The Performance of Iranian EFL Learners in Producing and Recognizing Idiom-Containing Sentences

Document Type: Research Paper


Assistant Professor


This study aimed to investigate how Iranian EFL learners performed in producing sentences containing idioms and whether they had any problems in producing such sentences. This query, subsequently, raised the question of whether idioms influenced the participants’ grammaticality judgment on idiom-containing sentences. For this purpose, firstly, the writings of 24 learners were investigated for a period of one term and the problematic features of idioms were detected; proportionately, grammatical errors outnumbered the others. Secondly, 35 participants were tested on a 40-item grammaticality judgment test containing 10 items for each sentence type – with-idiom grammatical, with-idiom ungrammatical, without-idiom grammatical, and without-idiom ungrammatical sentences. Comparing the mean scores and the results of the paired-samples t-tests indicated that idiomaticity might influence the grammaticality judgment of EFL learners. Some implications of the research results are provided at the end.


Adams, W. T., & Kuder, S. R. (1984). Attitudes through idioms. Rowley: Newbury House Publishers, Inc.
Adkins, P. (1968). Teaching idioms and figures of speech to non-native speakers. Modern Language Journal, 52, 148-152.
Agustín Llach, M. P. (2011). Lexical errors and accuracy in foreign language writing. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Anglin, J. M. (1993). Vocabulary development: A morphological analysis. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development. Serial No. 238. 58(10).
Atai, M. R., & Akbarian, I. (2003). The effect of exposure on EFL learners’ acquisition of idioms with reference to proficiency levels. Indian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 29, 21-34.
Boers, F., & Demecheleer M. (2001). Measuring the impact of cross-cultural differences on learners’ comprehension of imageable idioms. ELT Journal, 55, 255-62.
Broukal, M., & Nolan-Woods, E. (1992). NTC’s Practice Tests for the TOEFL. Lincolnwood, Illinois: National Textbook Company.
Carter, R. (1998). Vocabulary: Applied linguistic perspectives. London: Routledge.
Carter, R., Goddard, A., Reah, D., Sanger, K. & Bowing, M. (2001). Working with texts: a core introduction to language analysis (2nd Ed.). London: Routledge.
Clark, E. V. (2003). First language acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cooper, T. C. (1999). Processing of idioms by L2 learners of English. TESOL Quarterly, 33, 233-262.
Cornelia, T. (1999). CALLocations: Multi-word lexemes and their place in intelligent CALL. Basel University, Switzerland.
Dobrovol’skij, D., & Piirainen, E. (2005). Figurative Language: Cross-cultural and Cross-linguistic Perspectives. Elsevier.
Gibbs, R. (1993). Why idioms are not dead metaphors. In C. Cacciari & P. Tabossi (Eds.). Idioms: processing, structure and interpretation. Hillsdale, London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Goulden, R., Nation, P., & Read J. (1990). How large can a receptive vocabulary be? Applied Linguistics, 11, 341-63.
Gramley, S. E., & Pätzold, K. M. (1992). A survey of modern English. London: Routledge.
Irujo, S. (1986a). Don’t put your leg in your mouth: Transfer in the acquisition of idioms in a second language. TESOL Quarterly, 20, 287-304.
Irujo, S. (1986b). A piece of cake: Learning and teaching idioms. English Language Teaching, 40, 236-242.
Joe, A. (1995). Text-based tasks and incidental vocabulary learning. Second language Research, 11, 149-58.
Joe, A. (1998). What effects do text-based tasks promoting generation have on incidental vocabulary acquisition? Applied Linguistics, 19, 357-77.
Kövecses, Z., & Szabo, P. (1996). Idioms: A view from cognitive semantics. Applied Linguistics, 17, 326-55.
Laufer, B. (2000). Avoidance of idioms in a second language: The effect of L1-L2 degree of similarity. Studia Linguistica, 52, 186-196.
Liontas, J. I. (2001). That’s All Greek To Me! The comprehension and interpretation of modern Greek phrasal idioms. The Reading Matrix: An International Online Journal, 1 (1), pp. 1-32. Retrieved June 20, 2010 from article.pdf
McCarthy, M., O’Keeffe, A., & Walsh, S. (2010). Vocabulary matrix: Understanding, learning, teaching. Hampshire: Heinle, CENGAGE Learning.
McGavigan, P. (2009). The acquisition of fixed idioms in Greek learners of English as a foreign language. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Swansea University.
Milton, J. (2009). Measuring second language vocabulary acquisition. Bristol, England: Multilingual Matters.
Moon, R. (1997). Vocabulary connections: multi-word items in English. In N. Schmitt  & M. McCarthy (Eds.). Vocabulary: Description, acquisition and pedagogy (pp. 40–63). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Murphy, M. J. (1989). Test yourself on English idioms. London: Edward Arnold.
Pollio, H. R., Barlow, J. M., Fine, H. K., & Pollio, M. R. (1977). Psychology and the poetics of growth. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Richards, J. C., Platt, J., & Platt, H. (1992). Longman dictionary of language teaching and applied linguistics. Harlow: Longman Group UK Limited.
Roberts, J. (1999). Grammar. In K. Johnson & H. Johnson (Eds.). Encyclopedic dictionary of applied linguistics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
Rundell, M., & Fox, G. (2007). Macmillan English dictionary for advanced learners. London: Macmillan.
Seidl, J., & McMordie, W. (1978). English idioms and how to use them. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sinclair, J. M. (1991). Corpus, concordance, collocation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Schmitt, N. (2010). Researching Vocabulary: A Vocabulary Research Manual. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan.
Swain, M. (1996). Three functions of output in second language learning. In G. Cook & B. Seidelhofer (Eds.). Principles and practice in the study of language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
TOEFL Actual Tests. (2005). Tehran: Ebteda Publications.
Wallach, G. P., & Miller, L. (1988). Language intervention and academic success. San Diego, CA: College Hill Press.
Watson, J. (1998). Teaching idioms: Developing awareness of effect and appropriateness, Modern English Teacher, 7(1) 15-19.
Zarei, A. A., & Koosha, M. (2003). Patterns of the Iranian advanced learners’ problems with English collocations: A focus on lexical collocations. Iranian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 6(1), 137-169.