A Cognitive Linguistic Approach to Teaching English Idioms to EFL Students: Experimental Results

Bui Phu Hung


This study aims to apply basic concepts in cognitive linguistics to teaching English idioms to EFL students. English idioms expose their inherent difficulties to EFL learners because people of different languages usually have different conceptualizations. Words in idioms do not carry their literal but conceptualized semantics. Cognitive linguistics, grounded in cognitive, social, and communicative theories, hypothesize idioms as examples of conceptual metaphors. Twelve idioms about finance were taught to 50 Vietnamese first-year EFL college students divided into two experimental groups for CL-based treatment and treatment for rote-learning, and one control group with no treatment. The experimental groups received 4-step treatments: warm-up, instruction, drill practice, and productive task. The results showed that the group receiving CL-based treatment outperformed the group applying rote-learning in both immediate posttest and delayed posttests for receptive and productive knowledge of the instructed idioms. The control group did not make any significant gain from the prettest to the posttests. The results suggest that students’ awareness of conceptual metaphors help them remember the target items long. Further studies can include measures of both explicit and implicit knowledge of the idioms as a result of CL-based treatment in other contexts.


Keywords: conceptual metaphors; idioms; EFL students; cognitive linguistics; semantic motivation

Full Text:



Ahmad, N. K. & Samad, A. B. (2018). Metaphors as Proxies for Identity: A Case Study of a Teaching English to Young Learners (TEYL) Teacher. 3L: Language, Linguistics, Literature, 24(4), 143-157. Doi: http://doi.org/1017576/3L-2018-2404-11.

Ausubel, D. (2000). The acquisition and retention of knowledge: A cognitive view. Boston: Kluwer academic Publishers.

Bielak, J. & Pawlak, M. (2013). Applying cognitive grammar in the foreign language classroom. Kalisz: Springer.

Boers, F. (2000). Metaphor awareness and vocabulary retention. Applied Linguistics, 21, 553-571.

Boers, F., & Lindstromberg, S. (2008). Cognitive linguistic approaches to teaching vocabulary and phraseology. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Brown, H. D. (2014). Principles of language learning and teaching: A course in second language acquisition. New York, USA: Pearson Education.

Caballero, R. & Suárez-Toste, E. (2008). Translating the sense: Teaching the metaphors in winespeak. In F. Boers, & S. Lindstromgberg, Cognitive Linguistic Approaches to Teaching Vocabulary and Phraseology (pp. 241-260). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Chen, Tzu-Hua & Lin, Chih-Cheng (2018). Enhancing L2 English learning through mobile-assisted TBLT: EFL learners’ perspectives. The Journal of Asia TEFL, 15(2), 453-461. DOI: 10.18823/asiatefl.2018.

Condon, N. (2008). How cognitive linguistic motivations influence the learning of phrasal verbs. In F. Boers, & S. Lindstromberg, Cognitive linguistics approaches to teaching vocabulary and phraseology (pp. 133-158). Berlin: Mounton de Gruyter.

Condon, N. & Kelly, P. (2002). Does cognitive linguistics have anything to offer English language learners in their efforts to master phrasal verbs? ITL Review, 137/138, 205-231.

Csábi, S. (2004). A cognitive linguistic view of polysemy in English and its implications for teaching. In M. Achard, & S. Niemeier, Cognitive linguistics, second language acquisition, and foreign language teaching (pp. 233-256). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Cho, K. (2010). Fostering the acquisition of English prepositionsby Japanese learners with networks and prototypes. In S. D. Knop, F. Boers, & A. D. Rycker, Fotering language teaching efficiency through cognitive linguistics (pp. 259-275). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Diessel, H. (2015). Usage-based construction grammar. In E. Dąbrowska & D. Divjak (eds.), Handbook of cognitive linguistics, (pp. 295-321). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Ellis, N. C. (2015). At the interface: Dynamic interactions of explicit and implicit language knowledge. Studies in Second Language Acquisition. 27, 305-352. DOI: 10.1017/S027226310505014X.

Evans, V. (2007). A glossary of cognitive linguistics. Utah: University of Utah Press.

Evans, V. & Green, M. (2006). A Glossary of cognitive linguistics: An introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Gardner, H. (2011). Frames of mind. New York: Basic Books.

Gebhard, M., Gunawan, W. & Chen, I. (2014). Redefining conceptions of grammar in English education in Asia: SFL in practice. Applied Research on English Language. 3(2), 1-17. DOI: 10.22108/ARE.2014.15491.

Gibbs, R. & Colston, H. (2006). Image schema: The cognitive psychological reality of image schemas and their transformations. In R. Dirven, J. Taylor, & R. Langacker, Cognitive linguistics: Basic readings

(pp. 373-400). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Harmer, J. (2015). The practice of English language teaching. Essex: Pearson Education.

Hung, B. P. (2017). Vietnamese students learning the semantics of English prepositions. GEMA Online ® Journal of Language Studies, 17(4), 146-158. Doi: http://doi.org/10.17576/gema-2017-1704-10.

Hung, B. P. (2019). Meaningful learning and its implications for language education in Vietnam. Journal of Language and Education, 5(1), 98-102. Doi: http://doi.org/10.17323/2411-7390-2019--5-1-98-102.

Hung, B. P., Vien, T. & Vu, N. N. (2018). Applying cognitive linguistics to teaching English prepositions: A quasi-experimental study. International Journal of Instruction, 11(3), 327-346. Doi: http://doi.org/10.12973/iji.2018.11323a.

Kobayashi, A. (2018). Investigating the effects of metacognitive instruction in listening for EFL learners. The Journal of Asia TEFL, 15(2), 310-328. DOI: 10.18823/asiatefl.2018.

Krashen, S. (1985). The input hypothesis . London: Longman.

Lakoff, G. (1993). The contemporary theory of metaphor. In A. Ortony, Metaphor and thought (pp. 202-251). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Lakoff, G., Espenson, J. & Schwartz, A. (1991). Master metaphor list. Berkeley: University of California.

Langacker, R. W. (2008). Cognitive grammar: A basic introduction. Oxford: Oxford University press.

Lieven, E. V. & Tomasello, M. (2008). Children's first language acquisition from a usage-based perspective. In P. Robinson and N. Ellis (eds). Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition (pp. 168-196). New York and London: Routledge.

Pienemann, M. (2007). Processibility theory. In B. VanPatten, & J. Williams, Theories in second language acquisition: An introduction (pp. 137-154). Mahwah: Laurence Erbaum.

Polio, H., Barlow, J., Fine, H. & Polio, M. (1977). Psychology and the poetics of growth: Figurative language in psychology, psychotherapy, and education. Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Sohrabi, Z. & Pirnajmuddin, H. (2017). John Donne's metaphors of self and empire: A cognitive analysis. 3L: The Southeast Asian Journal of English Language Studies, 23 (1), 14-26. Doi:


Song, X. (2013). A cognitive linguistic approach to teaching English prepositions. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany.

Sridhanyarat, K. (2018). Thai learners’ acquisition of L2 collocations: An interlanguage perspective. GEMA Online ® Journal of Language Studies, 18(1), 1-21. Doi: http://doi.org/10.17576/gema-2018-1801-01.

Thornbury, S. (2002). How to teach grammar. Harlow: Pearson Education.

Tyler, A., Mueller, C. & Ho, V. (2011). Applying cognitive linguistics to learning the semantics of English prepositions to, for and at: An experimental investigation. Vigo International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 8, 181-205.

Ur, P. (2012). A course in language teaching: Practice and theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Verspoor, M. (2008). What bilingual word associations can tell us. In F. Boers, & S. Lingdstromberg, Cognitive linguistic approaches to teaching vocabulary and phraseology, (pp. 261-290). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17576/3L-2019-2502-09


  • There are currently no refbacks.




eISSN : 2550-2247

ISSN : 0128-5157