Advanced Vocabulary | 8 English Idioms about PROGRESS

Jul 24, 2019 | Advanced Vocabulary

In this lesson you’ll learn 8 new English idioms that native speakers use to talk about progress. And use them to give updates to your boss about a project or talk about your personal goals with friends.

With each idiom, I share the meaning and an example, so you know exactly how to use it. And I have some practice questions for you.

This is an advanced vocabulary lesson that is especially useful at work — it’s great for professional English when expressing success at work. And you will hear these idioms around the office often.

Plus, at the end, I share 4 common collocations with the word progress (collocations are groups of words native speakers use).

Continue reading below the video for the full transcript.

8 English idioms + 4 collocations about progress.

Lesson by Annemarie

English Idioms about PROGRESS — Full Transcript

Hey, it’s Annemarie with Speak Confident English. Right now as I’m recording this video, my students in the July 2019 Fluency School course are finishing up their very last week of Fluency School. It’s been incredible to see the amount of progress that they’ve made over the last several weeks in their English fluency and confidence. 

So I thought that this is the perfect time to do a lesson on English idioms and some bonus collocations that we use to talk about making progress in English. 

So whether you are making progress in your English confidence and fluency or if you’re working on a project at work and you need to update your boss on the progress that you’ve made or if you simply want to talk about something you’re working on with your friends and again, you want to let them know where you are in the process and you want to show that you’re moving forward in a positive way.

Here are 8 English idioms that you can use to talk about making progress. I’ll share with you exactly what these idioms mean and I’ll give you examples so that you know how to use them in your daily English conversations. 

Then at the end, I’m also going to include four collocations in English that we use with the word progress. Now if you’re not sure, collocations are groups of words that native speakers naturally use together. The more collocations you know in English, the more natural you’re going to sound and the better you’ll understand native speakers. And the good news is I actually have several lessons on collocations that you can watch right after this lesson.


English Idiom 1 — to get the ball rolling

All right, let’s dive right in with idiom number one and get the ball rolling. To get the ball rolling means to start something or to make it happen. So it’s the perfect idiom to get started with this lesson.

Another way that I could use it is: I recently signed up to run a marathon this year, so it’s time to get the ball rolling and get started with my training. 

So what about you? Is there anything that you’re waiting to get started, something that you want to make happen? If so, try using to get the ball rolling in your own example.


English Idiom 2 — to take a step in the right direction

Idiom number two is the perfect follow-up: to take a step in the right direction. When you take a step in the right direction, it means that you’re taking positive action. You’re doing the right thing to help you achieve something that you want or make an improvement.

So here’s an example that you could use at work if your company has recently implemented some changes or even better, some modifications. That’s a word that I recently shared in my lesson on 10 Smart English Words to Use at Work. So if you haven’t watched that yet, definitely do so after this lesson. But let’s go back to the example. 

If your company has recently made some modifications, you might say something like: These modifications are a step in the right direction toward making our employees and our customers happier.

Now, once you’ve made those first steps, you’ve gotten the ball rolling and you’ve taken your first step. 


English Idiom 3 — to gain ground

When you start to see those first signs of progress, here are a few idioms that you can use. Number one, to gain ground. To gain ground simply means to go forward or to make progress.

For example: After several months of implementing our new marketing strategies, we’ve gained ground over our competitors. In other words, we’ve made progress or advancement over our competitors. 


English Idiom 4 — to work your way up

A similar idiom, idiom number four is to work your way up and this one is specifically used when we’re talking about making progress within a structure. For example, a company structure, a process or a procedure. 

For example, maybe you’ve been with a company for 10 or 15 years. When you first started, you might have started at the bottom, maybe you were at an entry level position, but over time you’ve worked your way up through the company. You’ve been promoted time and time again and maybe now you’re a senior level manager.

So you could say: Over the last 15 years, I’ve worked my way up through the company. 


English Idiom 5 — to kick into high gear

Now when you’re working to make progress towards something, for example, a specific project at work, there might be times when you need to work extra hard. You need to give extra time, energy and commitment. 

And when that happens, we have the perfect idiom to kick into high gear. What this means is to start working faster and more intensely.

So here’s a great example: I’ve just got an email from our partner and they’re moving up the deadline. That means the whole team needs to kick into high gear so that we can get this project done on time. 


English Idiom 6 — smooth sailing

Idiom number six is something your boss will always love to hear that you’re smooth sailing.

When something is smooth sailing, it means it’s going easily, it’s going well. There are no challenges or obstacles and that is always good news.

So if you’re updating your boss on how a project is going, you might say something like: Everything is smooth sailing. All the team members are working hard and I think we’re even going to finish the project early.

Again, that’s a fantastic one to use when things are going really well. 


English Idiom 7 — to get into the groove

Now similar to smooth sailing is one of my favorite idioms about making progress: to get into the groove.

To get into the groove means you are able to perform well. Everything you’re doing is easy for you because you’ve learned it well. You’ve done it for a long time and you feel very comfortable with it.

If you’ve recently started a new job, you could say something like: It took me a few weeks to get into the groove, but now I feel really comfortable with my responsibilities and I’m ready to take on some new ones. 


English Idiom 8 — to have/make a breakthrough

And then idiom number eight is the best news of all to have or to make a breakthrough. And this one is perfect for my Fluency School students to have or to make a breakthrough means to make a sudden advancement, achievement or discovery.

For example, some of my students might say: I’ve been studying English for years, but this summer I finally made a breakthrough and I’m feeling much more confident and fluent in my English skills. 

What about you? Have you recently had a breakthrough in your English? If you have, I’d love to hear about it.

Give me an example sentence. Tell me about your breakthrough and be sure to use this idiom, but now I want to finish this video with four common collocations that use the word progress in English.


4 Collocations with the Word ‘Progress’ 

All of these are perfect for daily conversations with friends or when you’re talking about progress that you’ve made at work. 


Collocation 1 — in progress

If something is in progress, it’s simply means that it’s happening, it’s underway.

For example: The safety investigation is in progress and they should be completed soon.

Or if I’m talking about the Fluency School course right now: The Fluency School course is in progress, but they will finish at the end of the week.


Collocation 2 — progress toward something

Now, when something is in progress and you’re working hard to move forward, here are two collocations that are perfect to use progress toward something.

This one is used when we’re talking about the progress or the forward steps that you’re taking toward a goal, an outcome or a destination, and we often use this with the present continuous tense. 

Here are a couple of examples: Our team is making great progress toward our 2019 marketing goals.

Or if you’ve been working hard on your English, you might say something like: I’ve been making some great progress toward my English fluency goals. 


Collocation 3 — progress with something

Now a similar collocation is progress with something and this one we often use when we’re talking about to be in the process in the middle of doing something, and again, we usually use it with the present continuous. 

Here are a couple of examples. I’m making great progress with my marathon training.

What that means is I’m in the process of my training schedule and things are going really well. I’m making great progress with.

Similarly, you could use this with talking about your English as well. Maybe you have an end goal, maybe in 2019 your goal is to be more confident and if you’re in the middle of that process and you’re taking steps forward, you could say: I’m making great progress with my English confidence goals.


Collocation 4 — to progress to something

And finally our last collocation is perfect when you’ve reached that destination or the goal that you’ve had to progress to something.

For example, if your team has submitted a proposal to a potential new partner, you could say something like: I have great news. I’ve just found out that our proposal has progressed to the final stage of the selection process. There are just three competitors left with all four of those collocations.


Hopefully you notice that each one used a different preposition. We have to be really careful with which preposition we use because it can change the meaning just a little bit. 

And with that you have eight common idioms plus four collocations that we can use to talk about making progress in English in a positive way. 

So again, whether you need to talk about the progress you’re making on a project at work, maybe you need to update your boss or your team members, or you simply want to talk about your achievement, your progress towards a personal goal. You’ve got several new ways to do it.

Now that you’ve watched the lesson, it’s time to get some practice!

Here’s how:

  1. Select your favorite new idiom from this list.
  2. Then use it in an example sentence and share it with me in the comment section below. It’s the best place to share, get feedback, and learn from others in the Confident English Community.

Have a fantastic Confident English Wednesday!

~ Annemarie

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