play it by ear 0

These three micro-dictations all contain the expression ‘play it by ear’. Complete each exercise, and then try to guess the meaning/usage of the expression from the context.

Dictation #1

Accent: Ireland

able to fit 3, but we’ll play it I’ve got overrun.
I be able to fit you around 3, but we’ll to play it by as I’ve got meeting which overrun.

…I should be able to fit you in

To fit someone in is a phrasal verb which means to find time to see someone. e.g. I’m sorry, but I can’t fit you in until next Friday afternoon.

…which could overrun

To overrun = to last longer than planned. e.g. Sorry I’m late – my appraisal with Jess overran by 10 minutes.

Dictation #2

Accent: Australia

a little hectic , we’ll have to ear if .
My is a little hectic week, so we’ll have to it by ear if don’t mind.

…my schedule is a little hectic

Hectic is an adjective which means busy or stressful. e.g. I apologise for not getting the report back to you on time – it’s been a very hectic week.

Dictation #3

Accent: Scotland

We decision on their we’ve heard the . We’ll play it .
We can’t a decision on their until we’ve heard the details them. We’ll have to play it ear.

to play it by ear: meaning and explanation

Sometimes, it isn’t possible to make a clear plan of action in advance because we do not have all the information we need to do so.

In these situations, we have to wait until we get the necessary information, and then make a decision or take an action in that moment. We can call this spontaneous, instinctive or reactive form of decision making playing it by ear.

For example – imagine we are trying to arrange to meet tomorrow afternoon, but neither of us are sure if we will be available. We might agree to play it by ear. This means that we will not make a concrete plan now, but will decide whether or not to meet tomorrow afternoon, when we both know if we are available or not.

Here are some common ways of using this idiom when making plans (or attempting to make plans).

“Let’s play it by ear” = “Let’s wait and see what happens and then decide”.

“Can we play it by ear?” = “Can we make a decision later, when we have full information?”

“We’ll have to play it by ear” = “We can’t make a decision now – we’ll have to wait until we have full information and then decide”.

Photo by Jessica Flavia on Unsplash

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come naturally 2

This micro-listening exercise contains the expression to come naturally to someone. Have a go at the listening exercise, then learn about the meaning and usage of this expression.

Micro-listening

Accent: North America

Source: Hidden Brain, Creatures of Habit. This episode is all about developing positive habits and dealing with negative habits. In this section, the speaker is talking about her experience of getting into the habit of running every day.

, , .
I , I was a committed years, I 6 in the was very with me that didn't I really .
I started , I was a committed runner many years, I running at 6 in the and that was very to start off with for me that didn't naturally and I really dreaded .

…and that was very hard to start off with…

to start off with = in the beginning, to begin with. e.g. To start off with I didn’t get on with my new boss at all, but the more I got to know her the more I appreciated her management style.

…I really dreaded that…

to dread something = to be extremely frightened or worried about something. e.g. We’re moving house next month and I’m absolutely dreading it – I have a feeling it’s going to be a nightmare.

come naturally: meaning and explanation

If you find something easy and you can do it without much effort or concentration then you can say that it comes naturally to you.

For example, if you are a good writer and find it easy and enjoyable to do, then you can say that writing comes naturally to you.

This expression can be used to say that a new skill or ability was easy to learn, or that you became good at it quickly.

e.g. Sarah has only been playing tennis for a few months but she’s already better than most other players at the club. Tennis obviously comes naturally to her.

We often use this expression in the negative to say that something is not easy for us to do, that we have to make a lot of effort to do it, or that we had to work hard to be able to do it.

For example, some people find public speaking very stressful and challenging. They can do it, but it is a difficult experience which probably requires a lot of effort and preparation. For them, speaking in public doesn’t come naturally.

Other people seem completely relaxed and in their element when public speaking, and doing it is easy. Public speaking comes naturally to them.

Have a go at this dictation exercise to hear this expression being used in context – how much can you understand?

Discussion questions

Write your answers to these questions in the comments section, and I’ll get back to you with some feedback:

  • Is there anything that comes naturally to you?
  • What doesn’t come naturally to you?
  • Have you ever developed a new skill or learned something new very easily? What was it?

Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

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above board 0

above board: meaning and explanation

If something is above board then it is honest, fair, and not attempting to hide anything or cheat anyone. e.g. Most banks operate above board, but it is still important to be careful when taking out a loan.

If you say that everything is above board then you are saying that everything is done in an honest, open way, and nothing is hidden.

Imagine you are checking whether a service, business or website is honest before making a large purchase – if you are satisfied, you could use this idiom. e.g. We’ve had a close look and as far as we can see everything seems to be above board.

A useful way to get a clearer understanding of idioms, and also to make it easier to memorise them, is to research their origins. These are often quite interesting and memorable, and can help to make the meaning of the idiom more concrete and logical. The origin of above board is poker and other card games. If you are playing above board, then you are holding your cards above the table – you are not hiding them under the table. This means that no one will suspect you of cheating or playing dishonestly.

Have a go at this dictation exercise to hear this expression being used in context – how much can you understand?

Dictation #1

Accent: England (RP)

If you at our you’ll is .
If you a look at our accounts you’ll see that is above .

…If you take a look at our accounts…

to take a look at something is an alternative (and slightly more informal) synonym for to look at something or to have a look at something. It is often used when inviting someone to look at or inspect something. e.g. Can you take a look at my phone and see if you can fix it?

Discussion questions

Write your answers to these questions in the comments section, and I’ll get back to you with some feedback:

  • In your country, is business generally done ‘above board’ or do people try to conceal things?
  • Can you remember a time when you thought everything seemed to be above board, and it turned out that you were wrong?

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singing your praises 10

singing your praises: meaning and explanation

If you sing someone’s praises, then you praise or compliment them very enthusiastically.

This phrase is often used to tell somebody that someone has been talking about them in a very positive way. e.g. Sarah was very touched that you offered to help her move house. She’s been singing your praises all week.

Have a go at this dictation exercise to hear this expression being used in context – how much can you understand?

Dictation #1

Accent: North America

.
You’ve good impression – she’s .
You’ve made a good impression the boss – she’s singing your .

…You’ve obviously made a good impression on the boss…

The phrase to make a good impression on someone = to cause someone to form a good opinion of you when they first meet you. e.g. If you dress like that then you aren’t going to make a very good impression at your interview. This has a similar meaning to the phrasal verb to come across well.

Discussion questions

Write your answers to these questions in the comments section, and I’ll get back to you with some feedback:

  • Have you been singing anyone’s praises recently?
  • Can you remember a time when someone was singing the praises of someone who didn’t deserve it?

Photo by Todd Trapani on Unsplash

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