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Valerie: Okay… So… You were saying that you did end up hiring Vanessa. It’s great that it worked out. But what exactly went wrong with setting up the equipment?
Mira: Right, yes. Well… one of Vanessa’s first tasks was to set up the espresso machine.
Valerie: Oh! Okay.
Mira: We got a technician to install it, but she still had to get it ready to use, and the instruction manual was in Italian and… well… I don’t speak Italian, and she doesn’t speak Italian either.
Valerie: Oh, I see.
Mira: Yes. Martin, the technician from the coffee machine company… he was kind enough to email us some instructions for the setup in English. But well, that was challenging in its own way.
Mira: Hey, Vanessa, ehm… how is the set up going for the espresso machine? Everything looks good so far!
Vanessa: Ummmm… well… yeah. Martin sent us that email with instructions.
Mira: Right, yes. I saw that! Were his instructions helpful?
Vanessa: Well… sort of? I guess I still have some questions. Can we look at it together?
Mira: Of course, sure.
Vanessa: Great. Thanks. Let me just find the email on my phone. Oh yeah - here it is!
Conor: Hello! Welcome to episode eight of Talking on the Job, Season 2. I’m Conor, your host and English language mentor, back again to help you navigate the world of business and work, in English. Today’s episode is called Figuring it Out. And that’s because Mira and Vanessa have to set up some equipment that comes with instructions in a language they don’t know. Luckily, they got an email from the technician in a language that they do know, but it sounds like there was some sort of problem. Let’s see how they are figuring it out.
Mira: Okay, so, what exactly is it that you don’t understand?
Vanessa: Well, it seems like he uses a lot of violent language, which doesn’t really make sense. I mean, it’s just an espresso machine!
Mira: Okay. I see what you mean. Martin has sort of a… strange sense of humour. And he does use a lot of… idioms and some colloquial expressions in this email. I think he’s from the U.S. Anyway, let’s go over them one at a time.
Conor: Hmmmm. It sounds like Martin sent over an email full of idioms, that is, a group of words whose meaning is different from the meaning of the words on their own. And, Mira said he used colloquial expressions too, or, language that is used in everyday, familiar conversation. Idioms and colloquial expressions can be especially tricky when you’re learning a new language. But also, especially fun! So let’s crack on with some tips for figuring out what they mean, and how to use them.
Conor: Vanessa has already demonstrated tip one, which is: Ask someone to explain! If you have a friend or colleague who can help you understand some language that’s new or confusing, feel free to ask! Tip two is: Write them down. It might sound old school, but writing things down can really help you remember them! Now, before I get to tip three, let’s check in with Mira and Vanessa and see how they’re getting along.
Vanessa: Okay, let me get a pen and paper too, so I can take notes.
Mira: Good idea! Okay, he starts with "Dear Mira and Vanessa…" so far so good… then he writes "What’s up? I get that you don’t speak Italian, but no worries. Don’t get bent out of shape! I’m here to help." Hahah okay, hmmm.
Vanessa: Yeah. The first part is clear. “What’s up?” is just a casual greeting, and “get” in this case means understand.
Mira: Right.
Vanessa: And “No worries” is like, it’s not very important.
Mira: Uh huh.
Vanessa: But then, I don’t understand what he means by “Don’t get bent out of shape”. Sounds terrible.
Mira: Haha yes, it does. But he just means don’t get upset, or stressed out. And, in this context, “get” means become.
Vanessa: Don’t get upset. Okay. Interesting. So, then he writes: "You can kill two birds with one stone by warming up the machine for 45 minutes. This heats the water and creates the pressure needed to make espresso." Killing birds? Urgh! What is he talking about?
Mira: Yes, well, that’s just another way of saying “achieve two things with one action”.
Vanessa: Oh, okay! Hmmm. Actually, there’s a similar expression in German: Zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen, which means “Hit two flies with one swat”.
Mira: Right! We use that expression back home, too: darab eusfurayn bihajar wahid. Okay, so. What else?
Vanessa: Ummm… here it says: "If your espresso shot has a dark brown color with an orange-brown crema on top, you’ve hit the nail on the head." Is that supposed to be a good thing?
Mira: Yes, yes. That means you’ve got it exactly right!
Vanessa: Okaaaaaaay. Got it. Then at the end he writes "Don’t cut corners. I believe in you both. Break a leg!" What does he mean by cutting corners and breaking legs? See what I mean by violent language??
Mira: Yes, well, to cut corners means to do something poorly, in order to save money and time. Please don’t do that! And by saying “Break a leg”, he’s actually wishing you good luck. Maybe he has a theater background or something… I think that’s where it comes from.
Vanessa: Okay… in order to save money and time… good luck… got it. Wow. Thanks, Mira, for your help! I can take it from here.
Mira: You’re welcome! Okay, I’ll get back to work now. I’m going to try out the samovar by testing some new tea blends.
Vanessa: Alright. Sounds like you’re… What was it again? Oh yeah! You're gonna kill two birds with one stone!
Mira: Exactly!
Conor: Well, there you have it! Vanessa has already demonstrated my third tip, which is: After you’ve learned a new idiom or colloquial expression, try using it yourself! Using new expressions helps them stick in your memory.
Conor: Idioms and colloquial expressions are some of the most fun and interesting aspects of language! And, just to review, here are my three tips for learning them: Number 1: Ask someone to explain!; Number two: Write them down; and number three: Try using them yourself, a great way to remember anything you’ve learned in another language. Now, let’s head back to the café and find out what happened next.
Valerie: Ummm, okay, so it sounds like Vanessa learned a lot - and not just about setting up a commercial espresso machine!
Mira: Yes, right! She already knew a lot about that. But she did learn some new expressions. And she started using them around the café.
Valerie: I see. So, at this point, how close were you to opening for business?
Mira: Only a few weeks away! Now, it was just a matter of setting everything up, with Vanessa’s help, of course, and finalizing the details.
Valerie: Oh, wow. Okay.
Mira: But, finalizing those last details was not as easy as it might sound. There were some very long days, and long nights. I had to make a lot of phone calls, and last minute orders. And of course I worked with an event planner to arrange this grand opening… a friend of a friend of mine… and……
Conor: So, dear listener, I hope you've learned some new expressions today, and that my three tips help you feel more confident learning the ones that pop up in your day-to-day life! If you want to review what you and Vanessa learned today, check out the transcript for today’s episode. The link is in the episode description. There you’ll also find a link to an article in the Babbel Magazine about colloquial expressions in American English. And, in fact, the Babbel Magazine has lots of articles about idioms from different parts of the world. If you want to learn more, take a look at the courses on American and British colloquial language in the Babbel app!
As always, I’d love to hear from you! Let me know what you think of the podcast by sending an email to podcasting@babbel.com with Talking on the Job in the subject line. And, as Mira said, we’re getting close to the opening of Café Damascus! Find out in the next episode how she managed to finalize those last details and get everything ready to go! I’ll see you there.


Idioms and Colloquial Expressions

- No worries: It’s not important
- To “get” something: To understand something
- Don’t get bent out of shape: Don’t get upset or stressed out
- To kill two birds with one stone: To achieve two things with one action
- You’ve hit the nail on the head: You’ve got it exactly right!
- To cut corners: To do something poorly, in order to save money and time
- Break a leg: Good luck!

Tips for learning idioms and colloquial expressions

  1. Ask someone to explain
  2. Write them down
  3. Try to use them yourself

21 American English Phrases That Are, Like, Totally Useful To Know
Mira and Vanessa face some challenges understanding the instructions for a new piece of equipment. Vanessa’s first task at the café is to set up the new espresso machine. But the manual is in Italian, which she doesn’t speak! Martin, the technician, sent an email with instructions, but his English is full of idioms and colloquial expressions. They’ll have to work together to figure it out, and get the new machine up and running.