Phrase of the day: get the hang of

Yesterday morning, I took my four-year-old son trampolining. It was the first time he’d ever been and even though he was very clearly having a whale of a time bouncing around, it was also pretty clear from the rather clueless way he was throwing himself around that he wasn’t exactly a seasoned professional! When the instructor told the kids to do star jumps – where you jump upwards and outwards, opening your legs wide and moving your arms out, creating a star shape while in the air – he fell onto his back and rolled around a bit . . . and when he was told to fall onto his bum and bounce back up, he started doing a strange hopping thing that nearly made him fall off the edge of the trampoline! Ten minutes in, my wife turned round to me and – in a perfectly understated way – said He’s not really got the hang of this yet, has he! Never was a truer word spoken!

If you get the hang of something, you learn how to do it and become better and more skilled at it. It’s a phrase particularly used to talk about activities that you’re initially not very good at and that may take time and effort to improve at. For instance, my daughter, who’s not one of life’s natural mathematicians, has been doing a little bit of extra work on her maths after school most days and it’s lovely to watch her slowly getting the hang of multiplication and division.Where once the mere sight of a multiplication sign caused anxiety, stress and tears, she now races thought exercise after exercise, rarely making any mistakes at all.

Getting the hang of things takes time and this is often reflected in the way we talk about the process. Let’s look at a couple more examples that illustrate this. When I was a kid, I was forced to take violin lessons for a while, and even though I did drag myself along to classes for quite some time, I was never especially interested and never really did get the hang of the stupid instrument, soon switching to harmonicas instead – much to my mum’s annoyance and disappointment!

My dad, who turns 87 in a couple of months, got his first-ever mobile phone for Christmas last year, and last week managed to send me a text message for the first time. I called him to congratulate him on only taking eight weeks to work out how to do this (!!) and he replied enthusiastically that he thought he’d finally got the hang of the thing! The fact that the next day, he sent me a random photograph of a corner of his kitchen suggests he may have further to go than he realises, but at least it was a start! These things take time, and after all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

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  • Can you think of anything that took you quite a while to get the hang of?
  • And anything that you tried to learn how to do, but just never really got the hang of?
  • When was the last time you did something for the first time? How was it?
  • Complete these sentences in ways that are true for you: I’m not exactly . . . . / I’m not really one of life’s natural . . . .
  • Who’s the oldest person in your family? Are they good with technology?
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