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Grasping the meaning of second language idioms Sophia Skoufaki Department of Language and Linguistics University of Essex.

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Presentation on theme: "Grasping the meaning of second language idioms Sophia Skoufaki Department of Language and Linguistics University of Essex."— Presentation transcript:

1 Grasping the meaning of second language idioms Sophia Skoufaki Department of Language and Linguistics University of Essex

2 2 Outline of the talk What are idioms? Why should second language teachers care about idiom learning? Can second language learners remember idioms better if they first infer their meaning than if they are first given their meaning? Brief summary of a study of mine as an example of such research. Possible implications for teaching.

3 3 What is an idiom? put someone up, take something down flip one’s lid, kick the bucket Birds of a feather flock together, Too many cooks spoil the broth Flip one’s lid Render onto Cesar *He was kicking the bucket He was lying low

4 4 Something that all idioms share Compare ‘wooden table’ with ‘kick the bucket’ ‘wooden table’ = wooden + table ‘kick the bucket’ ≠ kick + the + bucket “Non-compositionality” (of meaning)

5 Why should second language teachers care about idiom learning? Mastery of idioms is seen as a sign of near-nativeness. Idioms and other multi-word expressions are useful to learners as they fill gaps in their speech. 5

6 6 Guessing at an idiom’s meaning First proposed by Irujo (1984) as a vocabulary-learning strategy Arguments for it:  Students will be able to learn more idioms than those that teachers have time to teach in class (Irujo 1984).  The more difficult (‘deep’) the thinking that occurs during learning, the higher the chances that the idiom will be remembered (Lennon 1998).

7 7 A more specific suggestion Inferring idiom meaning with the help of meaning clues  Boers, Eyckmans and Stengers (2006) gave clues about the etymology of idioms (e.g., building, gardening, sports) to learners and saw whether this task led to better learning than guessing without any clues.

8 8 Skoufaki (2008): A study using metaphorical clues to help idiom-meaning inference Theoretical background: Some idioms seem to be related to some recurrent metaphorical patterns  ‘take the high road’, ‘fall from grace’, ‘look down on someone’ - Moral goodness as being up  ‘be squeaky clean’, ‘do the dirty on someone’ - Moral goodness as cleanliness

9 9 Research question Will language learners remember idioms better if they guess at their meaning with the help of metaphorical clues than if they are given their meaning up front?

10 10 Learners and idioms 20 Greek students at the University of Athens attending classes for the CPE examination. Verb phrase idioms about morality and comprehension (e.g., ‘come to grips with something’, ‘something dawns on someone’) which can be seen as related to more general metaphorical patterns.

11 11 Learners were asked to… Group 1 Group 2 read idioms presented in groups according to their related metaphorical ideas and including their definitions and sentences illustrating their meaningidioms presented in groups according to their related metaphorical ideas and including their definitions and sentences illustrating their meaning a) read texts with all the idioms and b) jot down their answers to questions each of which included one of the taught expressionstexts with all the idiomsanswers to questions each of which included one of the taught expressions read these idioms presented in groups according to their related metaphorical ideas and write what they guessed each expression meant on the basis of the cues they were given by the metaphoric titles groups according to their related metaphorical ideas and write what they guessed each expression meant on the basis of the cues they were given by the metaphoric titles i) do a cloze test where parts of some of the idioms were missing and ii) answer questions, each containing one of the idioms taught.a cloze test where parts of some of the idioms were missing

12 12 Results and Conclusions  Group 2 got significantly higher scores than Group 1 in the cloze test.  This result indicates that inferring an idiom’s meaning with the help of metaphoric clues is more effective than just trying to memorise an idiom presented in relation to a metaphoric association.  The number of correct answers given to the meaning-retention questions did not differ significantly between the two Groups.  This result agrees with other studies claiming that the retention of the meaning of new words is not higher when students are encouraged to guess at the new vocabulary’s meaning than when being supplied with it.

13 13 Pedagogical considerations Conclusions about the effectiveness of the assisted idiom- meaning guessing method in actual teaching contexts should be drawn with caution. This task is time-consuming, so it would be appropriate only as homework. A disadvantage of this method is that increased failure to guess at the meanings of idioms correctly could demotivate some learners. How much a student can benefit from guessing at an idiom’s meaning with the help of a metaphoric clue depends on how much (s)he can think in terms of metaphors and/or language in general. It is unclear how many idioms can be linked to this kind of general metaphoric patterns.

14 14 References Boers, F., Eyckmans, J. and Stengers, H Presenting figurative idioms with a touch of etymology: More than mere mnemonics? Language Teaching Research 11 (1): Irujo, S The Effects of Transfer on the Acquisition of Idioms in a Second Language. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Education, Boston University. UMI. Lennon, P Approaches to the teaching of idiomatic language. International Review of Applied Linguistics 36 (1): Skoufaki, S Conceptual metaphoric meaning clues in two L2 idiom presentation methods. In Boers, F. and Lindstromberg, F. (eds) Cognitive Linguistic Approaches to Teaching Vocabulary and Phraseology, Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

15 15 Thank you!

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