Metaphors and visual aids in learning English idioms

The bilateral project carried out jointly by a team of researchers at the Department of English, University of Klagenfurt (Austria) and at the Department of English at Tver State University (Russia) focuses on the acquisition of idioms by learners of English from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds. While idioms have proven to be particularly difficult items in second language acquisition, being able to understand and use idioms boosts a learner’s proficiency in the second language. Their mastery is thus an important goal for learner language users of English.

            The reason for their difficulty lies in the fact that idioms are often not transparent; in other words, the meaning of the constituent words do not or only very loosely relate to the overall meaning of the idiom. The expression to spill the beans (i.e. ‘to divulge a secret’) is just one example out of many. As has been shown in previous research, the lack of transparency in idioms can frequently be explained through processes of figurative meaning construction, in particular metaphors.

            The metaphorical nature of English idioms is also at the heart of this bilateral project, which will apply conceptual metaphor theory to investigate whether and to which extent conceptual metaphors and visual aids can help the acquisition of idioms by learners of English who speak diverse first languages (German or Russian) and come from different cultural contexts. To this end, the Austrian-Russian project team has devised a series of experiments that aims at finding out which type of information achieves the best results in the learner populations. The first experiment will explore the strategies learners of English use for interpreting unfamiliar idioms. This will give insight into the role of figurative processes of meaning construction as well as potential transfer from the learners’ L1s. The second experiment will test the impact of different types of visuals (literal, metaphorical, and combined literal+metaphorical) while the third experiment will shed light on the effectiveness of combining conceptual metaphors and visual aids for the learning of English idioms.

             Overall, the results of this unique project in idiom acquisition research will facilitate understanding the cross-linguistic role of conceptual metaphors in idiom comprehension and acquisition. In addition, the results will highlight the conceptualizations of idiomatic meaning that are culturally specific and unspecific across the different learner populations. The findings from the experiments will also serve to develop guidelines and materials for the acquisition of English idioms that will go beyond the specific L1 contexts and provide support for learners and teachers of English across different cultures and L1 backgrounds.

Schlagworte: Metaphor, English idioms
Kurztitel: Metaphors in learning English idioms
Zeitraum: 01.09.2021 - 31.08.2025
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Projekttyp Forschungsförderung (auf Antrag oder Ausschreibung)
Förderungstyp §26
  • Grundlagenforschung
  • 602008 - Anglistik
  • 602026 - Kognitive Linguistik
Forschungscluster Kein Forschungscluster ausgewählt
Genderrelevanz Genderrelevanz nicht ausgewählt
  • Science to Science (Qualitätsindikator: n.a.)
Klassifikationsraster der zugeordneten Organisationseinheiten:
  • Für die zugeordneten Organisationseinheiten sind keine Klassifikationsraster vorhanden
Arbeitsgruppen Keine Arbeitsgruppe ausgewählt


Organisation Adresse
Tver State University
Russische Föderation