Academic journal article English Language Teaching

An Explorative Study of Idiom Teaching for Pre-Service Teachers of English

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

An Explorative Study of Idiom Teaching for Pre-Service Teachers of English

Article excerpt


This study investigated the situation of teaching and learning idioms at a university level in Vietnam, a foreign language context. It also examined the evaluation of the idiom teaching process in three language classes over a 15-week period for pre-service teachers of English. The data were collected though questionnaires, in-depth interviews and email guided reflective writing. The analysis revealed that teachers and students at the university achieved moderate effectiveness in idiom learning. Both teachers and students believed that students are motivated, felt relaxed and confident and actively participated in idioms learning activities in this foreign language context. The findings also revealed that students demonstrated the process in idiom comprehension as well as in idiom production though the evidences in the comprehension of idiomatic phrases are more evitable. The results indicated significant effects of the context in idiom learning when idioms were creatively used in integrated skill tasks. The findings also implied that idiom learning should receive more attention in EFL learning context.

Keywords: teaching idioms, pre-service teachers, idioms learning

1. Introduction

Teaching and learning English in Vietnam as a foreign language has been encountering controversial social reactions when students are said not to be able to competently communicate in English after their six or seven years of studying English. It is claimed that students even cannot purposively speak one or two correct sentences in English for their communicative intention. Some students with good English grammar and vocabulary think that they can communicate in English. However, they still fail to communicate when they discover that the language English speakers actually talk to them is different from what they have been taught.

On the one hand, this may come from the teaching methodology. In the past foreign language teachers just focused on grammar and writing. Speaking and listening received inadequate attention; therefore, students did not have chance to speak and to express their ideas in English. Later, in the 2000s English started to be taught in light of the skill-based teaching approach. Students have, consequently, learnt four skills separately, that is, speaking, listening, reading and writing. In spite of the advantages of this approach, the biggest drawback is the undervaluation of word power such as fixed phrases, formulaic expressions because of the heavy emphasis on skills.

On the other hand, this crucial problem may come from the lack of idiomatic phrases in teaching and learning English whereas idiomatic expressions are of great popularity in English in use. Copper (1998) indicates that an English native speaker uses about 20 million idioms in his or her lifetime of 60 years. This means that each person exchanges 356,720 idioms a year, 980 idioms a day and 4.08 idioms a minute in average with one another in daily conversations. These impressive statistics illustrate the undeniable significant role of idiomatic phrases in daily language use.

However, students and teachers tend to traditionally avoid idiomatic expressions in English. This prevents students from the exposure to multi-word units in English. Thus, students cannot profoundly understand the communicative meanings of multi-word units in the right context. Researchers in language acquisition such as Wray (2000), Joyce & Burns (1998) emphasize that mastery of idiomatic language is one significant indicator of successful language acquisition. In fact, idiomatic competence is one of the criteria for IELTS speaking assessment. In the IELTS speaking band descriptors, uses of idiomatic vocabulary and collocation are mentioned as indicators for the use of lexical resource in bands 7, 8 and 9.

The majority of research studies in idiom learning have focused on the idioms themselves, on either literal meaning, idiomatic meaning or idiom syntax, the frequency of idioms (Lennon, 1998, Grant, 2007, Wray, 2000, Liu, 2003). …

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