The Effect of Etymological Elaboration on Iranian EFL Learners’ Comprehension and Retention of Idioms

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Volume 8-1 February 2012.

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The Effect of Etymological Elaboration on 

Iranian EFL Learners’ Comprehension and Retention of Idioms


Naser Salehi (M.A.)

Department of Foreign Languages, Darab Branch, Islamic Azad University, Darab, Iran



Naser Salehi is a lecturer at Islamic Azad University of Darab Branch. He is currently teaching English to pre-intermediate students in Iran Language Institute (ILI). His areas of interest are mainly vocabulary acquisition and reading comprehension.


In recent years, idioms have received considerable amount of attention in EFL contexts. Linguists have sought ways to promote learning and teaching methods of these prefabricated language chunks. It is now believed that the meaning of all idioms is not arbitrary but somehow ‘motivated’ by their literal, original usage. This technique, namely, referring to the etymology of idioms in order to understand their idiomatic meaning is called ‘etymological elaboration’. The present study is an attempt to show the effect of such technique on the learners’ comprehension and retention of idioms. The subjects of this study were 50 Iranian advanced students studying English at Bahar Language Institute, Shiraz. They were divided into two homogenous groups of experimental and control. The experimental group was provided with the origins of 15 idioms and then the subjects were asked to identify their meanings. The control group was also demanded to identify the meaning of those idioms but without being informed about their origins. To check the subjects’ retention of the idioms, they were asked to complete a task of providing the missing part of the same idioms. This task was applied one week after the first task. The results of the independent samples t-test (p<0.05) showed that providing learners with the original usage of idioms can effectively enhance their comprehension and retention.

Keywords: Etymological Elaboration, Idiom, Comprehension, Retention

Category: 2012