English Idioms Research Proposal

Pages: 13 (4304 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Communication - Language

Linguistics

English Idioms

An idiom is a phrase that when the words are taken together they have a different meaning from the dictionary definitions of the individual words. This is what makes idioms hard for ESL students and other learners to master (English Idioms & Idiomatic Expressions, 2009). English idioms are often fun and useful, but they are sometimes very hard to learn. People across all languages use idioms frequently, so it is important to be familiar with them so that meaning is not lost, when one is trying to learn a foreign language (101 English Language Idioms, n.d.).

An idiom is basically a group of words which has a different meaning from the meaning of the individual words that it is made up of. The meaning of the idiomatic expression is not the total of the words taken one by one. An idiom often needs to be learned and used as a single unit of language in order to preserve its meaning. It should never be considered as individual elements. Idioms are often referred to as fixed expressions because of the fact that they need to be looked at as a group, because in many cases users can not make linguistic changes such as adding or dropping words, replacing a word with another, or changing the order of words without changing the meaning completely (Mahmoud, 2002).

Learners find that most idioms don't make a lot of sense. This is because their origins are very old and often hard to follow. Some idioms originate from ancient literature and some come from classic films. Learning the background of an idiom can help a person to remember them and use them correctly. Not all idioms are considered to be part of a typical English vocabulary. "Some English-speaking regions use specific idioms that other native English speakers have never heard of before" (English Idiom, 2009).

An idiom can have a very literal meaning in one situation and a completely different idiomatic meaning in another situation. These phrases often don't follow the normal rules of meaning and grammar. If one says that they are sitting on the fence, it can literally mean that they are sitting on a fence, but the idiomatic meaning of to sit on the fence means that one is not making a clear choice regarding some issue (What is an idiom, n.d.).

Many idioms are very similar to terms that are used in other languages and can be easily understood. Other idioms are thought to have come from older phrases which have developed over time. One example of this is seen in the phrase to hold one's horses' means to stop and wait patiently. It comes from a time when people rode horses and would have to hold their horses while waiting for someone or something (What is an idiom, n.d.).

There is a tremendous history of idioms coming from such things as sports. This is seen frequently in both the United Kingdom and the United States. Because of this these idioms may require some special cultural knowledge so that they can be understood. For example, the phrase to cover all of one's bases means to thoroughly prepare for or deal with a situation. This came from the American game of baseball where one must cover or protect all the bases (What is an idiom, n.d.).

Grammar Issues

Often idioms are unique and fixed in the way that they are structured grammatically. The idiom to sit on the fence cannot be changed to read to sit on a fence or to sit on the fences because at that point it would make no sense. There are however some changes that can be made to an idiom and not change its meaning. Some of these changes result in a change that under normal circumstances would be considered as wrong. "The phrase to be broken literally means that something is broken. To be broke is grammatically incorrect but it has an idiomatic meaning of to have no money" (What is an idiom, n.d.).

A phrasal verb is a verb which is made up of a combination of a verb and an adverb, a verb and a preposition, or a verb with an adverb and a preposition. It can have either a literal meaning that is easy for most to understand because the meaning is clear from the words that are used. But it can also have an idiomatic meaning which cannot easily be understood by looking at the words that it contains, making it very difficult to master (What is an idiom, n.d.).

Learning Strategies

Interlingual transfer or the transfer of a word from a native language into a foreign language is a cognitive strategy that learners use when their normal linguistic strategies fall short. Those who use idioms in there native languages have an additional source for hypothesis formation that someone learning a foreign language does not. The influence of the native language and the commonness of interlingual transfer are an unquestionable advantage to the native language learner. This can especially be seen in learning situations where a students' exposure to the foreign language is minimal. Interlingual transfer is a strategy that is readily available to a learner in order to help them compensate for the inadequacies that occur when they are trying to communicate in a foreign language (Mahmoud, 2002).

Variations that result from interlingual transfer have been seen at all linguistic levels. There are very few studies that have been seen that discuss idioms when talking about the difficulties that students face when learning English as a foreign language (EFL). This shortage of studies on the transfer of idioms is often thought to be due to the fact that students cannot understand and use idioms until they reach a fairly advanced level of proficiency in the language that they are trying to learn. The ability of EFL students to comprehend and produce idioms does not begin to get anywhere near the level of a native speaker. EFL learners usually manage to get by expressing themselves in plain non-idiomatic language (Mahmoud, 2002).

English as Second Language Learners

Some idiomatic expressions are very common while others are very specific to a particular language. Whether common or language-specific, if they are used in a spontaneous and daily way by a person they are seen as having a native or near-native command of the language. It is thought that if a person who is a foreign learner of English tries to not use idioms they will be immediately be seen as a foreigner. It is often thought that if a person does not use idiomatic expressions in there everyday language it is not because they have a lack of knowledge but rather because they simply don't want to. The use of idioms is often not expected of foreign language learners because they have such a low level of proficiency in the language. It is often seen that even after many years of formal classroom instruction; many learners only attain an intermediate level of proficiency in English. Much like native speakers of English, foreign speakers often use idioms when communicating in their native language, which makes it hard to adapt to those in a foreign language (Mahmoud, 2002).

Idioms are often important factors in native-like conversation by English as foreign language speakers. Many linguists find that idioms require special attention in language programs and feel that they should not be downgraded to a position of secondary importance in a curriculum. Unfortunately, it can be seen by the textbooks that are being used that classroom learning of EFL is not very concerned with the teaching of idioms and fixed expressions. This then forces teachers to make up their own exercises or lessons in order to put the teaching of fixed expressions into their curriculum. The cognitive approach to language learning often provides very useful aspects and implications on how to organize idiom learning into a classroom setting (Sportwissenschaftler, Steines, and Goertz, 2006).

Studies and Theories

Irujo (1986) conducted a study which was focused on the question of how transfer influences the achievement of idioms in English for foreign language learners. Her study was based on the assumption that Second Language Learners have problems using idioms and that these difficulties are attributed to be the result of transfer problems. Irujo's approach followed a rather traditional view of idioms. She defined them as conventionalized expressions because their meanings cannot be determined from the meaning of their parts. What she meant by conventionalized was that a native speaker immediately understood what was being said and did not have to analyze or interpret the meaning (Sportwissenschaftler, Steines, and Goertz, 2006).

Idiomatic expressions have always caused problems for linguists because they seem to represent exceptions to all the principles on which language has long been thought to function. These simple expressions are often used without difficulty by native speakers during casual conversation. These same expressions though prove to be extremely difficult to explain in models of language that assume a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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