It is all “English” to me: Can Cross-Culture Overlaps Facilitate L2 Idioms Teaching?

Document Type : Original Article


College of Foreign Language, Shandong Technology and Business University, Yantai, China


Idioms are highly conventionalized expressions that allow users to express beyond literal meanings. Despite the language difference, counterparts of idioms may overlap cross-culturally due to similar origin, social habits, and experiences. It is therefore interesting to probe whether L2 learners may benefit from deliberate instructions built on shared counterparts existing in both L1 and L2, known as cross-language overlaps. Although the phenomenon of cross-language overlap has been reported by lexical and collocation processing research (e.g., Carrol & Conklin, 2017; Hubers et al., 2020), it is yet uncertain whether its impact is influential for L2 idiom learning with the absence of semantic or syntactical similarity. To address this gap, the current study attempted to investigate whether raising English as a foreign language learners’ awareness of cross-language overlap may facilitate L2 idiom teaching and how such overlap-enhancement instruction may change over different congruence conditions (congruence-available and incongruence conditions) and time. The study collected L2 idiom learning data from forty-five Chinese English learners, following a pretest-posttest design. While the experimental group (n=26) learned twenty-eight target L2 idioms with an enhancement instruction emphasizing the overlaps, the control group (n=28) learned these idioms with a conventional instruction method. Findings of this study revealed that participants were able to benefit from cross-language overlaps from both conditions, and the enhancement instruction on the semantic overlaps would result in significant learning improvement.  It is therefore pedagogically advisable for language teachers to marry up L1-L2 idiom phrases containing similar counterparts and deliberately focus on the semantic congruency.