November 15, 2016

4 Popular Idioms About Teaching

3 minute read

It’s not just teachers that teach us the things we need to know! There are many other important lessons and types of knowledge that come from life and experience, too.

In English, there are many idioms to do with wisdom, teaching and learning. Today I’m going to show you four common English phrases that use the word teach, but aren’t about studying or being in a classroom.

  1. You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

You can teach a puppy a new trick easily, but an old dog will find it much more difficult. Like dogs, the older people get, the harder it is for them to learn new ways of doing things. This idiom simply means that people get “stuck in their ways” – or, in other words, they like to do things the way that they have always done them. That makes it difficult for them to pick up new skills later in life.

  1. That’ll Teach You

This is something that people say when you do something they think you shouldn’t do, and the consequences are bad for you. The idea is that you have learned not to do it again because you suffered in some way. For example, imagine that a child climbs on top of a kitchen cupboard to steal a biscuit from a high shelf, and they fall and hurt themselves. His or her parent might say, “that’ll teach you!” In this context, they mean, “Look what happened! That will teach you not to climb on the furniture / take things from the cupboard without asking.”

  1. Teach Someone a Lesson

“Teach someone a lesson” sounds like a nice thing to do, doesn’t it? Unfortunately in English, when you say you are going to teach someone a lesson, you really mean you are going to punish them or get revenge on them in some way.

Similar to the phrase “that’ll teach you”, the idea is that the person has done something wrong, or is behaving in a way that is unacceptable, and now something bad will happen to them that stops them from wanting to do it again.

For example:

“Lucy called in sick today, for the fourth time this month.”

“But I saw her last night – she was in a bar! I bet she just has a hangover.”

“Right, that’s it. Next time I see her out drinking during the week I’m going to take a photo of her and send it to the boss if she calls in sick. That will teach her a lesson.”

  1. Don’t Teach Your Grandmother How to Suck Eggs

This is a very strange expression and doesn’t actually have anything to do with eggs! Instead, it simply means: “don’t try to tell someone who is more experienced than you how to do something”. No one knows exactly where the expression comes from or why grandmothers are supposed to be good at sucking eggs, but people do say it quite a lot, especially when they are annoyed.

For example:

“I think you need to fill in that part of the form, too.”

“Hey new guy, I’ve been doing this job for 15 years. Don’t teach your grandmother how to suck eggs.”

Sometimes the phrase is changed a little bit to remove the grandmother part. For example:

“Are you sure you saved that file in the right place? Sorry to ask, I know you know what you’re doing. I’m not trying to teach you how to suck eggs here.”

Have you heard any other idioms about teaching that you don’t quite understand? Let us know in the comments section below!