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From Rote Learning to Motivation: A Cognitive-linguistic Approach to L2 Acquisition of English Idioms by Chinese EFL Learners

13 pagesPublished: February 23, 2017


Idioms are non-compositional expressions where the meaning of the whole is different from the literal meaning of their constituent elements (Cooper, 1999). Because of this special nature, idioms can become a serious “bottleneck” for second language acquisition. In the traditional view, idioms can only be learned through blind memorization, since their meaning is considered arbitrary (e.g. Hamblin & Gibbs, 1999). By contrast, in cognitive linguistics (CL), idioms are considered to be motivated (Boers, 2004). It is further argued that such cognitive motivation could facilitate the learning of figurative idioms (Kovecses, 2002) and experimental evidence in this respect is gradually accumulating (Boers 2013, 2015).
In this connection, the situation of Chinese learners of English as an L2 has not yet been fully examined. This study aims to fill this research gap through the experimental exploration of the effects of classroom instruction based on cognitive linguistics (CL) on the learning of idioms by Chinese EFL learners. The specific purpose of this study is to verify three hypotheses that involve the short-term and long-term effects of this approach to idiom comprehension and retention and the different effects of metaphor and metonymy. In order to test their validity, an experiment was conducted with fifty Chinese freshmen, including one pre-test, the teaching activity, and two post-tests.
The experiment results provided support for CL-based instruction on English idioms. Both of the two classes perform better after teaching activities, but the experimental group has a higher score and actually acquires more knowledge within the same time limit. In the posttest 2, the experimental group memorized the idioms much better than the control group after two weeks and the difference between the two groups widened to a great extent. Comparing the accuracy rates reveals better short-term and long-term learning for metonymy-based than metaphor-based idioms.

Keyphrases: Cognitive Grammar, English idioms, L2 acquisition

In: Chelo Vargas-Sierra (editor). Professional and Academic Discourse: an Interdisciplinary Perspective, vol 2, pages 23--35

BibTeX entry
  author    = {Wangmeng Jiang},
  title     = {From Rote Learning to Motivation: A Cognitive-linguistic Approach to L2 Acquisition of English Idioms by Chinese EFL Learners},
  booktitle = {Professional and Academic Discourse: an Interdisciplinary Perspective},
  editor    = {Chelo Vargas-Sierra},
  series    = {EPiC Series in Language and Linguistics},
  volume    = {2},
  pages     = {23--35},
  year      = {2017},
  publisher = {EasyChair},
  bibsource = {EasyChair,},
  issn      = {2398-5283},
  url       = {},
  doi       = {10.29007/2gjs}}
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