|Maya eating oatmeal for the first time yesterday|
English is a difficult language to learn in part because there are just so many words. But sometimes one word means so much else: like the word hot. Hot can mean opposite of cold, spicy, attractive, stolen or popular depending on the context. If you feel not so hot, you mean you are getting sick. A co-worker liked to grow unusual vegetables and share them with us. He had some peppers that looked like normal green bell peppers but were very 'spicy'. He gave out samples cautioning that they were hot. To a German exchange worker, he added helpfully the word "heiß". But heiß does not mean spicy and the German took a big bite and needed lots of water.
In Germany, I struggled to find the words for 'free water' meaning water I didn't have to pay for. I knew the word 'frei' from Arbeit macht frei but I wasn't sure it had the same double meaning. The 200 ml of water ended up costing 7 euros. 500 ml of beer at the same place was 1 euro.
In general, if you want to communicate effectively with non-American English speakers, idioms should be kept to a minimum. Asking them How do they like them apples? is confusing if there are no apples on the table.
My friend in CA has lots of foreign born students who communicate with her via e-mail. One was asking per usual whether he would need to know this and this for an up-coming test (wouldn't want to study anything more than necessary). She replied
Now if this exchange was in person, he could see the smile on her face but from the e-mail, he thought she was calling him a 'bitch' and was very insulted. He thought she was very angry with him even though he had asked a question politely.
And of course there are British idioms vs American ones with the hotel clerk in Canterbury, England asking me how would I like to be knocked-up in the morning?