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Volume 2 Number 4, Winter 2005, Pages 1-140   


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Time Related Idiomatic Language: A Corpus-based Approach to TEFL with Reference to MICASE

    Wasima Shehzad


From the ancient time of sundials and hour glasses to the modern day emphasis on time management skills, time has always been a key issue worthy of investigation by philosophers like Husserl, Heidegger and Derrida and more recently by business managers. However, relatively little attention has been paid by the academic community to include it in EFL classes. Dictionaries normally give only the meaning and not the context in which words and expressions occur. Therefore, students despite knowing the meaning, often find it difficult to use them appropriately. Thus it is essential to understand the concepts behind words and expressions. One way of doing this is to ' look for those contexts in corpora that are rich in knowledge about the concept, such as contexts that contain definitions or explanations, rather than contexts which simply contain an example of the term in use' (Bowker & Pearson, 2002). This paper uses a corpus-based approach for the selection and prioritization of teaching time-related idiomatic expressions (both written and spoken) in this case, academic discourse, by drawing on the Hyland Corpus and Michigan Corpus of Academic Spoken English (MICASE). In the present research, a list of time related idiomatic expressions, based on an article in English Teaching FORUM (1996), Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms (2003) and Shehzad (forthcoming) was compiled and used as a reference. This inventory was used to investigate its usage in the academic corpora to provide a guideline to EAP teachers, material designers and text book writers. The major findings of the research show that academic spoken English uses relatively different idiomatic phrases from the written language. For instance, although there are more than three thousand entries for the word TIME, there is no expression like burn the midnight oil or till the cows come home, in MICASE. This helps in answering the question why foreign students sound like 'books read aloud'. The paper concludes with some pedagogical ideas.