Practice Using Idioms In Real Situations Ep 718

Learn fun English idioms with animals.

📝 Author: Hilary

📅 Published:

💬 3598 words ▪️ ⏳ Reading Time 18 min

📥 Download MP3 & PDF 12.2 Mb ▪️ 👓 Read Transcript ▪️ 🎧 Listen to Lesson

These English Idioms Will Impress Your Friends

Ever felt like a 'headless chicken'? There's an idiom for that chaos! Jump into our latest English lesson and unlock the power of idioms to impress and express. Join us now, and let's turn confusion into clarity together. Your journey to English fluency starts here.

Into the heart of English with Adept English! 📚 Unlock the secrets of English animal idioms and speak like a native. 🇬🇧

  • Tutorial & Review: Learn British English idioms effortlessly.
  • How-to & Lifestyle Tips: Integrate English learning into your daily life.
  • News & Vocabulary Expansion: Stay updated and enrich your lexicon.
  • Grammar & Conversation Practice: For beginners to advanced, improve your speaking and listening skills.
  • Fluency & Idioms Mastery: Learn idioms, pronunciation, and more to ace any conversation.
  • Exclusive Course Access: Discover our "Activate Your Listening" course for a deep dive into UK culture and language nuances, using spaced repetition for lasting knowledge.
  • Podcast Learning: Enjoy our engaging podcasts for a fun way to boost your English.

✔ Lesson transcript:

Be curious, not judgmental.
⭐ Whitman, an American poet

Joining this lesson, you'll dive into the world of English idioms, focusing on those linked to animals. You'll not just grasp their meanings but also learn to use them in conversation, which is a fantastic way to sound more like a native speaker.

Idioms add colour and precision to your English, making your conversations more vivid and engaging. By understanding these idioms, you'll find it easier to connect with native speakers and enhance your fluency. #EnglishIdiomsExplained

For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned.
⭐ *Benjamin Franklin

🌟 Adept English makes fluency achievable. Join us now and transform your English conversation skills today! 🌟

More About This Lesson

Welcome to a fun lesson on English animal idioms! These special phrases will spice up your talks and wow everyone you chat with.

The only way to do great work is to love what you do.
⭐ Steve Jobs

Our unique approach to English idioms has a lot to offer:

  1. Learn common idioms to sound more native.
  2. Understand idioms' meanings through examples.
  3. Improve listening skills with varied content.
  4. Practice using idioms in real situations.
  5. Gain confidence in speaking English.
  6. Expand vocabulary with animal idioms.
  7. Prepare for real-world English conversations.
  8. Test knowledge with a quiz at the end.
  9. Access resources for further learning.
  10. Get introduced to British English nuances.

Benefits of our listen & learn approach to learning In this lesson, you'll:

  • Learn cool animal idioms.
  • Understand how to use them like a pro.
  • See how idioms can make your English vibrant.
I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.
⭐ Mother Teresa

Why dive into this lesson? Well, idioms add flavour to your English, helping you connect better with native speakers. Plus, you'll learn about the quirky stories behind phrases like "like a headless chicken" and why "an eager beaver" is more than just a saying. These insights make learning not just educational but super interesting!

  • Learn Animal Idioms: Discover phrases like "eager beaver" and "having your ducks in a row" to sound more native.
  • Boost Confidence: Use idioms correctly and feel more confident in your English skills.
  • Impress Friends: Amaze your buddies by weaving idioms into your

Ready to make your English more lively and impressive? Join our podcast and subscribe for more lessons. Let's make English easy and fun together!

Frequently Asked Questions about Learning English Animal Idioms

Unlock the animal kingdom in your conversations, transforming them as masterfully as a painter brings a blank canvas to life.

  1. What does "the tail wagging the dog" mean in British English? In British English, when someone says "the tail is wagging the dog," they mean that a less important part of something or someone is controlling the more significant part. It's used to describe situations where priorities are out of order, suggesting that what should be of lesser importance is dictating the actions or direction of the whole. For instance, if minor details are driving a project's overall strategy, it's a case of "the tail wagging the dog."
  2. How can understanding idioms like "to have your ducks in a row" help in speaking English fluently? Grasping idioms such as "to have your ducks in a row" enhances your English fluency by allowing you to express complex ideas succinctly and vividly. This particular idiom means to be well-prepared and organised. Idioms enrich your language, making your conversations more colourful and engaging. They also show that you have a deeper understanding of the language, which can impress others and make your speech sound more natural.
  3. Can you explain the idiom "a headless chicken" and its relevance to learning English? The idiom "like a headless chicken" describes someone acting in a frantic, disorganised, or inefficient manner, often due to stress or being overly busy. It's relevant to learning English because it highlights the importance of calm and structured approaches to language acquisition. Just as rushing around like a headless chicken is ineffective, trying to learn English without a clear plan can be overwhelming and less productive.
  4. Why is the idiom "an eager beaver" useful for English language learners? The idiom "an eager beaver" refers to someone who is extremely enthusiastic and hard-working. For language learners, adopting the attitude of an eager beaver can significantly enhance the learning process. Being proactive, seeking opportunities to practice, and showing enthusiasm for learning can lead to faster improvement and greater fluency in English.
  5. How can participating in quizzes about English idioms, like the one mentioned in the transcript, benefit language learners? Participating in quizzes on English idioms tests your understanding and helps consolidate your learning. It's an effective way to engage with the material actively, ensuring that you can not only recognize but also correctly use the idioms in appropriate contexts. This interactive approach makes learning more enjoyable and memorable, thereby improving your ability to communicate effectively in English.

Most Unusual Words/Phrases:

  • Eager Beaver: Someone very excited and enthusiastic to do something.
  • Ducks in a row: Being well-prepared and organized.
  • Headless Chicken: Acting in a panicked and chaotic way without thinking.
  • Wag: To move something back and forth or side to side.
  • Tail Wagging the Dog: A situation where a small or unimportant part controls the whole thing.
  • Idiom: A phrase where the words together have a different meaning than the individual words suggest.
  • Activate Your Listening: Encouraging active engagement in listening to improve understanding.
  • Spaced Repetition: A learning technique that involves increasing intervals of time between reviewing the learned material.
  • Consolidate: To make something stronger or more solid.
  • Quiz: A test of knowledge, especially as a competition between individuals or teams.

Most Frequently Used Words:


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Transcript: Practice Using Idioms In Real Situations

Four British English Animal Idioms: From Eager Beavers to Ducks in a Row: Test Your Knowledge of Idioms

Hi there. Today let’s explore how English animal idioms, like being an 'eager beaver' or having 'your ducks in a row' can paint vivid pictures in English conversation, enhancing your spoken English. Have you ever found yourself puzzled by British English idioms? If so, today’s podcast will be useful to you. We're diving into the world of English idioms, specifically those involving animal friends. By the end of this podcast, not only will these phrases, these four idioms make sense, but you'll be able to use them yourself and impress other people. We started this topic in podcast 690 - so have a listen to that one, if you haven’t already. You'll not only understand these phrases when native speakers use them, but you’ll be able to use them too. I’ll explain each one, giving you real world examples. And if you stay until the end of the podcast, I’ve a special quiz to help you consolidate your learning.

Hello, I’m Hilary, and you’re listening to Adept English. We will help you to speak English fluently. All you have to do is listen. So start listening now and find out how it works.

Don’t forget to share on Spotify

Before we leap into the idioms, remember you can help us spread the word about Adept English by sharing this podcast on Spotify. Your support helps us reach more learners like you. And for those eager to boost their spoken English, our []'Activate Your Listening' course]( ) is just what you need. It's packed with vocabulary on the UK, Food, Education, and conversation practice with two speakers, all based on the spaced repetition learning technique. Find it on, under the Courses page.

Boost Your Learning With Adept English

First a mini quiz, before we get going. Do any of today’s idioms ring a bell for you? Do you know them, in other words? They are:-

  • The tail wagging the dog
  • To have your ducks in a row
  • A headless chicken and...
  • An eager Beaver

How many of those four did you know? Don’t worry if you don’t know any of the idioms - by the end of this podcast, you will!

The Tail Wagging the Dog: A Modern Workplace Dilemma?

So if you hear someone say ‘the tail is wagging the dog’, what do they mean? Vocabulary first of all. ‘To wag’, WAG means ‘to move something from side to side’, ‘to move in a sideways motion’ - that’s ‘to wag’. And different from the noun you might sometimes hear in the football press - the ‘WAGS’ means ‘the Wives And GirlfriendS’. And a ‘tail’, TAIL? A ‘tail’ is something which generally animals have and we humans don’t. A ‘tail’ is usually situated at the end of an animal’s back - and tails are used for different things. Cows and horses swish away the flies with their tails, whereas cats show annoyance by twitching their tails. And dogs? Well, dogs wag their tails for all sorts of reasons. We like to think when dogs ‘wag their tails’ that they’re pleased to see us, but apparently ‘tail wagging’ in a dog can mean all sorts of things - from excitement or interest to uncertainty. But what do we mean if we say ‘the tail is wagging the dog?’ Well, this idiom in English means that ‘the wrong part of something is in control’.


An image of a curious cat on a book full of idioms. Boost your English speaking with real examples.

©️ Adept English 2024

So if the tail is wagging the dog, a lesser part of the animal is controlling the main part of the animal. And so as an idiom, if we say ‘the tail is wagging the dog’ it means that the lesser part of something or someone or of an organisation is controlling the greater part of it. An example? ‘My neighbour’s 5 year old granddaughter decides what goes into the supermarket trolley on her weekly shop. Surely, this is the tail wagging the dog?!’ Another example - and this is a headline from the newspaper, The Scottish Herald from 13th August 2023, ‘Green tail is wagging SNP dog’. So you can see the ‘bare bones’ of the idiom here - ‘….tail is wagging….dog’. But when they say ‘Green tail’, they’re meaning ‘environmental policies’ are ‘the tail’. And this ‘tail’ of environmental policies is ‘wagging the SNP dog’. So the SNP are the ‘Scottish Nationalist Party’, a political party in the UK. So this headline means that ‘environmental concerns are controlling too much the Scottish Nationalist Party’s agenda’. I’ll say that news headline again -‘Green tail is wagging SNP dog’. I think that if you didn’t know this idiom, you’d have little chance of understanding that headline!

To Have your Ducks in a Row - OCD or necessary?!

Second one. When we say, 'To have your ducks in a row’, what do we mean? Vocabulary first? Well, this podcast is about ‘animal idioms’, so here the word ‘duck’, DUCK is the animal. ‘Ducks’ are birds - and they’re the type that you see in the UK and other places, swimming in water and going ‘quack’. In the UK, people take their leftover bread to ‘feed the ducks’ sometimes - which apparently is not very good for the ducks. Duck is also a bird that we eat - as do many people in the world. From French ‘Magret’ to Peking Duck - it’s very nice. And ‘in a row’ - means ‘in a neat line’, ‘in an organised line’. So the meaning of the phrase ‘to have your ducks in a row’ - ‘to be well-prepared and organised’. All the parts of what you’re responsible for are organised and ready for whatever comes next. You’ve done all that you can to organise and be ready. Why do we say this? Where does it come from? Well, there are various theories, but I think the most likely one is found in nature. Back to those birds called ‘ducks’ again, ‘ducks’ that can be found in rivers and lakes.

Baby ducks are called ‘ducklings’, DUCKLINGS and if you watch a mother duck with her ducklings, then quite often you see the mother swimming at the front and all the little ducklings follow on behind in an organised line. You even sometimes see them crossing the road like this - the mother duck is at the front and all the ducklings are walking in an orderly line behind their mother. The sense here then is that the mother duck is in control - there are no unruly ducklings - everyone is moving in an organised line. The mother duck has ‘all her ducks in a row’. So I think that’s probably the most likely origin of this phrase ‘to have all you ducks in a row’, but we probably use it most in a work context

’Headless Chickens At Work’ - A Sign of Poor Management?

Next one. Have you ever heard the phrase 'a headless chicken’ or ‘like a headless chicken’? This is what people say when they’re really stressed and busy, and rushing around, and they can’t stop. ‘I'm a headless chicken today’. The word ‘headless’ means ‘with no head’ and the phrase references those times when we’re so busy, we can’t even think - it’s like we’re ‘headless’. The origin of this idiom - it’s not very nice really. I think it comes again from a time when people used to keep chickens for the pot as it were, to cook, for meat. So when the time came to prepare a chicken for the pot, let’s say to kill them basically, people would snap their heads, break their necks, and allegedly - and I've never seen this - a chicken will sometimes run round for a few seconds without its head. Rather bizarre. So the implication of this ‘headless chicken’ idiom, ‘I’m so rushed it’s as though I've lost my head. I don’t really know what I’m doing, and I don’t have time to think about it. I am like a headless chicken’.

’Eager Beavers At Work’ - The Secret to Success or Burnout?!

What about the next idiom ‘an eager beaver’ or ‘to be an eager beaver’? Again vocabulary first. The adjective ‘eager’, EAGER means ‘enthusiastic, wanting very much to do something or to have something’. And a ‘beaver’, BEAVER? This is the animal part - a ‘beaver’ is an animal that lives in rivers - it’s a mammal, and good at swimming. Beavers are known for being very busy, building their dams. A ‘dam’, DAM is ‘a structure that holds back water’. So beavers like to build ‘dams’. And they’re known for being busy, industrious, energetic. If we say someone is ‘beavering away’, it means that they’re very, very busy with something. There’s a link to a news article on beavers in the transcript. So ‘an eager beaver’ is someone who is very keen, very enthusiastic to do something. This phrase seems to have started in the army. ‘An eager beaver’ is a term for new recruit into the army, who’s eager to impress their superior officers by doing tasks that perhaps no one else wants to do. Examples of that phrase being used? ‘He’s up at 5am, ready for a run - he’s an eager beaver’. Or ‘I bought her a book for her birthday. And she’s such an eager beaver, she’d read it by the end of the day!’.

English Idioms In Iconic Songs

Check what you’ve learned with our quiz!

OK, so are you feeling more confident about these idioms now? Let's put that newfound knowledge to the test with a quiz! I’ll talk about a particular situation and you need to choose which of these four idioms you might use to describe that situation. Again the four idioms are:-

the tail wagging the dog, to have your ducks in a row, a headless chicken and an eager beaver

If you’re ready, let's see if you can match the right idiom to each situation. I’ll give you the answers in a minute.

  1. I’ve had such a busy morning, with six meetings and fourteen phone calls, I don’t know what to do. I feel like a…….
  2. When they heard there was cake, the people from upstairs were down here like a shot. When it comes to food, they’re such…...
  3. It seems to me that the cleaning staff are dictating when the managers can have their meeting. This is a case of…..
  4. I must spend some time today organising my files, tidying my shelves and making sure all my work is done for the inspection tomorrow. I must have…...

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Quiz Answers

OK. That’s it! How did you do? If you want to hear those sentences again, pause the podcast here and go back. Otherwise, here are the answers!

  1. I’ve had such a busy morning, with six meetings and fourteen phone calls, I don’t know what to do. I feel like a…….headless chicken
  2. When they heard there was cake, the people from upstairs were down here like a shot. When it comes to food, they’re such…...eager beavers
  3. It seems to me that the cleaning staff are dictating when the managers can have their meeting. This is a case of…..the tail wagging the dog.
  4. I must spend some time today organising my files, tidying my shelves and making sure all my work is done for the inspection tomorrow. I must have…...all my ducks in a row.


OK, that’s it! Hopefully that’s helped you remember these idioms. Don’t forget we love emails from you - so get in touch if you’ve any special requests on topics you’d like me to cover in the Adept English podcast!

Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.

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