February 11, 2020 at 3:20 pm

Augstkalns Co-authors Paper on Arabic Speakers’ Comprehension of English Idioms

From left, Mary Catherine Augstkalns and Dr. Soomin Jwa at the 2019 Student Expo.

From left, Mary Catherine Augstkalns and Dr. Soomin Jwa at the 2019 Student Expo.

Second-year M.A. in Applied Linguistics student Mary Catherine Augstkalns co-authored a paper in collaboration with her adviser Dr. Soomin Jwa, former Ohio University Visiting Professor, in the English Linguistics Society of Korea’s journal English Language and Linguistics.

The paper, “Break a Leg: An Investigation of L2 Idiom Comprehension of L1 Arabic Speakers,” examines how intermediate and advanced Arabic-speaking learners of English understand English idioms. An idiom is a figurative saying that doesn’t correspond to its literal meaning, such as how “raining cats and dogs,” means, “raining heavily.” Non-native speakers often have difficulty understanding the figurative meaning of such phrases.

Previous research into the area of idioms in second language acquisition has focused on the learner’s ability to comprehend idioms in their second language without delving into how they decode them. Therefore, this study investigates Arabic learners of English for their comprehension of idioms, with a focus on the strategies they use to decode them. Ten learners of English, five intermediate and five advanced, were recruited and asked to define 10 transparent and 10 opaque idioms.

Results indicated that they all understood transparent idioms better than opaque idioms. Features of each idiom that made comprehension challenging are identified and discussed. It was also found that advanced and intermediate learners used different strategies to decode the idioms. There was also a first-language effect as shown in their use of similar descriptive language when attempting to define each idiom. Based on the findings, teachers are encouraged to help students learn how to use strategies that are suited to their level and the type of idioms they are learning.

“It was very challenging to write and publish my first paper,” says Augstkalns. “I had no idea what I was getting into! I’m very grateful for the help of Dr. Jwa as she guided me through this process and helped me become a more proficient academic writer. However, the grounding that she provided in her Second Language Acquisition course was great. Having us conduct a pilot study and write an entire paper ourselves in our first semester seemed daunting at the time, but it probably turned out to be my favorite course I’ve taken so far in the Applied Linguistics program.”

“As for my future research,” Augstkalns continued,  “I have plans to continue collaborating with Dr. Jwa on a paper she is working on from her current Korean university. I am also collaborating closely with fellow second year student Tetiana Tytko on two projects, designing an online course and a Sociolinguistics paper, and I have plans to start on my own Sociolinguistics paper in the fall. I’m keeping myself busy!”

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