đá

          28. As strong as an ox                                          Khỏe như trâu

          29. As timid as a rabbit                                        Nhát như thỏ

          30. As white as snow                                            Trắng như tuyết

          31. To stick like glue                                          Dính như keo

          32. To cry like a baby                                          Khóc như đứa trẻ

          33. Blood is thicker than water                                 Một giọt máu đào

          hơn ao nước lã.

          34. Be water off a duck’s back                                  Nước đổ đầu vịt

          35. Live from hand to mouth                                     Tay làm hàm nhai

          36. Out of sight, out of mind                                   Xa mặt cách lòng


2. Differences

   Although we have lots of idioms of comparison that have share the same equivalence

   between English and Vietnamese, linguistists have found some differences that are

   originated from the differences among cultures as we have mentioned above. As a result

   of that, it is better to have a look at some cultural factors. Referring culture, we cannot

   deny its origin from history and geography of a country. Culture does not naturally

   appear in people’s lives, but exist in a good interaction with people. It is rooted from

   some important events in history or a milestone that has changed a generation. Moreover,

   topography or terrain has affected much the modification of culture through culture, for

   example, the idiom: “as strong as an ox” is more popular in the agricultural country
                                                                               Comparison idioms 9


       where some strong animals like ox or bull are used for agriculture. Below is the table that

       tells the difference between two different culture that we are discussing:

Table 2

Differences between English and Vietnamese cultures

                                           Vietnamese                     English
              Features

                                           Has two basic seasons: a       Changeable and
              Climate
                                           cold, humid winter and a       unpredictable

                                           warm, wet summer.

                                           Diverse range of latitude

                                           and altitude

                                           A verdant tapestry of          There are not many high
              Topology
                                           mountains, fertile deltas,     mountains, rivers, plains

                                           forests, rivers,               or forests.

                                           mysterious caves,

                                           waterfalls and beaches

                                           Dessert terrain with           Highland zone in the north
              Terrain
                                           jungles and tropical rain      and west, lowland zone in

                                           forests                        the south and east

                                           Agriculture: the main          Industry instead of
              Economics
                                           economy of Vietnam.            agriculture is the main part

                                           Some products are rice,        in economy

                                           trees, fruits. It is related
                                                                       Comparison idioms 10


                                     to aquaculture.

                                     Pigs, buffaloes, poultry     Cow, cattle, sheep, horse,
        Husbandry
                                     and etc…                     poultry, etc…

                                     Rice is the main food in     Mostly, English people
        Food and drink
                                     Vietnamese meals. They       serve cereal and meat.

                                     use chopsticks for eating.   They use knife and fork.

                                     Tea is the traditional       Coffee is more popular.

                                     drink.

                                     About 75 million people      Approximately
        Population
                                     in Vietnam. 80% are          51,807,053. Over 90%

                                     ethnics.                     live in town

                                     Buddhism                     Christianism
        Religion




a. Through lifestyles and living conditions

    It can be seen very clearly that the Vietnamese idioms of comparison are strongly

    influenced by the agricultural culture and two of the most popular symbols in most

    comparison are rice and buffalo. Where as, English equivalents are based on farming

    and its industry. Vietnamese people live mainly on the wet rice production. They

    spend most of their lives in the field, in the sun as well as in the rain; work with some

    simple tools and animals. Consequently, when making comparison by using similes

    and metaphor, they certainly think of many things in their daily lives, the things that

    are familiar and friendly with them and take those as the images in number of idioms.
                                                                   Comparison idioms 11


 It can be taken from the example above: as strong as an ox (khỏe như trâu), live from

 hand to mouth (tay làm hàm nhai).

 When mentioning agriculture, we cannot forget the contribution of buffalo in our

 economics. Although nowadays we have lots of modern equipments that can replace

 the buffalo in producing rice for people, buffalo is still an unforgettable symbol in our

 economics. “He” is sometimes described as farmer’s friend and it is the truth that in

 many proverbs and folk songs of Vietnam, we have:

                                      Trâu ơi ta bảo trâu này

                                Trâu ra ngoài ruộng trâu cày với ta

                                   Cấy cày vôn nghiệp nông gia

                                 Ta đây trâu đấy ai mà quản công

                                     Bao giờ cây lúa còn bông

                               Thì còn ngọn cỏ ngoài đồng trâu ăn.

This song is very popular, from a child to an old person, all can sing this song at any

time. This song gives us quite a beautiful and vivid picture of the relationship between

human and buffalo. The farmer conveys the closeness and sentiment to his beloved

animal. Not only “he” is a friend but also a primary factor in production: “Con trâu là

đầu cơ nghiệp”. Truly, in the past, without “him”, our country cound not exist until

now. He is like a precious thing that each farmer has to own because he can take over

from the lightest to the strongest work, which has helped the farmers a lot. For them,

buffalo is very strong and hardworking. That is also the reason why people often image

of a buffalo when referring to people’s strength.
                                                                    Comparison idioms 12


However, in England with nomadic culture, buffalo is not important to them, but horse.

Horse can carry heavy load, pull cart, plough, transport… especially horse is much

faster than buffalo, which is very suitable for nomadic people to serve for their moving

lifestyles. As a matter of fact, strength in English culture is compared with horse: “as

strong as a horse”. The difference is not because the English people think that buffalo is

not as strong as horse, but it is the difference in the people’s concept, the way they

think or in another way: “the cultural view”. The culture of each country has made

people have distinguishable thinking about their lives. Moreover, those are also

revealed through many other idioms:

                     As dumb as a statue                            Câm như hến

                     As gentle as a lamb                            hiền như cục bột

                     As fat as butter                               Mập như lợn

Obviously, Vietnamese people do not know or are not familiar with those things such

as “statue, lamb, butter”. They are farmers, so they are much familiar with hến

(corbicular), lợn (pig); meanwhile English get on well with butter or lamb, which are

suitable with their nomadic culture. One more example is that

                     As tough as leather/ old boots                 dai như đĩa

In England, they often move from one place to another in cold weather. As a result of

that, leather and boots are very necessary for them to protect them the getting cold.

Furthermore, those things must be made as thick as possible so as to bring the best.

However, in a tropical country like Vietnam, we rarely use boots or leather but simple

shoes or thin clothes. Vietnamese people are mostly farmers, so working in the field is

unavoidable, especially wet rice production needs farmers to work in water during too
                                                                       Comparison idioms 13


   many hours – the environment has a lot of kinds of animal like “đĩa”. The feature of

   this animal is that it sticks absolutely strongly.

  Some typical examples above has clearly shown the influence of natural and living

  condition on the way of using idioms of comparison.


b. Differences with the same components

   When making comparison using some idioms, it is not only just different in the way or

   the image people use to compare through cross-culture view but the difference in the

   meaning or the implication in each idiom based on the culture as well. Sometimes, with

   the same borrowed idea, the same phrase but according to English people, it has

   positive meaning, while Vietnamese consider it as negative meaning, or vice versa:

   “Same word, different meaning”. Just take an example:

                        English                                         Vietnamese

                        As bright as day                                Rõ như ban ngày

   If we say this idiom in England, it just has the content: “light, not dark”; on the other

   hand in Vietnam, it is not that, when a person saying this, he/ she means that “there is

   no suspicion here, everything is clear”

   Another example:

                        English                                         Vietnamese

                        As good as gold                                 Tốt như vàng

   English people use this idiom as a compliment on a well-behaved child, where as

   Vietnamese ones take this instance as a saying about the quality of a product, a thing in

   general.
                                                                     Comparison idioms 14


   In conclusion, with some examples above, everyone can now have a good view of

   another difference between English and Vietnamese idioms of comparison: in spite of

   the same components, they still have quite different implication inside.


c. Differences with human components

   Last but not least, let’s have a look at the last component in idioms of comparison:

   human component. It is not just borrowed from the animals or things in daily life but

   also the human image. Certainly those are mostly the famous characters or people in

   history, literature or even real life. They are so common with some special

   characteristics that everyone can remember them when mention. For instance, as

   describing a person who is very jealous, we often see the image of a woman named

   “Hoạn Thư” – a character in Thuy Kieu story who had extreme and terrible jealousy,

   sometimes cruel. So in Vietnamese idioms we have; “ghen như Hoạn Thư”. On the

   other hand, to English, jealousy is compared with Othello – a character in

   Shakespeare’s play: “As jealous as Othello”.

   Moreover, on depicting the state of being happy, English people say “ As happy as a

   king” because to them King is the one who can enjoy all the best thing in the world,

   from a needle to an elephant. While in Vietnam, happiness is compared with the fairy:

   “As happy as a fairy”. Although fairy is not real, she is just a product of imagination in

   some fairy tales which is used to teach children and to bring happiness to everyone

   with her magic, people also trust that a fairy can help them, evade the poverty…etc. In

   this comparison, English people are quite more concrete than Vietnamese ones.

   Furthermore, it is true that the main religion in Vietnam is Buddhism. As a matter of

   fact, some idioms of comparison are affected by some image heritage in Buddhism.
                                                                       Comparison idioms 15


     For examples: As fat as Di Lac (Béo như ông Di Lặc), as untidy as La Han (bày như

     ông La Hán), as gentle as Buddha (hiền như Bụt)

     In short, comparison using human components is easier to express or describe

     something or somebody. The listeners will easily catch the ideas from the speakers in

     an effective way. However, sometimes it is strange and difficult for foreigners due to

     different cultures. Those images are typical in each country.



                Problems faced by learners and suggested solutions
    Idioms are now common in English speaking. We can find them easily on newspaper, in

    magazines, on televisions, on radios or on some window shoppings…. Consequently, if

    we want to be Engling native-like and does not sound awkward, mastering idioms is

    quite necessary. English people tend to speak differently to each other and to the others

    from foreign countries. Sometimes it may be difficult for foreign people like us to

    understand what an English wants to convey or imply. In this part, there will be some

    discussions about the problems that Vietnamese people may encounter when studying

    idioms. Moreover, it is essential to deal with some suggested solutions to improve the

    teaching and learning idioms. To make it easier, we have divided them into two

    commonplace problems: in understanding and in memorizing.


1. Learners and idioms understanding


 a. Problems

   Dealing with various grammatical structures

     As being mentioned above, idioms of comparison have may kinds, maybe the

     borrowed image is a word, or a phrase, or a sentence….so to understand all of them is
                                                                       Comparison idioms 16


   quite a challenge. Learners should remember that there are a lot of different structures

   for that. We might have regular structure, irregular structure or ingrammatical

   structure.

   First of all, with regular-structure idioms, they get the simple form so we do not have

   much confusion when viewing those idioms; however, the meaning of each single

   component in it has no relation with the meaning of the whole idiom, which may make

   us misunderstand the implications inside. This kind is possibly the most chanllenging

   to foreign learners. For instance, not many people can draw out the meaning of “red

   tape” as “bureaucratic method”. Next, the irregular-structure idioms does not have any

   difficulties because the meaning can be figured out comprehensively through the

   meaning of components. Lastly is the case of ingrammatical-structure idioms, the

   structure is not in the order as we have learnt, it does not follow the grammatical rules

   and does not express the true significance by combining the meaning of each word.

   Just take an example: with the idiom: “be in on the ground floor”, it is not reliable for

   us to get the meaning basing on the the structure; it is exactly explained as: “to be

   involved from the beginning in something that is likely to be successful”

 Dealing with distinctive cultural features

   “Cultural gap” is always the big obstacle for most foreign learners. To be more

   specific, the culture of Vietnam and England are quite distinguishing as we have done

   research in the previous part. If we do not get the tradition or the cultural value of the

   other country, we surely find it a big problem to catch the meaning conveyed through

   some idioms. Or else, if we can understand the meaning from that idiom, we are still

   confused when looking for an equivalent in our mother tongue. For example, “as cool
                                                                       Comparison idioms 17


    as cucumber”, we can grasp the meaning of this is to describe a calm person especially

    in a tough situation”; but translating it into Vietnamese is quite a hard work and it will

    be a mistake if we translate word by word. Be aware of those things, the right answer

    will be: “bình chân như vại”. Another instance, “as alike as two peas”, it is a big

    mistake if we translate it “giống nhau như hai quả mận”, in Vietnam we just have the

    idiom “giống nhau như hai giọt nước” (as alike as two drops of water).


b. Solutions

   From the reasons that caused difficulties in understanding, we would like to suggest

   some solutions that may be effective for certain people:

   Firstly, surely that dealing with idioms needs the careful study in all situations.

   Next, idioms of comparison should be learnt in a specific situation, a real context in real

   life rather than learn them by heart. It will be the best if we often practice and use them

   in the our communicative daily life so that the meaning will become more efficient.

   Furthermore, it is crucial to try to guess the meaning of idiom before looking it up in

   the dictionary. This is also a way of learning new words that many experts have advised

   to to follow. Guessing gives us an overview of the idiom by basing on the meaning of

   the word or using our general knowledge and then dictionary is just the last step to

   confirm it.

   Last but not least, knowledge of cultural values is a must, that consists of customs,

   belief, concepts, behaviours, etc… This was certainly the most hard work to do, for it

   will take much of our time, culture learning is a long process, but applying this will

   help us benefit a lot in grasping the implications when communicating with foreigners.
                                                                        Comparison idioms 18


2. Learners and idioms memorizing

   If understanding is a problem to learners, memorizing is also another big problem. How

   can we memorize those things that are not of our own country? How can we use it as a tip

   of tongue when communicating with foreigners? In this part, three problems have been

   conducted and along with it are some suggested solutions


 a. Problems

  A large quantity of English idioms

    Every country has their large number of idioms which often make the foreigners scared

    to study all, and so does English. We can take the evidence from the two most popular

    dictionaries nowadays: Oxford (5000 entries) and Cambridge Idioms Dictionary (7000

    entries) with lots of idioms divided into alphabet or sometimes to the topic (animals,

    flowers, comparison…). It is the large number of idioms that discourage learners to try

    to memorize all of these things. In addition, idioms have changed according to the

    change of life and society so as to be more effective for the users. As a result of that,

    the number is about to increase days by days. In conclusion, such large number is one

    of the causes that stop the people from learning them.

  Infrequent use

    It is unavoidable that Vietnamese students have a chance to study idioms at school and

    in their lessons; however, they rarely apply what they have learnt in their daily lives. To

    the people who are not English-speaking ones, learning idioms is a hard work and using

    it is much harder, so most of them intend to use the ordinary expression instead of

    idiomatic expression, which will take a lot of time for them to communicate. It is the
                                                                       Comparison idioms 19


   lack of enviroment practicing English idioms that leads to the consequence that not

   many students can use idioms efficiently.

 A shortage of learning methods

   Method is always the key to completing anything, it is important to know how to go

   rather than the finish end. Contrarily, Vietnamese learners as well as many other non-

   English-speaking learners do not have a perfect method to grasp those difficult idioms.

   Some choose to learn them as learning new words by writing them on paper with some

   examples and learn by heart; others try to listen everyday with the hope that they can

   remember easily. But those methods are not considered effectively because idioms are

   related to real lives. The best way is that put those idioms in daily life. Idioms cannot be

   separated from the contexts.


b. Solutions

   First, there should not be any worry for the number of idioms. Even a native speakers

   cannot remember all of them. The advice here is that try to memorize some useful ones

   that is common in dialy communication. To be more efficient, the learners should

   divide idioms into some sections as we have divided above: comparison with nouns,

   verbs, adjectives… so that it is easier for learners to make connection. Furthermore,

   trying to use those idioms when communicating in daily life is a must. The more we

   practice them, the more quickly we become a master of English idioms! Last but not

   least, it is quite essential for Vietnamese learners to find Vietnamese equivalents if

   possible. Despite the differences between two cultures, we still have some idioms that

   can be easily changed into Vietnamese without changing meaning. For example: “As
                                                                Comparison idioms 20


light as feather” (Nhẹ tựa lông hồng), “As fierce as tiger” (Dữ như cọp)… thus those

translation can give the learners long time memory.
                                                                          Comparison idioms 21


                                          Conclusion

Idioms are present in all languages, so studying them is in need. A person who does not know

how to use an idiom and just use individual word will not become confused when

communicating. That is one of the reasons that make non-native learners cannot get on well with

the native ones. Especially, using comparison idioms effectively can add flavour to your writing

and speaking as well as make you become a brilliant communicator, you can understand the

underlying meaning you want to convey. Through this essay, we hope that you can get a good

overview of all kinds of comparison idioms in English so that they can be used smartly and

flexibly. As mentioned above, ther are still some differences between English and Vietnamese

culture and people, which sometimes plays a role as a boundary in learning idioms. Some

Vietnamese students may find it unecessary to grasp those comparison idioms, and so do some

teachers. Therefore, based on some certain problems that we have found out of learning idioms,

there will be profound changes in the way of teaching and learning English idioms in order to

help Vietnamese students quickly integrate with other friends the world over.
                                                                        Comparison idioms 22


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World English Club. (2010, May 23). Retrieved December 20, 2010, from World English Club
      Web site: http://www.worldenglishclub.com/problems-in-learning-english-and-how-to-
      improve-them

Anna, Galina. (2007-2010). About us: Useful English. Retrieved December 15, 2010, from
      Useful English Web site: http://usefulenglish.ru/idioms/idioms-of-comparison

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