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International Journal of English Language

and Translation Studies


[ISSN: 2308-5460]

Vol-01, Issue-02
[July-September, 2013]

Editor-in-Chief
Mustafa Mubarak Pathan
Department of English Language & Translation Studies
The Faculty of Arts, the University of Sebha
Sebha, Libya

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Linguistics Abstracts Online
Open J-gate

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International Journal of English Language & Translation Studies ISSN: 2308-5460


Table of Contents
Sr.
No.
1
2

10
11
12

13

14

15

16

Title of the Paper / Name of the Author(s)/ Country


Editorial
A Socio-linguistic Perspective to the Language Change of Television News
Broadcasting in Iran
- Shahla Simin, Hosna Kasma ee, Atiye Ezzati, Freshteh Teimouri &
Arineh Minasian, Iran
EFL Learners Difficult Role Transition from Secondary School to University:
From the P erspective and Perceptions of EFL Teachers of TBLT in Western
China
- Feng Teng, China
English Language Teaching and Learning during Holiday Camps: A Case Study
from Malaysia
- Dr. Ria Hanewald, Malaysia
English Metafunction Analysis in Chemistry Text: Characterization of Scientific
Text
- Ahma d Amin Dalimunte, M.Hum, Indonesia
Investigating the Difficulties Faced in Understanding, and Strategies Used in
Processing, English Idioms by the Libyan Students
- Noura Winis Ibrahim Saleh & Dr. Moha mmed Hassan Zakaria ,
Malaysia
MALL (Mobile Assisted Language Learning): A Paradise for English Language
Learners
- Dr. Suneetha Yedla, India
Metaphors about EFL Teachers' Roles: A Case of Iranian Non-English-Major
Students
- Mohsen Akbari, Iran
Mother Tongue Influence : A Thorn in the Flesh of Technocrats in the Global
Market
- Dr. S. Mohan, India
Teaching Creative Thinking Skills
- Dr. Nagamurali Eragamreddy, Libya
The Importance of a Dystopia n Hero in Sara Gruens Water for Elephants
Bassmah Bassam Khaled AlTaher, Jordan
The Leverage of a Proposed Post Process Writing Approach Program on
Developing the EFL Al-Azhar Secondary Students' Writing Skills
- Ismail Ibrahim Elshirbini Abdel-Fattah El-Ashri, Egypt
The Translator's Agency and the Ideological Manipulation in Translation: the
Case of Political Texts in Translation Classrooms in Iran
- Katayoon Afzali , Iran
The Use of Photo-Elicitation Interview in Sociolinguistics: The Case Study of
Awareness about the Use of Borrowings in Tlemcen Speech Community Algeria
- Mrs. Rahmoun-Mrabet Razzia, Alger ia
Uncertainty and Uncertainty Management: the Metacognitive State of ProblemSolving of Professional (experienced) Translators and Students of Translation
Studies
- Zahra Amirian & Moha mad J. Baghiat, Iran
Using Native Language in ESL Classroom
- Dr. Isa SPAHIU, Macedonia

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Page
Number
03
04-08

09-23

24-37

38-49

50-65

66-72

73-82

83-90

91-105
106-119
120-141

142-151

152-161

162-175

176-179

International Journal of English Language & Translation Studies ISSN: 2308-5460

Investigating the Difficulties Faced in Understanding, and Strategies Used in


Processing, English Idioms by the Libyan Students

Noura Winis Ibrahim Saleh


Universit y of Sebha, Sebha, Libya
Dr. Mohammed Hassan Zakaria
The Universit y Tekno logi Malays ia
Abstract
The field o f idio mat icit y is considered by many researchers as an important area, especially
when it co mes to L2 and/ or EFL learners. Mastering idio ms and the abilit y to use them in the
written and the spoken discourse is considered as a sign towards proficiency. However, it is
noticed clearly that there is not much research done in this respect. Lazar (1996) states that
figurative language is an area often neglected in the teaching of vocabulary. In this respect,
this study was conducted to invest igate the difficult ies faced by 40 Libyan students in
understanding idio matic expressio ns. Addit io nally, it was to shed light on so me strategies
emplo yed by those students to ease their way in understanding and using idio matic
expressio ns. The paper aims to invest igate problems and difficult ies encountered by the
Libyan students and strategies used to overcome these problems and difficult ies.
Keywords: idio mat ic expressio ns, idio mat icit y, literal and figurat ive meaning, Idio m
processing strategies

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International Journal of English Language & Translation Studies ISSN: 2308-5460


1. Introduction
This study aims to invest igate the main difficult ies faced by the Libyan students in
understanding idio mat ic expressio ns in English. Idio ms are considered by many researchers
as the colorful side of the language. Therefore, learners must see the language through rosecolored glasses to learn every single item that leads to proficiency. In fact, the level o f
command o f idio ms serves as an important indicator of L2 proficiency. One o f the main
blocks of L2 idio m learning is that idio ms are o ften unpredictable in meaning, that is, their
meanings cannot always be derived fro m the literal meanings o f the constituent parts. Above
all, in the pedagogical sense, teaching vocabulary must be inseparable part from teaching
idio ms.
Idio ms, which are a type of phraseo logical unit and are largely figurat ive in nature, are
widely spread in human language. In fact, the level o f co mmand o f idio ms indicates L2
proficiency. Alt hough it is generally accepted that L2 learners o f English need to gain a good
grasp of idio ms, the teaching and learning of idio ms in L2 is considered a hard task. One of
the reasons is that a considerable number of idio ms are figurat ive in nature-that is their
overall meaning cannot be obtained by simply adding up the literal meanings o f the item.
Added and related to these factors is the fact that the tradit ional vocabulary list ing methods
adopted in most ESL / EFL textbooks present each idio m entry and its meaning in such a wa y
that the choice o f each single word in the idio m seems rando m, and the overall figurat ive
meaning cannot be explained. Taken together, these factors make idio ms one o f the mo st
difficult aspects of L2 teaching and learning. In this respect, the present paper invest igates the
difficult ies encountered by the Libyan students while understanding idio ms and the strategies
emplo yed by them while processing the idio ms.
2. Literature Review
2.1 Definition of Idioms
Defining idio ms, however, has never been easy. Researchers in the field have made
various attempts to define what const itutes an idio m, but due to different theoretical
classificat ion criteria adopted in the definit io n, phraseologists still are not able to agree on a
shared set of terms or describe the who le process clearly. An idio m is an inst itutionalized
construction that is co mposed of two or more lexical items and has the co mposite structure of
a phrase or semi-clause. Moreover, it is considerably fixed and co llocat ionally restricted
(Langlotz, 2006). An idio m is a fixed expression whose meaning cannot be taken as a
combinat ion of the meanings o f its component parts. Thus, the commo n phrase kick the
bucket has nothing to do with eit her kicking or buckets, but means simply, to die. In other
words, idio ms are not literal expressio ns (Ifill, 2002). Moon (2006) defined idio m as a fixed
sequence of words which has a meaning beyo nd that of the const ituent parts.
An idio m is an expressio n whose overall figurative meaning cannot be derived from the
meaning o f its parts (Marlies, 1995; p. 283). An idio m is a figurat ive expressio n that usually
can be interpreted literally but that takes a nonliteral meaning when used in a specific context
(Cain & Oakhill and Lemmo n, 2005; p. 66).
2.2 The study of idiomaticity in a glance
The study of idio maticit y in language has been o f long-standing interest to linguists.
Linguists intend on characterizing the internal structure of languages, and psycho linguists,
intent on characterizing the internal cognit ive structure of language users. Idio ms are usually
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International Journal of English Language & Translation Studies ISSN: 2308-5460


grouped within a larger class o f linguist ic expressio ns called figurat ive or non literal
language. In a second language learning classroom, co mpletely idio mat ic teaching will not
usually be o ffered and required; however, all learners must be prepared to meet the challenge
of idio ms occurring frequent ly in spoken and written English (Irujo, 1986). Pollio (1977)
analyzed polit ical debates, psycho logy texts, novels, and psychotherapy sessio ns to
investigate the overall use o f non-literal language. They found that most English speakers
utter about 10 millio n novel metaphors per lifet ime and 20 millio n idio ms per lifet ime. This
works out to about 3,000 novel metaphors per week and 7,000 idio ms per week (pp. 140).
Advanced L2 learners have the advantage of target language learning, but they also have a
disadvantage in not understanding idio ms of the target language which will appear in
newspapers, mo vies, magazines, books and daily conversat ions. According to Cooper (1999),
idio m study presents a special language problem for all language learners because the
figurative meaning is unpredictable.
2.3 Problems in Teaching L2 Idioms
Idio ms are not taught in L2 classroom due to the fact that teachers eit her do not know
many idio ms in L2 or they do not know their origin. They may feel that their origins need to
be explained. (Mola, 1993) ident ified that idio ms are not treated in L2 classrooms as
regularly as might be, because of time pressures. Lennon (1998) suggests that exercises o f
problem-so lving nature can help learners to discover the metaphors in idio mat ic expressions.
Furthermore, Lennon believes that students will beco me highly mot ivated to translate their
languages metaphors into the target language so as to share wit h the class their own culture
method of metaphor encoding. In light to what is ment ioned above, it is important for EFL
teachers to design various act ivit ies for students to use with English idio ms and subsequent ly
acquire them efficient ly. Moreover, students learn better when they are provided wit h
collaborative activit ies. They can interact with peers and share fun in learning. Ult imately,
when teachers integrate listening, speaking, reading and writ ing act ivit ies together in teaching
English idio ms, students, consequent ly, can be invo lved in the applicat ion of English idio ms
in the four skills. Thus, it is effect ive to teach EFL learners English idio m when they are
provided with various act ivit ies to practice and utilize English idio ms in different contexts.
According to Mant yla (2004) states that idio ms should not be taught direct ly at all. She
considers the best policy o f teaching to be a method where the students attention is focused
on the commo n characterist ics o f idio ms.
2.4 Strategies Employed in L2 Idiom Processing
L2 speakers, just like L1 speakers, apply some strategies while processing the idio ms
inspite o f the lack o f sufficient input in the classroom setting and the lack o f language contact
as it is shown by research in the field of foreign/ second language (L2) teaching. In order to
interpret the meaning of idio ms, L2 speakers recall the strategies acquired during the first
language acquisit io n. Bulut, & Yazici (2004) indicated that they rely on the literal meaning
conveyed in the context and guess what it means. Furthermore, contextual clues are useful to
learners in co mprehending unknown idio ms. Cooper (1999) explored the comprehensio n
strategies used by L2 learners when trying to decipher the meanings of English idio ms in
one- or two-sentence contexts. The most commonly used strategies were: guessing fro m
context, discussing and analyzing the idio m, and using the literal meaning. Overall, guessing
fro m context was the most successful strategy (Zyzik, 2009). Palmer and Brooks (2004)
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International Journal of English Language & Translation Studies ISSN: 2308-5460


pointed out that the interpretation of figurative language is mainly related to learners
background knowledge (schemata) in order to interpret the expressio n wit hin context. They
stated figurat ive language interpretation is based on students schemata; therefore, direct or
explicit instruction is often needed to provide the knowledge necessary to understand not
only the figurat ive language expressio ns but the context surrounding them as well.
Instructions are needed to be provided for learners to guide them to figure out the intended
meaning of the figurative language.
Other researchers have turned the attention to a mnemo nic strategy by stating its
effect iveness. A strategy which is mnemo nic and whose effectiveness has been established is
encouragement of dual coding (Clark and Paivio, 1991), that is, to help learners to form
and process lexical understandings which have an imagist ic co mponent as well as a
component that is symbo lic/ propositional in nature.
On the other hand, many researchers have studied the ro le o f L1 in L2 idio m processing,
but it is a double edged sword. In other words, L2 learners' reliance on their own L1 in L2
idio m processing may assist or hinder their understanding o f L2 idio ms. Such a pheno menon
is termed the "interlingual factor" by Cornell (1999, p.6). Irujo's (1986) study suggests that
the use of L1 may assist L2 learners in their co mprehensio n o f L2 idio ms which are ident ical
or similar to L1 equivalents. At the same t ime, idio ms that have no similar or ident ical L1
equivalents cause difficult y for L2 learners.
2.5 The Role of Vocabulary and Culture in Understanding Idioms
Understanding the lexicon o f English demands more than knowing the denotative
meaning o f words, it requires its speakers to have connotative word comprehensio n and
more, an understanding o f figurative language. Idioms fall into this final category (Jacqueline
Ambrose, 2003). It appears that it is easy to comprehend and interpret an idio m when it is
more familiar to someone. Exposure to a wide range of idio ms ma y play an important role in
idio m co mprehension. Therefore, more familiarity o f idio ms, the more frequently are use
(Fust-Herrmann, 2008). Word familiarit y has an important influence on word recognition
Connine et al., (1990) and the comprehensio n o f new metaphors (Blasko and Connine, 1993).
Schweigert (1986) studied the relat ionship between familiarit y and idio m processing.
Reading rates for sentences containing highly familiar idio ms were shorter than those for
sentences containing low familiar idio ms. The fact that highly familiar idio ms were
understood more quickly than less familiar idio ms as it is stated by Cronk and Schweigert
(1992). These studies reveal that idio ms, like words, are processed more quickly depending
on the degree of experience a co mprehender has wit h a particular phrase.
Nippo ld & Taylor (1995) stated that the frequency wit h which an idio m occurs in a
language is often defined as familiarit y; however, frequency and familiarit y are both
moderated by culture. Familiarit y is relat ive and depends on such factors as geographica l
locat ion, linguist ic background (including dialect), culture, and age (Nippo ld & Rudinski,
1993). It appears that idio m co mprehensio n is easier when an idio m is more familiar to
someone because less conceptual analys is is required (Qualls & Harris, 1999). Exposure ma y
play an important role in idio m comprehensio n since having more experience with idio ms
may make those idio ms more salient (Norbury, 2004). Ult imately, more frequent ly used
idio ms may be more familiar.
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International Journal of English Language & Translation Studies ISSN: 2308-5460


Glucksberg (2001) described idio ms as a secret language and a language owned by a culture
that one has to be steeped in. In other words, idio ms vary in frequency and familiarit y
depending on variables like demographic characterist ics and cultural and linguist ic
ident ificat ion.
2.6 The Role of Context in Idiom Comprehension
Cain et al., (2005) demonstrated that there are three factors in idio m co mprehensio n:
familiarit y, transparency and context. They state that idio ms that are presented in texts are
easier to understand than those are presented in isolation. Cain et al (2005) maintain that
context might facilitate the interpretation of figurative language by providing the necessary
semantic informat ion fro m which reader (listener) can extract or infer the appropriate sense
of expressio n (p. 67). For them, contexts are important for less co mmo n idio ms whose
meanings are not yet fully known, particularly for unfamiliar opaque idio ms whose meanings
are not fully derivable through semant ic analysis of phrases (p. 67).
In this study, therefore, the focus is on the specific problems students have in
understanding and using idio ms correctly, and the strategies used by them in order to
understand those idio ms based on this theoretical framework.
2.7 Aims of this study
English idio ms do not mean what they literally mean. Therefore, they are problemat ic
even for nat ive speakers of the language. Keeping this view in mind, this paper sheds light
on the difficult ies that Libyan students face in understanding those chunks. The paper aims
to invest igate and find out why idio ms are st ill unturned stone in their way, as being amo ngst
other issues, towards proficiency. In light of the above, the paper also aims to find so me
solut ions that can work as a key co mponent to increasing students motivation and
invo lvement in learning English idio ms. The use of idio ms and idio mat ic English are both
characterist ic of advanced EFL learners. It seems that due attention is not given to the
learning of idio ms, and students' co mpetence in these forms needs to be developed further not
only on the recognit ion level but also on the production level.
2.8 Research questions
There is a general belief that idio ms are extremely difficult for nonnat ive speakers. One
of the major problems that L2 learners face in understanding idio ms is the frequency of
idio ms. Irujo (1986) pointed out that learners comprehend and produce most easily and
correctly the idio ms that were frequently used in everyday speech and were metaphorically
transparent in that their literal meanings were clo sely related to their figurat ive meanings. In
her art icle on learning and teaching idio ms, Irujo (1986) stated that second language idio ms
are very difficult to learn because they are not literal and do not mean what they say.
Furthermore, another factor that is very crit ical to understanding idio ms is L1 transfer. A
study conducted by Cooper (1999), showed that the LI plays a role in L2 idio m processing
even though L2 learners are less likely to transfer LI knowledge when they perceive the
meaning as figurat ive. Thus, it is likely that L1 transfer may play some role in learners'
processing of L2 idio ms, but there is a need to better understand when and how this and other
comprehension strategies are used in L2 idio m processing. Non-literalness could be another
factor that affects understanding o f idio ms.
Swinney and Cut ler (1979) pointed out that an idio m is a string o f two or more words for
which meaning is not derived fro m the meanings of the individual words co mprising that
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International Journal of English Language & Translation Studies ISSN: 2308-5460


string. Thus, the idio mat ic meaning of "kick the bucket" has little to do with the meanings of
either "kick" or "bucket"; similarly. The meaning of "by and large" has litt le to do with the
meanings o f eit her "large" or "by." Another reason why second-language learners do not
learn idio ms is that the teachers do not teach them very well. Many second-language teaching
materials eit her ignore idio ms entirely or relegate them to the 'other expressio ns' section o f
vocabulary lists, without providing exercises or other aids to learning. The exposure to
idio ms is also one of the reasons that are considered of a vital importance. (Hussein et al.,
2000), concluded that the acquisit ion o f idio ms has thus far been a neglected variable in the
EFL environment. Further, they stated that learner's poor competence o f English idio ms can
be related to the fact that the study of lexis in general and idio ms in particular was stated at a
minor posit ion. With such background, the present study attempts to seek answers to the
fo llo wing research questions:
What sort of difficult ies do Libyan students encounter in using idio mat ic expressio ns
both decomposable and nondeco mposable?
Are they able to predict their meanings in different contexts?
Does low frequency o f vocabulary matter in order to understand idio ms?
Does the difficult y arise fro m the vagueness o f the constituent parts or from the who le
phrase?
What are the possible strategies that they may use to facilitate understanding o f the
idio ms?
3. Research Methodology
3.1 Participants
The study included 40 Libyan students of different majors in and outside UTM, Johor,
Malaysia. The participants were chosen purposively. Only proficient students took part in the
study. The questionnaire was distributed to these 40 Libyan students and the data were
collected, arranged and analyzed to draw appropriate conclusio ns.
4. Data analysis and discussion
4.1 Data Analysis
Data of this study was analyzed using the Statist ical Package for Social Science (SPSS)
software. The analys is o f this data was based on the descript ive analys is, mean and standard
deviat ion. All these items were applied in order to fulfill the object ives o f this study.
Quest ionnaire is to get the mean, and the average of the problem size. For the questionnaire,
the mean and standard deviat ion and frequency were calculated using Social Package for
Social Sciences (SPSS). All po ints were analyzed statist ically to get the findings of the
study. The findings show what the main difficult ies that those students encounter in using the
idio mat ic expressio ns and also reveal what strategies were used.
Figure: 1 Distribution of Participants by English Language Proficiency Level

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International Journal of English Language & Translation Studies ISSN: 2308-5460


This figure represents the total number of part icipants. Of the participants, 20% got 5.5,
and 24% o f them got 6 in the IETLS test. 46% of the part icipants were in the intermediate
level that is equal to 5.5 but without sitting for the IELTS test. Only 8% o f the respondents
scored 6.5 in the IETLS test. The smallest percentage refers to those who got 7 in the IELTS
test. They were only about 2% of the total number of participants.
Figure: 2 Distribution of Participants by Exposure to L2 Environment

Figure shows the percentages o f the respondents who had been to English speaking
countries / environment. Only 19% of them pointed out that they had been to Englis h
speaking countries or environment. The higher bar of 21% shows the number of respondents
that never been to English speaking countries or environment.
Figure: 3 Distribution of Participants by Contact with Native Speakers of English

This figure shows the participants who communicated with native speakers. More than 25
of the total number o f part icipants posit ively identified that they were in touch with them. On
the other hand, less than 15 participants negat ively revealed that they had not been in contact
with native speakers.
Knowledge of Idioms (Difficulties and Strategies)
The analys is was to determine the part icipants knowledge o f idio ms that influence the
frequency experienced by t he Libyan students. Analysis is based on frequency (f), percentage
(%) and mean value. The frequency o f knowledge of idio ms is: Strongly Disagree, Disagree,
Agree and Strongly Agree. Table 4.1 shows the results obtained fro m sect ion three of the
questionnaire.
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Table: 1 Participants Knowledge of Idioms


Frequency
Knowledge
of Idioms

1
S.Disagree
f
(%)
1
( 2. 5)

2
Disagree
f
(%)
18
( 45. 0)

3
Agree
f
(%)
19
( 47. 5)

4
S. Agree
f
(%)
2
( 5. 0)

Mean

Std.
Deviation

2. 55

0. 639

2-I like to use idioms.

3
( 7. 5)

5
( 12. 5)

31
( 77. 5)

1
( 2. 5)

2. 75

0. 630

3-Idioms are easy to use.

1
( 2. 5)
9
( 22. 5)

19
( 47. 5)
7
( 17. 5)

15
( 37. 5)
22
( 55. 0)

5
( 12. 5)
2
( 5. 0)

2. 6

0. 744

2. 43

0. 903

9
( 22. 5)

8
( 20. 0)

21
( 52. 5)

2
( 5. 0)

2. 4

0. 9

4
( 10. 0)

9
( 22. 5)

27
( 67. 5)

0
( 0)

2. 58

0. 675

7-I like to learn idioms in


context.
8-Context plays a crucial role
in understanding idioms.

13
( 32. 5)
13
( 32. 5)

2
( 5. 0)
5
( 12. 5)

25
( 62. 5)
22
( 55. 0)

0
( 0)
0
( 0)

2. 3

0. 939

2. 23

0. 92

9-Verbal (textual or audio)


and visual information help
activate my knowledge of
idioms.
10-Guessing the meaning of
the constituent words leads
me to guess the overall
meaning.
11-I can often figure out an
idiom from an equivalent one
in my language.

10
( 25. 0)

5
( 12. 5)

25
( 62. 5)

0
( 0)

2. 38

0. 868

5
( 12. 5)

8
( 20. 0)

26
( 65. 0)

1
( 2. 5)

2. 425

0. 874

3
( 7. 5)

11
( 27. 5)

24
( 60. 0)

2
( 5. 0)

2. 575

0. 747

12-I translate the literal


meaning into my L1 (first
language) in order to
understand idioms.
13-I use many different
strategies when learning
idioms

0
( 0)

21
( 52. 5)

10
( 25. 5

9
( 22. 5)

2. 7

0. 823

6
( 15. 0)

8
( 20. 0)

23
( 57. 5)

3
( 7. 5)

2. 58

0. 844

14-I like to know what other


strategies I can use to make
better sense of idioms.

13
( 32. 5)

1
( 2. 5)

26
( 65. 0)

0
( 0)

2. 33

0. 944

15-I like to be taught specific


strategies in learning idioms
in foreign language

12
( 30. 0)

4
( 10. 0)

24
( 60. 0)

0
( 0)

2. 3

0. 911

1-Im good at idioms.

4-Idioms are difficult to


understand because of the
lack of cultural background
behind the idioms.
5-Idioms are difficult because
they are not taught well in
class.
6-It is useful for me to predict
the meaning of idioms.

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International Journal of English Language & Translation Studies ISSN: 2308-5460


16-I like to be taught the
skills and processes necessary
to create meaning from
idiomatic text

17
( 42. 5)

2
( 5. 0)

21
( 52. 5)

0
( 0)

2. 1

0. 982

N=40

The sect ions of this table were analyzed focusing on the factors that lead to the difficult y
to the participants and made them select various strategies. The factors included: difficult y of
idio ms, role of vocabulary, and strategies of L2 idiom processing.
Difficulties in L2 Idiom Comprehension.
Referring to the item Idio ms are difficult to understand because o f the lack o f cultural
background behind the idio ms the part icipants who showed strongly disagreement and
disagreement to this item were 9 (22.5%) and 7 (17.5%) respectively. On the other hand, the
participants, who showed agreement and strongly agreement, were 22 (55.5%) and only 2 (5,
0%), respectively.
As for the item Idio ms are difficult because they are not taught well in class, which is
considered to be one o f the important factors behind the use of idio matic expressio ns, the
responses that showed strongly disagreement and disagreement were approximately similar
giving 9 (22.5%) and 8(20.0%) respectively. besides that, a total of 21 (52.5%) participants
agreed and only 2 (5.0%) participants strongly agreed.
A total o f 3 (7.5%) participants strongly disagreed with the item I can o ften figure out an
idio m fro m an equivalent one in my language and 11 (27.5%) participants disagreed wit h
this statement. The posit ive answer to this item yielded 24 (60.0%) participants who agreed
and only 2 (5.0%) participants strongly agreed with the above statement.
The Role of Vocabulary in L2 Idiom Comprehension
The statement It is useful for me to predict the meaning of idio ms 4 (10.0%)
participants strongly disagreed wit h this statement and 9 (22.5%) participants disagreed. For
this statement none of the participants showed that they strongly agreed, however, 27(67.5%)
participants agreed that it was useful to predict the meaning of idio ms.
The response for the statement The meaning of the const ituent words leads me to guess the
overall meaning indicated that 5 (12.5%) responses strongly disagreed and 8 (20.0%)
respondents disagreed. On the other hand, 26 (65.0%) respondents agreed to this item and
only 1 (2.5%) respondent strongly agreed
The Role of Context in L2 Idiom Comprehension
The statement I like to learn idio ms in context revealed that 13 (32.5%) respondents
disagreed and only 2 (5.0%) respondents disagreed. However, 25 (62.5%) participants agreed
with this statement and no one strongly agreed with it. In response to the statement Context
plays a crucial role in understanding idio ms, the number o f participants who strongly
disagreed were 13 (32.5%) respondents and 5 (12.5%) participants disagreed. A total number
of participants who agreed were 22 (55.0%) participants. Likewise, none of the participants
strongly agreed compared wit h the responses of the previous statement.
The strategies used in L2 Idiom Comprehension
As for the statement I use many different strategies when learning idio ms, 6 (15.0%)
participants strongly disagreed and 8 (20.0%) participants disagreed. The vast majorit y of the

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participants agreed with this item and the number was 23 (57.5%) participants, whereas only
3 (7.5%) participants agreed.
In response to the item I translate the literal meaning into my L1 (first language) in order
to understand idio ms, surprisingly, none of the participants showed strongly disagreement to
this statement. 21 (52.5%) participants disagreed. The percentage of participants who agreed
and strongly agreed to this statement was exact ly the same.
Wit h reference to the item I like to be taught the skills and processes necessary to create
meaning fro m idio mat ic texts, 17 (42.5%) participants strongly disagreed and only 2 (5.0%)
participants disagreed with this statement. 21 (52.55%) participants agreed and none of the
participants showed strongly disagreement.
As can be seen from the table, the highest mean score was 2.75. It was obtained fro m the
respondents that showed their posit ive attitude towards the use of idio ms. On the other hand,
the lowest mean score was 2.1. It was obtained from the number of participants who wish to
be taught the skills and processes that would help them to create meaning fro m idio mat ic
texts.
4.2 Discussion
This part introduces the findings obtained from the quest ionnaire. This part presents the
difficult ies that the participants faced in understanding idio mat ic expressio ns, the role of the
context and how it helped the participants to figure out the meaning o f the idio matic
expressio ns, the influence of low vocabulary words on understanding, and the role o f
constituent parts that make up the expressions. Besides that, the focus will be on the
strategies that respondents used in order to understand these expressio ns.
The findings of this study indicated that students got better results on the idio m questionnaire
but it is important to consider why they performed better and why some features of the
students background influenced idio m co mprehensio n while others were insignificant. An
interest ing issue to contemplate is also why certain idio ms were more difficult or easier than
others and what might be the causes behind it. Above all the results of the present study were
considered in the light of previous idio m co mprehensio n studies.
The responses gained fro m the background questionnaire, act ivit ies pract iced by the
participants of this study as well as the knowledge of idio m sect ion all have a great impact on
the findings of this study, though so me parts seems to be insignificant. To start with, the
participants who sat for the IELTS exam seems to have a wide knowledge as well as a wide
range of vocabulary that helped them to understand the idio ms. Addit ionally, having a high
score on IELTS exam correlated with the having a solid background on idio ms, because the
more you use idio ms in IELTS exam, the high score the candidate gets. The fact that some
participants had a correct definit io n was due to their background knowledge. The majorit y of
respondents were not in contact with nat ive speakers. That is why their background
knowledge about idio ms were not that much helpful. It did not make difference. Besides that,
the exposure to written discourse had no significant influence since the majorit y o f the
participants were exposed only to books related to their majors.
The third sect ion of the quest ionnaire showed that the difficult y aroused fro m the
nondeco mposable idio ms that were not easy to interpret due to the low frequent vocabulary
that even if they knew their literal meaning, it was st ill difficult to know the overall meaning
of the expressio n. Similarly, the difficult y rose from vocabulary that const ituted the
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expressio n and so met imes from the who le expressio n, because if the words that made up the
expressio ns were the difficult or not known for the participant, it affected understanding of
the who le expressio ns.
The findings indicated that idio ms were difficult because of the lack of the cultura l
background behind idio ms was moderate (mean=2.43). It is revealed that the majorit y
(55.0%) of the students think that the cultural background affects understanding of idio mat ic
expressio ns. Besides that, the responses regarding the difficult ies were that the idio ms were
not taught in the class. It was found that the mean score for this statement was (mean=2.4).
The findings also revealed that the items related to the use of context significantly revealed
that the context played a vital ro le in understanding idio ms wit h a mean (=2.3). The
respondents who revealed that it was useful to predict the meaning o f idio ms was the highest
percentage with a mean score of (=2.58) and the mean score.
The response fro m these participants revealed that the majorit y of the respondents
indicated that the context helped them to approach to the meaning. According to the
responses gained fro m the questionnaire to the item Verbal (textual or audio) and visua l
informat ion helped act ivate my knowledge o f idioms wit h a mean score (2.38), this shows
that exposure to different contexts (spoken and written) expands the knowledge of idio ms and
help retaining them to a later use. Qualls et al (2003) pointed out that contextual cues are
imperat ive for comprehension o f unfamiliar idio ms in eit her the oral or written modalit y,
particularly if idio ms are more opaque in nature.
The analysis also indicated that the difficult y was related to the meaning o f the individua l
words which made up the who le phrase wit h a mean score of (2.425). In other words, if the
participants could not recognize the meaning of a word in the who le expressio n, s/he was not
able to denote the meaning of the who le expressio n.
The data analys is also revealed that participants used several strategies in the process o f
comprehending an idio m . Cooper (1999) explored the co mprehensio n strategies used by L2
learners when trying to figure out the meanings of English idio ms in one- or two-sentence
contexts. The most commo nly used strategies were guessing fro m context, discussing and
analyzing the idio m, and using the literal meaning. The findings of this study showed that the
participants used many strategies in order to approach the meaning o f the idio mat ic
expressio ns. These strategies were repeat ing and paraphrasing the idio m, discussing and
analyzing the idio m, guessing the meaning from the context, using background knowledge,
using the literal meaning to understand the meaning o f its figurat ive counterpart, referring to
L1 idio m, and other strategies. These strategies will be explained respect ively. Moreover, Fu
(2003) points out the visualizat ion (drawing) might be one of the strategies that L2 learners
may use. He argued for the importance of drawing for English-language learners (especially
beginners) as a means to express their understanding of what they are learning.
The most successful strategy that was used by the majorit y of the part icipants was
guessing the meaning fro m the context (37 %). With respect to the effect of context, Nippo ld
and Martin (1989); Levrato and Cacciari (1999); Ishida (2008b) state that L2 learners would
have more success interpreting idio ms presented with supportive context than wit hout.
Furthermore, past research has shown that L2 learners use context to interpret idio ms and are
more successful interpret ing idio ms in context than in iso lat ion (Cooper 1998; Ishida 2008b;
Liontas 2002).
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4.3 Summary of the Findings
The findings of this study revealed that idio ms were difficult due to a number of factors
that started fro m introducing the idio mat ic expressions in the classroom by the teachers and
their figurative nature. Addit ionally, the low frequent vocabulary was one of the factors that
affect students understanding of the idio ms. The participants also used various strategies
while processing Idio ms. The most successful strategies were guessing fro m the context as
well as referring to L1 since the expressio n exists in both languages.
5. Conclusion
The invest igated the effects of the students backgrounds on idio m co mprehensio n, such
as their English Language Proficiency, exposure to L2 environment, contact with nat ive
speakers and exposure to different types of written discourse. It was observed that
participants who were in contact with nat ive speakers, reading in English and reaching to
higher levels o f English got better results than their peers who reported the opposite in the
background sect ion o f the questionnaire. The study also invest igated the problems and the
difficult ies that Libyan students face when using idio mat ic expressio ns as well as the
strategies that they use in order to figure out the meaning of such expressio ns.
The findings o f this study are in line wit h those of Cooper (1999) in the way that the
participants did not use a single strategy while encountering the meaning of idio mat ic
expressio n given in a context; instead, they used a variet y o f strategies. While processing the
idio m, they relied on of the contextual clues more than any other ones.
As can be seen fro m the data analyzed, the difficult ies were all related to the
nondeco mposable idio ms that their const ituent parts are not related to the overall figurat ive
meaning. For so me even so me const ituents were difficult because they were low frequent
vocabulary or they were not known for the participant him/herself. To help the figure the
meaning out, the participants used many strategies to understand idio ms. The most successful
strategy was guessing fro m context and next was referring to L1 idio m. In fact, the context
played a major role to help the participants understand the meaning o f those expressio ns.
About the Authors:
Noura Winis Ibrahim Saleh co mpleted her Master in English fro m the Universit y
Tekno logi, Malaysia and is presently working as a member o f teaching staff o f the
Department of English language and Translat ion Studies of the Facult y o f Arts, the
Universit y o f Sebha, Sebha, Libya. Her major areas of research interest include- ELT,
Linguist ics, Morphology, Pragmat ics and Discourse Analysis.
Dr. Mohammed Hassan Zakaria works as a professor of English wit h the Universit y
Tekno logi, Malaysia and has supervised many students in their research studies.
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