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Don't Put Your Leg in Your Mouth: Transfer in the Acquisition of Idioms in a Second Language

Suzanne Irujo
TESOL Quarterly
Vol. 20, No. 2 (Jun., 1986), pp. 287-304
DOI: 10.2307/3586545
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3586545
Page Count: 18
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Don't Put Your Leg in Your Mouth: Transfer in the Acquisition of Idioms in a Second Language
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Abstract

The study reported in this article investigated whether second language learners use knowledge of their first language to comprehend and produce idioms in the second language. Subjects were 12 Venezuelan advanced learners of English. Comprehension of 45 English idioms-15 identical in form and meaning to their Spanish equivalents, 15 similar to their Spanish equivalents, and 15 different from the corresponding Spanish idioms-was tested with a multiple-choice test and a definition test. Production of the same 45 idioms was tested with a discourse-completion test and a translation test. Results showed identical idioms were the easiest to comprehend and produce. Similar idioms were comprehended almost as well but showed interference from Spanish. Different idioms were the most difficult to comprehend and produce but showed less interference than similar idioms. Subjects used both inter- and intralingual strategies to produce idioms they did not know. Within each type, the idioms that were comprehended and produced most correctly were those which were frequently used and transparent and which had simple vocabulary and structure.

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