Mastering English can be challenging yet exciting, especially when it comes to idiomatic expressions. The array of animal-related idioms in the British vernacular are prime culprits. They’re both puzzling and entertaining for non-native English speakers, adding ‘flavour’ to the English language, but often leaving language learners scratching their heads.

For example:

Letting the cat out of the bag

Imagine a non-native speaker being told, “Don’t let the cat out of the bag!” They’re likely visualising a frisky feline scampering out of a sack, rather than grasping the hidden meaning of revealing a secret or divulging confidential information.

Drinking like a fish

When someone is described as “drinking like a fish,” non-native speakers might automatically envision aquatic creatures gulping twice their body weight. Yet, the notion of a fish quaffing large quantities is puzzling, until the intended meaning of excessive alcohol consumption is understood.

Opening a can of worms

Wriggling creatures escaping from a can? Not quite! The metaphorical meaning of creating a complicated or troublesome situation might initially elude intrepid English language learners – and understandably so.

Having a frog in your throat

It’s nothing short of perplexing for English language learners when somebody is said to have “a frog in their throat,”. The literal interpretation of an amphibian lodged in your windpipe obscures the idiom’s true meaning, which is having difficulty speaking, or a hoarse voice.

Smelling a rat

This unattractive imagery is befuddling for English students who come across this idiom. It can take some time to realise that “smelling a rat” refers to sensing that something is wrong or suspicious.


At La Academia, our teaching methods are tailored to bring language to life. Animal idioms are a great example of this. The literal interpretations often lead to initial confusion. But they become sources of amusement and fascination, as language learners delve deeper into English. And by embracing these quirks of the language, learners are equipped to better understand the cultural context and richness of English idiomatic expressions, making the language journey more rewarding.

Get in touch for more information about English language courses and tuition options for personal or business purposes. You’ll be as happy as a clam in butter sauce!