Metaphoric competence and the acquisition of figurative vocabulary in foreign language learning

Aintzane Doiz, Carmen Eleizari.
Estudios ingleses de lingüística aplicada

Successful vocabulary teaching in the English as a foreign language classroom has to surmount many obstacles, such as the decrease in the rate of acquisition of new words by EFL students once a high level of proficiency is achieved, the students’ frustration at their inability to express their own thoughts adequately or plain boredom with the learning of lists of vocabulary items (MacArthur, 2010). In this article, we follow Danesi’s (2008) claim that the use of figurative language helps overcome some of these hurdles by providing the means to expand the learners’ vocabulary. The goal of this article is to highlight the importance of the role of metaphors in the acquisition of figurative vocabulary by learners of English in two contexts, an EFL classroom and a CLIL classroom. Firstly, we report on an experimental study where the consequences of developing conceptual metaphor awareness for figurative language learning in the EFL classroom are studied. Results show that, compared to the traditional translation-based approach, systematic presentation of the target figurative expressions on anger around the two conceptual metaphors they instantiate improves comprehension and spontaneous retention of the target vocabulary. Secondly, we implement the metaphor approach in the design of a lesson plan for a class of Philosophy and Citizenship where the medium of instruction is English (CLIL). We show that the metaphor awareness is instrumental in the accomplishment of two objectives: the learning of new figurative vocabulary in English and the understanding of the subject-matter targeted in the lesson plan.