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Volume 8 Number 3, Autumn 2011, Pages 1-270   


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Using Conceptual Metaphors and L1 Definitions in Teaching Idioms to Non-native Speakers

    Zorana Vasiljevic


Idioms tend to present difficulties for L2 learners because their meaning is often not transparent, and the choice of vocabulary seems to be unsystematic. Recent studies in cognitive linguistics, however, suggest that although the words in idiomatic phrases frequently do not retain their original meaning, idiomatic usage is semantically motivated. Idioms can be viewed as instances of conceptual metaphors (CM) which are grounded in physical and social experience. The present study explored whether raising the learners' awareness of the underlying CMs would help them retain the meaning and the form of the idiomatic expressions. Four different learning conditions were compared: 1) idioms grouped by CM with definitions and example sentences provided in English; 2) idioms grouped by CM with definitions and example sentences translated into Japanese, the students' L1; 3) semantically unrelated idioms with definitions and example sentences provided in English); and 4) semantically unrelated idioms with definitions and example sentences translated into Japanese. The results of the study suggest that the conceptual grouping of idiomatic expressions facilitates understanding, and that students are more likely to benefit from CM-motivated instruction when underlying concepts are introduced in their first language. In order to help learners develop a productive knowledge of L2 idiomatic expressions, form-focused activities may be necessary.

Keywords: idiom instruction, figurative language, conceptual metaphors, L1 definitions