French - bad approach to learning idioms / fixed phrases

I’ve only done the official French courses, so I don’t know if this is applicable elsewhere, but I would like to see how the community general feels about how Memrise teaches the meanings of phrases, particularly when it comes to idiomatic expressions. Generally, Memrise will put an English equivalent expression as the meaning of the French expression, which may or may not have any connection to the literal translation. They do often include the most literal of translations, but it’s a notes field, so its not the primary learning.

For me, this approach causes problems. Just as we learn in English, you learn the literal sense and then the abstract expression and then you connect and understand the abstract/idiomatic meaning between the two. As example, you first learn about rain and how it comes down in different intensities. So you understand something like “It’s a strong or heavy rain outside.” Then you learn, “It’s raining cats and dogs.” Although I still remember the odd visual this evoked in my mind as a child, eventually I connected the equivalence of the two. So when I learn French, I feel that when learning “il pleut des cordes”, we should primarily be taught that this means “It’s raining ropes.” With a secondary note that says “Il pleut très fort.” or “It’s raining strongly.” (I can’t decide if the English or French would be better here.) and then maybe a second note that identifies the nearest equivalent English expression.)
My three quick reasons for this are:

  1. In speaking French, I never could or needed to translate an English idiom/expression into French… I’ve always gone direct to the French expression because trying to translate the English creates an additional step that really slows me down. Imagine the process: The English idiom is W, The English literal meaning is X, the French literal meaning is Y and finally the French idiom is Z. Too much.

  2. Having the visual, sense and feel of the expression in the target language allows for a more correct use and application of the expression.

  3. One idiom does not equal another… there are a lot of these in Memrise where the French idiom square peg is tried to be squeezed into some English equivalent (this happens with word translation too, but that’s another issue). Understanding a literal sense of the French idiom removes this problem.

One last quick simple example that is not even an idiom: Memrise teaches “J’ai soif.” = “I am thirsty.” First “ai” is the verb avoir meaning “to have” and “soif” is a noun meaning “thirst”, not an adjective meaning “thirsty”. So everyone stumbles over trying to remember whether it is “Je suis soif.” or “J’ai soif.” And then they try to use “soif” as an adjective in other contexts. If it were taught only as “I have thirst.” (The true translation.) Then “J’ai soif.” comes naturally and the confusion is removed. (This is not just a Memrise issue, this is fairly systemic.)

Along these thoughts, I also think at a certain point (as early as possible) one should switch to monolingual dictionaries rather than use bilingual “translation” dictionaries to learn and understand words in the target language… it’s accelerated my journey to fluency quite a bit. As such, moving from French : English flash cards to French : French Definition flash cards is a great technique.

Would like to hear other thoughts/opinions.