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Second language idiom learning: The effects of lexical knowledge and pedagogical sequencing
Eve Zyzik Language Teaching Research 2011 15: 413 originally published online 26 August 2011 DOI: 10.1177/1362168811412025 The online version of this article can be found at: http://ltr.sagepub.com/content/15/4/413

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LTR15410.1177/1362168811412025ZyzikLanguage Teaching Research

LANGUAGE TEACHING RESEARCH

Second language idiom learning: The effects of lexical knowledge and pedagogical sequencing
Eve Zyzik

Language Teaching Research 15(4) 413433 The Author(s) 2011 Reprints and permissions: sagepub. co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/1362168811412025 ltr.sagepub.com

University of California Santa Cruz, USA

Abstract
This article examines the acquisition of Spanish idioms in a classroom setting that was supplemented with explicit instruction over a 10-week period. The research design manipulated two variables: prior lexical knowledge and idiom organization. Sixty-five second language (L2) learners completed pre- and posttests that measured their ability to recognize and produce the target idioms, as well as a vocabulary test to control for lexical knowledge. Participants in the experimental groups received contextualized idiom presentation that encouraged noticing, retrieving, and generating (Nation, 2001). The results indicate significant treatment effects, although no significant advantage was found for the thematic grouping of idioms. The results also show a significant effect for prior lexical knowledge on one of the dependent variables. These findings are discussed in relation to prior studies of idiom learning from a cognitive linguistics perspective (Boers et al., 2007) as well as psycholinguistic studies that emphasize the salience of literal meanings (Cieslicka, 2006).

Keywords
idioms, Spanish, explicit instruction, literal salience, thematic sets

I Introduction
The idea that formulaic sequences are an intrinsic part of linguistic competence has become widely accepted in the field of second language acquisition. Formulaic sequences include various manifestations of conventionalized language, including collocations (e.g. make a decision), social formulas (e.g. nice to meet you), multiword phrases (e.g. on the other hand), and idioms (e.g. shoot the breeze) (see Wray, 2002). Idioms, the focus of the current study, are traditionally understood to be multiword expressions with a figurative meaning that cannot always be inferred by adding up the meanings of
Corresponding author: Eve Zyzik, University of California Santa Cruz, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA Email: ezyzik@ucsc.edu

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the constituent parts. Although this is an overly simplified definition, it serves as a point of departure and suggests that idioms pose a special kind of challenge for second language (L2) learners. Textbook authors Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999) describe idioms as notoriously difficult (p. 39) and research has shown that L2 learners struggle with idioms in both comprehension and production (Irujo, 1986a; Cooper, 1999; Liontas, 2003). Despite innovations in presenting idioms to learners in ways that promote awareness and retention (see Boers et al., 2007), we are still in the initial stages of understanding the acquisition of idioms by non-native speakers. The purpose of this article is to investigate two theoretical issues related to the acquisition of idioms in a classroom context. The first is the role of lexical knowledge. More precisely, the focus is on knowledge of the constituent parts of idioms, rather than vocabulary knowledge in a global sense (i.e. as measured by a word-levels test). Although research suggests that L2 learners activate literal meanings when processing idioms (Cielicka, 2006), surprisingly little attention has been paid to testing and/or controlling for learners prior vocabulary knowledge. The second theoretical issue is whether the organization or grouping of target idioms affects learning outcomes. An underlying rationale for this study was to fill a gap in the research by testing a pedagogical treatment in the classroom. As the literature review will show, most empirical studies to date have been conducted in laboratory settings, reflecting the strong psycholinguistic tradition in research on idioms with native speakers. On the other hand, pedagogically-oriented research has been primarily descriptive, providing practical suggestions for teaching idioms (see Irujo, 1986b; Cooper, 1998; Cornell, 1999) or using corpus analyses to identify the most frequent (and therefore useful) idioms to teach (see Liu, 2003; Simpson & Mendis, 2003; Grant & Nation, 2006; Grant, 2007). Before reviewing the relevant research, it is crucial to have a more precise characterization of idioms and the nature of their figurative meanings.

II Defining and understanding the nature of idioms


Although most speakers can easily come up with examples of idioms in their native language, defining this construct has been a thorny issue for both theoretical and applied linguists. Generally, a multiword expression is considered to be an idiom if it satisfies several criteria, the most basic of which seems to be non-compositionality (Fernando & Flavell, 1981). An expression is non-compositional if its meaning cannot be predicted from the sum of the individual elements. Surprisingly, this seemingly simple criterion is also the most controversial, as scholars have pointed out that not all idioms are equally noncompositional. Nunberg et al. (1994) noted that some idioms can be given a compositional analysis once their meaning is known. Similarly, the experimental work of Gibbs and colleagues (Gibbs & Nayak, 1989; Gibbs, Nayak, & Cutting, 1989) has shown that some idioms are decomposable, that is, analysable. On this view, the component parts of idioms can contribute individually to their figurative meaning. A clear example is the idiom lay down the law in which law refers to rules of conduct and laying down is the act of invoking the law. It is assumed that decomposability (measured by speakers intuitions) is a gradient concept, with some idioms being classified as more decomposable than others. Research on conceptual metaphor (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980; Lakoff, 1987; Gibbs, 1994; Kvecses & Szab, 1996) has proved fruitful in debunking the notion that idioms are dead metaphors with arbitrary meanings. Instead, it is now routinely acknowledged that

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the meanings of idioms are often motivated, that is, their derivation from a literal meaning can be explained.1 For example, the idiom to drop the ball is motivated by the conceptual metaphor MENTAL CONTROL IS PHYSICAL CONTROL (also present in other idioms such as to get a grip). As a consequence of these insights, many idioms previously considered to be semantically opaque or arbitrary are actually decomposable and/or conceptually motivated. Accordingly, Grant and Bauer (2004) propose applying more restrictive criteria in order to define idioms. In their analysis, many so-called idioms (e.g. hit the nail on the head) belong to the much larger category of figuratives. Crucially, Grant and Bauer propose that figuratives can be undone or made sense of by stretching the known meaning of individual words (p. 51). In contrast, core idioms are both non-compositional and non-figurative, and thus must be learned as multi-word lexemes. Another defining characteristic of idioms is their frozenness or fixedness (Grant & Bauer, 2004), which entails both limited substitutability and syntactic deficiency. Simply put, idioms tend to lack grammatical flexibility. For example, the idiom kick the bucket will lose its idiomatic meaning if it is passivized or if lexical items are substituted (e.g. pail instead of bucket). This invariant or restricted nature of idioms is what distinguishes them from other types of formulaic sequences (Fernando, 1996). Nevertheless, corpus findings reported in Moon (1998) show that almost 40% of English FEIs (fixed expressions and idioms) allow lexical variation or transformation and a smaller percentage (14%) have two or more variations. An example from Spanish the target language in this study is the idiom estar hasta el gorro (to be fed up, literally to be up to the cap), which has several well-known variations (e.g. estar hasta la coronilla to be up to the crown of the head or estar hasta las narices to be up to the nostrils). To summarize, idioms form a heterogeneous category of multiword expressions with figurative meanings. The challenge of defining idiom is diminished if we assume that not all idioms are equal, that is, that they form a fuzzy category (Nunberg et al., 1994) that resists single-criterion definitions. For the purposes of this study, I adopt an inclusive definition of idioms that comprises a range of semi-fixed multiword expressions that have some non-compositional properties. These include both core idioms and figuratives in the classification proposed by Grant and Bauer (2004).

III SLA research on idioms 1 Psycholinguistic studies


A major theoretical question in the literature is whether L2 learners are likely to process idioms for literal rather than figurative meanings. This question has been approached from different methodological perspectives. Cielicka (2006) utilized a cross-modal priming instrument in which non-native speakers of English were presented with idioms in neutral contexts (e.g. Peter was planning to tie the knot later that month). The contexts were neutral in the sense that either the figurative or literal meaning could be possible. While participants listened to the sentences, they performed a lexical decision task for words that appeared on a computer screen. The target words were related either to the figurative meaning of the idiom (e.g. marry) or to the literal one (e.g. rope). Cielicka found a significant priming effect for the literal target words. She interprets the results as lending support to the priority of literal meanings during L2 idiom comprehension. On

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this view, understanding L2 idioms entails an obligatory computation of the literal meanings of idiom constituent words (Cielicka, 2006, p. 116). Abel (2003) approached the processing question from a different angle, asking whether L2 learners have the same sense of decomposability as native speakers. Abels participants (native German speakers) were asked to sort English idioms into two categories: decomposable (e.g. miss the boat) and non-decomposable (e.g. shoot the breeze). Her results revealed that non-native speakers tend to judge idioms as decomposable, unlike native speakers, who are more likely to judge the same idioms as non-decomposable. Conklin and Schmitt (2008) investigated whether idiomatic expressions (formulaic sequences in their terms) entail a processing advantage over non-formulaic phrases in a self-paced reading task. Their hypothesis was that formulaic sequences are processed as wholes and therefore should be read more quickly. Their instrument targeted English idioms like hit the nail on the head by presenting contexts that allowed either a figurative interpretation (i.e. get the right answer) or a literal one (i.e. strike a nail with a hammer). The control condition involved a comparable non-formulaic sequence such as hit his head on the nail. The results reveal that both native and non-native speakers have shorter reading times for formulaic sequences, regardless of whether these are intended to have a literal or figurative interpretation. Conklin and Schmitt explain their results by pointing out that the idioms they chose for their study are not normally used literally, which means that speakers may process them as wholes by default. Furthermore, the results cast doubt on the idea that L2 learners first compute the literal meaning of idioms before the figurative one (see Cielicka, 2006). As Conklin and Schmitt point out, if this were the case, reading times for the sequences in idiomatic contexts would have been longer than for the literal ones. Given their focus on idiom processing, psycholinguistic studies generally do not investigate the learning process. One notable exception is a study by Steinel et al. (2007), who investigated the conditions that might facilitate the learning of idioms in a laboratory setting. The main experiment involved a group of native Dutch speakers who were presented with the English idioms through a paired-associate learning (PAL) task. The PAL paradigm, used previously with single word learning, involves pairing an L2 word with its first language (L1) translation equivalent. Most relevant to the current study, however, is the methodological question of which target idioms to include in the experiment: Steinel et al. took care to select only those with high frequency constituent words. The authors explain their choice in this way:
Using expressions composed of high-frequency words guarantees that the form and meaning of the expressions as a whole rather than the form and meaning of the individual constituent words will constitute the focus of learning (Steinel et al., 2007, p. 460).

By limiting the task to idioms containing high frequency words, Steinel et al. are making an assumption that their participants will know these items, which would eliminate the need for pretesting. Cielicka (2006) makes a similar assumption in arguing for the salience of literal meanings:
Since L2 learners become familiar with literal meanings of second language lexical items long before they encounter their figurative meanings in fixed phrases, it seems reasonable to assume that literal meanings enjoy a more salient status than figurative ones in the course of processing (p. 120)

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However, it is not out of the question that a given idiom may contain lexical items previously unknown to the learner. Furthermore, it might be possible to learn the figurative meaning of the idiom without necessarily knowing the individual meanings of the parts. This is an empirical question that previous research has not considered. Therefore, the present study specifically targets idioms containing lexical items predicted to be unknown to the participants (see research question 1).

2 Pedagogical studies
In contrast to the psycholinguistic studies reviewed above, there are many studies of idioms that are more pedagogically oriented. Boers and colleagues (Boers, 2000; Boers et al., 2004, 2007), working within a cognitive linguistics approach, maintain that teaching idioms need not be reduced to memorization, but that it can be enhanced by raising students awareness of the conceptual metaphors that underlie many linguistic expressions. In particular, they advocate a technique called etymological elaboration (Boers et al., 2004), which involves problem-solving tasks in which students are made aware of the origin or literal usage of figurative idioms. For example, the idiomatic expression to be waiting in the wings derives from the original (i.e. literal) usage of actors waiting in the wings of the theatre before appearing on stage (Boers et al., 2007). On this view, idioms can be categorized into source domains such as war and aggression, food and cooking, games and sports, etc. The key is for students themselves to identify the source domains of given idioms, thereby establishing connections with its present day idiomatic meaning (this is hypothesized to promote deep processing). Some empirical support for this approach was found by Boers (2000), who reports on three related experiments with L2 English speakers whose first language was Dutch or French. The experimental groups were presented with vocabulary grouped by various metaphoric themes (e.g. anger as fire) or source domains (e.g. diving, mountain climbing). For example, experiment 2 utilized the up/down metaphor in order to teach verbs used to describe economic trends (e.g. go downhill and crash). The control groups learned the same vocabulary, but without reference to the metaphoric themes from which they were derived. The results indicate that the experimental groups performed consistently better on tests of retention. However, the awareness of metaphoric themes did not yield superior scores on novel vocabulary, that is, there was little evidence of transfer of spatial imagery (see experiment 3 in Boers, 2000). Boers et al. (2007) developed a comprehensive pedagogical tool for presenting English idioms according to their source domains. Participants (L1 Dutch speakers) completed four types of computerized exercises and the experimental design varied the sequence in which these exercises were completed. The results indicate that learners benefited from identifying the source domain first, that is, prior to trying to identify the meaning of idioms. Based on these findings, Boers et al. propose a pedagogical sequence for teaching idioms that includes the preliminary step of asking students to hypothesize about the origin of the expressions. The studies by Boers (2000) and Boers et al. (2007) suggest a certain organizing principle for presenting idioms to L2 learners. Their approach is essentially thematic with a focus on the metaphoric concepts underlying linguistic expressions. For example, the

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idioms to snap at someone and to bite someones head off are linked by the common metaphoric theme of angry people as dangerous animals (Boers, 2000, p. 555). Grouping idioms according to their source domains (see Boers et al., 2007) is also a type of thematic clustering. According to Boers (2000), Applying metaphoric themes as categories provides a framework for lexical organization, and organized vocabulary is known to be easier to learn than random lists (p. 563). Likewise, Cooper (1998) maintains:
Dividing idioms into thematic categories will make them easier to learn, for the student can study them as groups composed of elements that have common features rather than as lists of unrelated expressions to be memorized. (p. 263)

Coopers examples of categories include idioms with body parts, idioms with animals, and idioms describing anger and happiness. Although these categories are more general than those described by Boers et al., they still serve the function of grouping idioms in some principled way. It should be noted, however, that the issue of how to cluster words has been controversial among vocabulary acquisition researchers. Nation (2000) maintains that learning lexical items that are semantically related may result in undue interference. Likewise, Folse (2004) explains that semantic sets (e.g. days of the week, food, clothing, etc.) are detrimental because of the likelihood of interference, while thematic clustering is helpful to varying degrees. Recently, Erten and Tekin (2008) found that learning words in semantically unrelated sets yielded better results than learning via semantic sets, although they suggest that thematic clustering is a viable pedagogical alternative. With respect to idioms in particular, Liu (2008) presents several grouping options, including those favored by Boers (2000) and Boers et al. (2007): organization by motivating concept (e.g. life is business) and by origin or source (e.g. from animals, from farming). In contrast to the research, textbooks and selfstudy guides often take a different approach. An examination of several Spanish texts reveals that, if any attention is given to multiword expressions, these are usually presented as lists grouped by main verb.2 Accordingly, one of the variables manipulated in the present study is the sequence or clustering of idioms (see research question 2).

IV Research questions and hypotheses


Two research questions guided the design of the study: 1. Does lexical knowledge affect the learning of the figurative meanings of idioms? Lexical knowledge in the context of this study refers to knowledge of the constituent parts of an idiom. If the literal salience view (Cielicka, 2006) is correct, then learners will perform less accurately with idioms that contain lexical items previously unknown to them. Conversely, if idioms can be learned as wholes without obligatory computation of the literal meanings, then performance will not be affected by prior lexical knowledge. Does idiom organization have an impact on learners performance? And if so, which method (formal or thematic) is most effective? Idiom organization was manipulated by grouping idioms either thematically or according to their formal

2.

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419 properties (by main verb). This question reflects previous suggestions regarding the beneficial effects of thematic grouping (Cooper, 1998) as well as initial empirical support for metaphoric organization (Boers, 2000). If learning idioms is like learning L2 vocabulary in general, there may be an advantage for thematic organization.

V Methodology 1 Participants
The initial participant pool consisted of 72 L2 learners of Spanish enrolled in upperdivision (i.e. 400-level) Spanish linguistics courses at a large public university in the USA. The data from two heritage speakers of Spanish were excluded because they showed an excellent mastery of idioms prior to treatment. Data from five additional participants were excluded because they missed treatment sessions and/or did not complete the posttests. Thus, data from a total of 65 participants were included in the analysis. All participants agreed to participate in the study as part of their regular coursework; they did not receive monetary compensation but rather earned points toward a certain percentage of their course grade. All were enrolled in one of two courses (Structure of Spanish and Spanish Applied Linguistics) that fulfill requirements toward a major or minor in Spanish.3 The participants ranged in age from 19 to 26, with the average age being 21.3. There were 56 females and 9 males. All but three participants indicated English as their native language; Portuguese, Mandarin, and Romanian were the L1s of the non-native English speakers. All but two participants had studied Spanish in high school; the average length of study prior to university coursework was 3.6 years. The majority (47 out of 65, or 72%) had studied in a Spanish-speaking country; the time spent abroad ranged from 1 to 9 months, with the average stay being 3 months. This group of students had studied predominantly in Spain and/or Ecuador, although a few students had spent time in Mexico. Some had exposure to languages other than Spanish: 10 students indicated having studied French (most of them for only one year) and the other languages mentioned in small numbers were Japanese, Chinese, Italian, German, Russian, Portuguese, and Quechua. The participants took part in the experiment as intact groups, that is, based on class enrollment. Data were collected from a control group (n = 19), a thematic group (n = 21), and a verb group (n = 25). The researcher conducted all of the treatment sessions to ensure uniformity of presentation. The researcher was also the regular classroom teacher of the two experimental groups. The control group did not receive any explicit instruction on idioms during the study; their performance will serve as a baseline for comparison with the experimental groups.

2 Treatment materials
A total of 38 Spanish idioms were selected for this study based on a number of criteria. I consulted two reference books for potential verbal idioms.4 The idioms that were chosen for the study were limited to nine high frequency verbs: dar, tener, poner, estar, ser,

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echar, sacar, hacer, dejar. Second, the idioms had to have potential for belonging to a thematic group (see grouping criteria below). Third, since lexical knowledge was a variable in this study, I specifically chose idioms containing individual words that might be unknown to the L2 learners. A preliminary list of idioms was generated in this way and presented to native speakers (NSs) from various Spanish-speaking countries. The NSs completed a written questionnaire in which they provided their intuitions regarding whether they had heard each target idiom before, whether they used it in their own speech, and comments about usage and/or dialectal variations. Idioms that were not recognized or clearly understood by NSs were eliminated. A final list of idioms was compiled that reflected a range from both Peninsular and Latin American varieties of Spanish. The 38 idioms were grouped into seven thematic categories: friendship/compliments, failures/problems, annoying people, bad behavior, expressing oneself, criticizing, and beneficial relationships. Each thematic category included four to seven idioms. For example, the idioms estar hasta el gorro to be fed up, dar la lata to annoy, tener mucha cara to have a lot of nerve, ser (un) aguafiestas to be a party-pooper and sacar de quicio to drive someone crazy were included in the thematic category annoying people. These idioms are thematically related in that they describe what annoying people do or how we react to their behavior.5 Liu (2008) describes this type of organization as topic-oriented and provides similar examples of topics (e.g. advice, difficulty/problem, abandoning effort, etc.). The 38 target idioms, their approximate English equivalents, and their thematic grouping are given in Appendix 1. The same idioms were also grouped according to their main verb (e.g. dar, poner, etc.), thus yielding nine sets based on formal criteria. The discrepancy in the number of sets (seven thematic sets vs. nine verb sets) did not affect the treatment since the idioms were distributed over the same number of lessons for each group (one lesson per week for 10 weeks). To summarize, both experimental groups received instruction on the same 38 idioms with the only difference being the organization of these idioms by thematic category or main verb.

3 Assessment tests
All participants completed three tests prior to and after the treatment: (1) a vocabulary test, (2) a written production test, and (3) a multiple-choice recognition test. The content of the pre- and posttests was identical. The tests were administered in the sequence given above in order to minimize the chances of the recognition task affecting performance on the production task. The format of the vocabulary test was an L2L1 translation task, which is best described as a test of passive recall. Although there are myriad ways to test vocabulary, the passive recall test was chosen because it is an efficient way to measure the participants knowledge of the link between word form and word meaning (see Laufer & Goldstein, 2004). The results of the vocabulary test were used to sort the target idioms into two groups: idioms with known vs. unknown constituent parts (for the distribution of target idioms among these two categories, see the results section and Appendix 1). The production test consisted of 38 short contexts (23 sentences) with a non-idiomatic expression in italics. Participants were instructed to write the idiomatic expression that meant roughly the same as the phrase in italics on a blank below the context. This test requires active recall of Spanish idioms. The recognition task was a 38-item

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multiple-choice test in which participants were instructed to choose the idiom that best fits the context. It is a test of active recognition (for a classification of degrees of vocabulary knowledge, see Laufer & Goldstein, 2004). The incorrect options were idioms presented during the treatment phase, which reduces the likelihood of guessing (i.e. the possibility that participants would choose the idiom they recognized). Sample items from both tests are provided in Appendix 2.

4 Procedure
This quasi-experimental study followed a pretest/posttest design with a treatment phase lasting 10 weeks. The pretests were administered during the second and third weeks of a regular academic semester. Posttests were given one week after the completion of the treatment (approximately week 15 of the semester). Prior to beginning the treatment phase, the experimental participants received background information that included a simplified definition of idioms (and examples), how idioms differ across languages, and what they can expect to see in each lesson. Lessons were created for the target idioms based on insights from previous research on idiom learning (see Irujo, 1986b; Cooper, 1998; Liu, 2008) and vocabulary learning in general (Nation, 2001). Each lesson followed a sequence of review, inductive presentation, and reinforcement activities. On average, 34 new idioms were presented per week, with each lesson lasting approximately 15 minutes. Each lesson, delivered via PowerPoint, began with a review of the previous weeks idioms. This review phase included various types of active recall activities (e.g. provide the Spanish idiom that means X). New idioms were initially presented in context, either in paragraph or dialogue form.6 Only one idiom was embedded in each paragraph/dialogue in order to avoid unnaturalness and to promote noticing. Learners were encouraged to infer the meaning of the idiom (orally). If the idiom was easily decomposable, the teacher provided a brief explanation regarding the relationship between literal and figurative meanings. After the meaning of the idiom was established, learners were encouraged to provide English equivalents, if these existed. The lessons concluded with three types of activities to promote retrieving and generating: matching the idiom and its definition, choosing the right idiom to fit a novel context, and applying the idioms to personal situations. The content of the lessons was identical for both experimental groups. This was accomplished by using the same PowerPoint slides to teach all 38 target idioms. In other words, all participants read the same dialogues and completed the same activities. The difference between the treatment groups lies in the sequencing of the idioms. For example, in a given week, one group would learn a set of idioms related to a particular thematic category while the other group would learn a set of idioms that contained the same main verb.

5 Data analysis
The multiple-choice recognition task was scored for accuracy on a 01 scale. The scoring of the vocabulary test was equally straightforward, but a 02 scale was used to account for partially correct responses. The production task was scored on a 05 point scale adapted

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from Steinel et al. (2007). This scale takes into account a range of responses, ranging from no response or an incorrect idiom (0 points) to full production of the target idiom (5 points). Spelling and accent errors were ignored, as well as verb morphology errors (e.g. tense, aspect). One point was subtracted for each of the following errors: (1) missing/incorrect content words, (2) missing/incorrect function words, (3) incorrect gender and/or number on nouns, and (4) extra elements. Consider the response pongan por los nubes in the context of the target idiom lo ponen por las nubes. This response was given three points by applying the following criteria: the verb morphology error (* pongan instead of ponen) was not penalized; one point was subtracted for the missing clitic pronoun lo and one point was subtracted for the gender error (*los nubes instead of las nubes). Three raters independently scored the production posttests from the experimental groups (1748 items). Of these items, the three raters assigned identical scores in 1590 cases (91% agreement). To establish inter-rater reliability, a single measure intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) was calculated for each idiom. ICC approaches 1.0 when there is little variance among the raters. On three items, all raters assigned identical scores to all participants (i.e. ICC = 1.0). Of the remaining items, 32 ICCs were above .9 and 3 ICCs were between .8 and .9. Taken together, all the ICCs were above .8, which signals high inter-rater reliability. Because of the high level of agreement between raters, only the first rater scored the remaining production data.

VI Results 1 Knowledge of idioms prior to treatment


The descriptive statistics for the pretests (production and recognition) are given in Table 1. Percentages are provided in addition to the raw scores since the maximum score was different for each test. The mean scores on the production task indicate that these learners productive knowledge of Spanish idioms was essentially zero. The range of individual scores was 012. With regards to specific idioms, only a few were produced correctly or even attempted: dejar plantado (3 responses), poner los cuernos (6 responses), and ser aguafiestas (5 responses). The recognition task yielded higher scores overall, which is not surprising given that the multiple-choice format increases the possibility of guessing. The individual scores on this task ranged from 6 to 33 and the highest group mean was 17.4. Although participants performed better on the recognition task than on the test of production, their knowledge of idioms is still relatively weak, with no group scoring better than 50%. To
Table 1 Descriptive statistics for pre-test measures Group M Control Thematic Verb 14.9 16.8 17.4 Recognition (maximum score 38) SD 5.3 5.0 6.7 Percentage correct 39 44 45 Production (maximum score 190) M 1.6 2.2 3.1 SD 1.7 2.5 3.4 Percentage correct 8.0 1.1 1.6

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Table 2 Descriptive statistics for post-test measures Group M Control Thematic Verb 16.6 33.6 30.1 Recognition post-test SD 3.5 3.8 6.5 Percentage correct 43 88 79 M 5.6 91.8 68.1 Production post-test SD 5.6 46.1 44.5

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Percentage correct 3 48 36

test for pretreatment equivalence among the groups, the pretest scores were submitted to a MANOVA with production and recognition as the two dependent variables. The multivariate tests results revealed no main effect for group: Wilks lambda .928 (F(4,122) = 1.16, p = .33).

2 Treatment effects
The descriptive statistics for the posttests (production and recognition) are given in Table 2. In order to determine potential treatment differences, a multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was conducted with production and recognition as the two dependent variables. The results of the multivariate tests showed the factor group to be significant: Wilks Lambda .319 (F(4,122) = 23.4, p < .001). Subsequent univariate ANOVAs were examined for each dependent variable. These reveal a significant main effect for group on the recognition task (F(2,62) = 64.7, p < .001), as well as on the production task (F(2, 62) = 26.9, p < .001). Next, I report the results for each assessment measure separately. To examine improvement over time on the recognition task, a 3 2 repeated measures ANOVA was performed with group as the between-participants variable and time as the within-participants variable. The results indicate a significant effect for time (F(1,62) = 220.5, p < .001), a significant effect for group (F(2,62) = 24.3, p < .001) and a significant interaction between time and group (F(2,62) = 38.1, p < .001). The interaction was expected given that we hypothesize the experimental groups to outperform the control group. The effect sizes indicate a strong effect for time (partial eta2 = .78) and a moderate effect for the interaction (partial eta2 = .52). To follow up on the interaction effect, pairwise comparisons with the Bonferroni correction were performed (alpha level adjusted to .0167). This analysis indicates a significant difference between the mean scores of the control and experimental groups (p < .001 for both comparisons). The comparison between the Thematic group and the Verb group was not statistically significant (p = .066). The data from production test were also analysed with a 3 2 repeated measures ANOVA. The results indicate a significant main effect for time (F(1, 62) = 124.7, p < .001) as well as for group (F(2, 62) = 26.8, p < .001) and a significant interaction between time and group (F(2, 62) = 26.7, p < .001). The effect sizes indicate a strong effect for time (partial eta2 = .67) and a moderate effect for the interaction (partial eta2 = .46). Pairwise comparisons were performed with the Bonferroni correction (the alpha level was adjusted to .0167). These comparisons indicate that both experimental groups outperformed the control group on the posttest (p < .001 for all comparisons). The comparison between the Thematic and Verb group failed to reach significance (p = .121).

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With respect to the production test, the two treatments may have led to differential outcomes that inferential statistics do not detect. For example, the Verb group may have demonstrated better performance on supplying the correct verbs, while the Thematic group may have had an advantage in terms of providing correct content words. To examine this possibility, an error analysis was conducted on the production data. Five main error types were identified: missing/incorrect clitic pronoun, number/gender agreement error, missing/incorrect verb, content word error, and preposition error. Only attempted responses were coded (i.e. blank responses were discarded) since the goal is to see where learners have difficulty when they attempt production of the idioms. For both groups combined, there were 106 verb errors, 85 content word errors, 45 missing/incorrect clitic pronouns, 98 number/gender errors, and 38 preposition errors. Examples of each error type are provided below, with the participant identifier (id) in parentheses: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Los policas dan la vista gorda. (id 31) [wrong verb: dan] Esta situacin me da espina. (id 15) [missing content word: mala] Su esposa pone los cuernos. (id 30) [missing clitic: le] Esta situacin me da mal espina. (id 38) [gender error: mal] Todos lo ponen sobre las nubes. (id 8) [preposition error: sobre]

To determine if there were significant differences between the groups with respect to verb vs. content word errors, a 2 2 repeated measures ANOVA was performed. The within-participants factor was error type and the between-participants factor was group. The results indicate no main effect for error type (F(1,44) = 2.25, p >.05) and no interaction between error type and group (F(1,44) = .473, p >.05).

3 Effects of prior lexical knowledge


The 38 idioms were sorted into two groups based on the scores of the initial 50-item vocabulary test, which was scored on a 02 scale. Words that averaged below 1 were considered to be unknown for these learners. Words that yielded scores above 1 were considered to be known. Most words fell neatly into one of these two categories. In other words, the unknown items yielded very low averages (ranging from 0 to .64), whereas the known words registered high scores (ranging from 1.2 to 2). Consequently, the target idioms were divided into two conditions for analysis: idioms containing unknown items (k = 19) and idioms containing known items (k = 19). For example, the idiom dar gato por liebre (literally to give a cat instead of a hare) belongs to the first condition (liebre was unknown by all of the participants), while hacer la vista gorda (literally make the sight fat) belongs to the latter category because the individual lexical items were known by all the participants. To determine the effects of prior lexical knowledge on idiom learning, only the scores from the experimental participants (n = 46) on the posttests were examined. The reason for eliminating the control group from this stage of the analysis is that they showed little evidence of learning. The descriptive statistics for the two conditions are presented in Table 3. Recall that the maximum score on the recognition task was 38, which means that the maximum score in each condition (known vs. unknown) was 19. For the production task, the maximum score in each condition was 95.

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Table 3 Descriptive statistics for idioms with known vs. unknown vocabulary (SDs are given in parentheses) Recognition task Known Thematic (n = 21) Verb (n = 25) All experimental (n = 46) 16.86 (1.8) 15.56 (3.2) 16.15 (2.7) Unknown 16.71 (2.7) 14.56 (3.6) 15.54 (3.4) Production task Known 51.33 (25.3) 35.48 (22.0) 42.72 (24.7) Unknown 40.48 (21.8) 32.64 (23.7) 36.22 (23.0)

As shown in Table 3, idioms with known vocabulary items yielded a higher mean score (M = 16.15) than the idioms with previously unknown vocabulary (M = 15.54) on the recognition task. However, a paired-samples t-test indicates that this difference is not statistically significant: t(45) = 1.75, p = .087. On the production task, the scores on the idioms with unknown vocabulary were also lower (M = 36.22) than scores on idioms with known vocabulary (M = 42.72). This difference is statistically significant as indicated by a paired-samples t-test (t(45) = 3.8, p < .001), but the effect size is small (d = .27). Thus, prior lexical knowledge has an impact on active recall of L2 idioms. A final step in the data analysis was to examine the results of the vocabulary posttest to determine if the treatment impacted learners knowledge of the lexical items that were initially classified as unknown (k = 19). Six items registered gains of .5 or more from pre- to posttest: enchufe, rosca, cuernos, liebrev, trapos, and patas. Of these, only two were known by most learners, yielding posttest mean scores well above 1: cuernos (M = 1.44) and patas (M = 1.36). In contrast, three lexical items showed little or no gains over time: estacada, bronca, and quicio. A closer inspection of the participants responses reveals that some words were learned only in their figurative sense. For example, five participants translated the item migas (crumbs) as friends, presumably because they had learned this word in context of the idiom hacer buenas migas to get along well with someone; to click. Likewise, seven participants translated forrado (covered, lined) as loaded or wealthy. Other words whose figurative meanings appeared on the vocabulary posttest include fregado (translated as broken, ruined, wrecked) and enchufe (translated as influence, having an in, someone who helps you get a job).

VII Discussion 1 Effects of lexical knowledge


The first research question was addressed by manipulating a variable that had been largely ignored by previous research: knowledge of the constituent parts of idioms. Studies of idiom processing generally assume that L2 learners become familiar with the literal meaning of individual lexical items before being exposed to those items in figurative expressions (see Cielicka, 2006). Other studies have circumvented the issue by targeting idioms that contained only high frequency words (see Steinel et al., 2007). In the current study, a deliberate attempt was made to select idioms containing lexical items that would be unknown to the participants. This knowledge was verified by means of a

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vocabulary pretest, resulting in the grouping of idioms into two conditions: those with known and unknown constituent parts. The results of the posttests indicate a significant effect for prior lexical knowledge on the written production test but not on the recognition test. The target idioms with known constituent parts (e.g. ser un pez gordo) yielded higher scores than idioms with previously unknown lexical items (e.g. dar gato por liebre). This is a logical result if we consider that active recall is more difficult than recognition (Laufer & Goldstein, 2004, among others). The format of the recognition test (multiple-choice) allows for the possibility of arriving at the correct answer despite a gap in vocabulary knowledge, which clearly distinguishes it from the production task. Another way to understand these results is that the treatment was sufficient in terms of allowing formmeaning links to be established for previously unknown words, but much more exposure would have been needed for the learners to use the words productively. As Schmitt (2008) explains, the form meaning link is the first and most essential lexical aspect which must be acquired, and may be adequate to allow recognition (p. 333; emphasis added). The lack of significant difference between the two conditions on the recognition test (idioms with known vs. unknown constituent parts) is consistent with the idea that learners acquired partial knowledge of the new words through exposure to the idioms. These data suggest that learning idioms with unknown lexical items is not necessarily more difficult, provided that learning is measured in terms of recognition. At first glance, this seems to contradict the predictions of the literal salience hypothesis (Cielicka, 2006). It should be reiterated that the literal salience hypothesis was developed to account for idiom processing in laboratory conditions. Studies of online processing generally measure reaction times and/or reading times for idioms that are already known by the participants. Although not intended as a learning model, the literal salience hypothesis has implications for how L2 learners comprehend novel idioms. Consider the Spanish idiom sacar los trapos sucios (literally to take out the dirty rags) from the unknown condition. Presumably, the learner must first learn the literal meaning of trapos before understanding how that word contributes to the figurative meaning of the entire phrase. In contrast, an idiom containing familiar vocabulary items (e.g. no tener pelos en la lengua to not have hair on your tongue) would be easier to learn because the literal meanings of the constituent parts are already well established, allowing the learner to concentrate on the figurative meaning of the phrase. The data presented in this article do not invalidate the learning scenario described above; it may indeed be the case that learning idioms with unknown constituent parts involves an extra cognitive step. What the data suggest is that this extra cognitive step is minimal and easily overcome during the learning process (provided that receptive knowledge is the outcome measure). Furthermore, it is important to highlight those cases in which learners seemed to have acquired only the figurative meanings of individual lexical items. This suggests that it may be possible to learn the figurative meaning of an idiom without necessarily knowing the literal meanings of the parts. Only an analysis of individual response patterns across the three tasks (production, recognition, and vocabulary) would permit a more definitive answer to this question.7 If indeed possible, it would be interesting to see how online processing is affected in such cases (i.e. presumably the literal salience hypothesis would no longer hold). Another avenue for future research is to include idioms with multiple unknown constituent parts. Recall that in the current

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study all the idioms in the unknown condition contained a single unknown lexical item. The effects of lexical knowledge may be gradient (i.e. the difficulty of idiom learning is intensified as the number of unknown constituent words increases).

2 Idiom organization
The second research question focused on the pedagogical issue of how to group idioms for presentation in the classroom. Once target idioms have been identified, they can be grouped in various ways that reflect formal criteria, thematic similarity, or underlying metaphorical concepts. Alternatively, they can be presented in randomized format, a possibility not tested in this study. The approach pursued in this study was to contrast two ways of grouping the target idioms: by main verb (e.g. dar to give) or by topic-oriented themes (e.g. bad behavior). The data indicate a lack of significant differences between the Thematic group and Verb group on either production or recognition tasks. Thus, these results suggest that thematic clustering did not provide any palpable advantage for learning idioms. Previous research on vocabulary learning had found beneficial effects for thematic clustering when compared to learning trials with unassociated sets of words (Tinkham, 1997). However, thematic clustering was not effective across-the-board. In reviewing the performance of individual learners, Tinkham found that thematic clustering was a benefit to learning less than half the time and was actually a detriment over one fifth of the time (p. 156). Crucially, the comparison condition in the Tinkham study presented learners with unrelated sets of words (e.g. fork, count, brave). In the present study, thematic clustering of idioms was compared with formal grouping by main verb. Thus, while thematic clustering may be more effective than randomized presentation, the data presented here suggest that it does not entail any significant advantages over formal grouping. Besides comparing the experimental groups to each other (the focus of the second research question), it is important to point out the overall treatment effects found in this study. All experimental groups made important gains from pre- to posttest in both recognition and production of the target idioms. At the onset of the study, the experimental groups had no productive knowledge and very limited receptive knowledge of the target idioms. After the treatment, the experimental participants averaged 32 out of 38 on the recognition task (84%) and 79 out of 190 on the production task (42%). Clearly, these learners productive knowledge of Spanish idioms is still lacking. Furthermore, the high standard deviations on the production posttest may be an indication of the operation of a number of independent variables on the learning process. Individual variables such as motivation or interaction with native speakers outside of class are likely to have contributed to some students ability to correctly produce a large number of idioms. Despite the low group means on the production task, these are promising results considering the limited duration of the treatment (recall that the explicit instruction phase was limited to 15 minutes per week).

3 Limitations and directions for further research


This study employed a pretest/posttest design with participants knowledge of idioms being assessed prior to the onset of the treatment and one week after completion. One apparent limitation of the study is the lack of a delayed posttest to measure long-term

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retention. Given the duration of the treatment (10 weeks) and the inherent limitations of working around an academic calendar, it was not possible to collect data from the participants after week 15 of the semester.8 Another potential limitation of the design was the control group, who did not receive any instruction. The purpose of the control group was to provide a baseline of how much (if any) idiom learning might occur incidentally through exposure to Spanish. An important caveat here is that these participants exposure was rather limited, with few opportunities to interact in Spanish outside of the classroom. As a result, it is not surprising that the control group did not make gains over time. A more realistic control group could have been a group of learners studying abroad, especially since Drnyei et al. (2004) showed that active participation in the L2 social community is a predictive factor of L2 learners success in acquiring idioms (and formulaic sequences more generally). This study, despite the generally positive outcomes for the experimental groups, cannot make claims about the effectiveness of an approach based on metaphoric awareness (Boers, 2000; Boers et al., 2004, 2007). The only claims that can be made relate to the type of thematic clustering used in this study: a topic-oriented approach. As discussed in the preceding section, this type of approach did not yield any significant advantages over the more traditional grouping of idioms by their main verb. That does not entail, however, that we should reject all types of thematic organization. In fact, metaphoric organization may indeed prove to be superior to both types of conditions tested here. That is an important question for future research, especially given the recent appeal of cognitive linguistics in the L2 context (see Robinson and Ellis, 2008). Finally, practitioners may find objectionable an approach to teaching idioms that employs specially-designed lessons that are added on to the regular curriculum. As Liu (2008) explains, it may not be effective to learn idioms in such lessons because idioms are best learned naturally in normal language use (p. 124). Likewise, Cornell (1999) suggests that idioms be integrated into the curriculum and taught in conjunction with other skills. The integration of idioms into the overall curriculum of a language program is clearly a desirable and valid goal from a pedagogical standpoint. Nevertheless, the use of mini-lessons can be justified from the perspective of research design. By controlling the number of target idioms, their contexts, and the pedagogical activities provided to the learners, one is able to reduce confounding variables that would likely affect the outcomes of the study. In other words, the use of mini-lessons is a feasible option for experimental purposes although it may not be the most desirable one for language teachers. Finally, when it comes to selecting idioms for non-experimental purposes, the criteria of frequency and relevance must be considered as well (see Boers and Stengers, 2008 for a corpus study of English and Spanish idioms).

VIII Conclusions
The study reported in this article examined the effects of explicit instruction on L2 idiom learning, but with a focus on two specific variables. Lexical knowledge was manipulated by choosing target idioms with constituent parts that were unknown to the participants at the onset of the study. The data reveal that prior lexical knowledge has some facilitative

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effect on idiom learning, but that this effect is limited to production (i.e. active recall) tasks. The second variable was the organization of idioms for presentation in the classroom. In this case, the data indicate that learning idioms in thematic or topic-oriented sets does not provide a significant advantage over a more traditional grouping based on main verb. In addition to the quantitative findings reported, this study fills an important gap in the research by considering non-English idioms as the learning target. As noted by Boers and Stengers (2008), English idioms have been given disproportionate attention in research and pedagogy circles, contributing to the myth that English is exceptionally idiomatic. Their recommendation is that:
If English idioms are deemed worthy objects of explicit instruction then there seems to be no reason why idioms should not be given similar attention in the teaching of other target languages. (Boers and Stengers, 2008: 364)

This study represents a small step in that direction, while at the same time providing insights into the variables that may affect idiom learning in any L2 context. Acknowledgment
This research was supported by faculty research funds granted by the University of California, Santa Cruz, USA.

Notes
1 It is important to note that motivation here does not equal prediction. In other words, to say that an idiom is motivated does not mean that its meaning is completely predictable. On this point, see Kvecses and Szab (1996). Not all Spanish language textbooks address idioms, but the ones that do opt for grouping them by main verb. For example, a popular advanced grammar book (De la Vega & Salazar, 2007) provides a list of frases con hacer, which includes collocations and a few idioms (e.g. hacerse el tonto to play dumb). Likewise, some self-study guides (see Gordon and Stillman, 1999) provide extensive lists of idioms with verbs like tener, estar, llevar, meter, etc. These two courses are comparable in terms of prerequisites and objectives. Both are content courses taught in Spanish and are usually among the last courses taken before graduation. As such, students must have a certain level of proficiency in order to complete the reading and writing assignments. I did not administer an independent measure of proficiency since the study does not set out to make comparisons among different levels (e.g. intermediate vs. advanced). The two works consulted were: Diccionario Espasa: Dichos y frases hechas (Buitrago Jimnez, 1995) and El espaol idiomtico: Frases y modismos del espaol (Domnguez Gonzlez et al., 1995). As pointed out by an anonymous Langage Teaching Research reviewer, many of the thematic categories are overlapping. Indeed, this is an inherent drawback of using thematic or topicoriented categories for grouping any type of vocabulary (including idioms). In the present study, the classification was based primarily on the researchers intuition regarding contexts of use; two native speakers were also consulted in this process.

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The contexts were written by a native speaker of Spanish in consultation with the researcher. This analysis is not presented here for reasons of space. The majority of participants were graduating seniors and were thus not available for further testing.

References
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Appendix 1 Target idioms Spanish idiom dejar plantado ser una tumba poner por las nubes no dar pie con bola echar flores no tener pies ni cabeza ser ua y carne tener mucha cara tener mucha labia ser un pez gordo ser un cero a la izquierda hacer la vista gorda dar la vuelta a la tortilla sacar partido poner verde no tener pelos en la lengua estar al tanto poner las manos en el fuego por alguien estar hasta el gorro no dejar ttere con cabeza dar mala espina echar lea al fuego estar forrado estar fregado hacer buenas migas dejar en la estacada tener la soga al cuello ser aguafiestas echar la bronca hacer la rosca estar patas arriba sacar los trapos sucios poner los cuernos dar la lata sacar de quicio echar pestes dar gato por liebre tener enchufe

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Approximate English equivalent to stand someone up to keep silent to praise someone highly to miss the mark to pay someone a compliment to have no rhyme or reason to be attached at the hip to have a lot of nerve to be a smooth-talker to be a big shot / big cheese to be worthless / unimportant to turn a blind eye to do a 180 (change ones mind) to take advantage to insult or criticize harshly to say it like it is to be in the know to trust someone blindly to be fed up to leave no man standing to have a bad feeling to add fuel to the fire to be loaded to be ruined to click; to get on well to leave someone in a bind to be in dire straits to be a party pooper to chew someone out to suck up to someone to be upside down (messy) to air out dirty laundry to cheat (in a relationship) to annoy, to pester to drive someone crazy to badmouth, to curse to give a poor quality item to have an in; connections

Thematic Group bad behavior expressing oneself friendship/compliments failures/problems friendship/compliments failures/problems friendship/compliments annoying people expressing oneself beneficial relationships annoying people beneficial relationships expressing oneself beneficial relationships criticizing expressing oneself expressing oneself friendship/compliments annoying people criticizing failures/problems bad behavior beneficial relationships failures/problems friendship/compliments bad behavior failures/problems annoying people criticizing beneficial relationships failures/problems bad behavior bad behavior annoying people annoying people criticizing bad behavior beneficial relationships

Note: The underlined words indicate vocabulary items previously unknown to the participants

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Zyzik Appendix 2 Sample items from assessment tests Note: The English translations were not provided to the participants A. Production test

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Manolo y yo tenamos una cita a las siete en la cafetera, pero l no apareci. Lo esper hasta las ocho y despus volv a casa. Response: Manolo me _______________________ [intended response: dej plantado/a] Manolo and I had a date at seven in the cafeteria, but he did not show up. I waited for him until eight and then went home. B. Recognition test Estuvimos esperando a Antonio por ms de una hora y nunca vino! Nos We were waiting for Antonio for more than an hour and he never came! He us. a) b) c) d) dej plantados ech flores hizo buenas migas hizo la vista gorda

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