Near-native speakers' recognition and production of idioms in L2 Spanish
Stoyanova, Mariana Kostadinova
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Idioms constitute an essential part of any culture and language. However, due to their unique structure and meaning, idioms pose problems for L2 learners because their figurative meaning usually differs from the literal one. The lack of transparency and the difference in metaphorical concepts among languages render their recognition, and mainly their production, most difficult even for near-native L2 learners. The present study is two-fold and examines the recognition and production of idioms as well as the different strategies used when dealing with unfamiliar idioms in the L2 by a group of near-native speakers of Spanish as an L2. In the first experiment, the participants were tested on the extent of their familiarity with common Spanish idiomatic expressions. They were asked to provide the missing component, either the verb or the noun, from a list of common idiomatic phrases selected to be identical, similar to or different conceptually and syntactically from their English counterparts. The phrases were embedded in context to facilitate production. The study explores the links between idiom production and recognition, compositionality, key words, and length of stay in a Spanish-speaking country. The results demonstrated that the nouns were acting as idiom key words because they facilitated the production of the correct verb, especially when the idiomatic phrases were similar or different in the L1 and L2. The second experiment focused on studying the different strategies the L2 learners employed while working out the meaning of unknown idioms embedded in a paragraph-long context via a Think-Aloud Protocol. The results revealed that the near-native speakers use a variety of strategies to understand the figurative meaning of unfamiliar idioms. The study, however, also demonstrated that the L2 speakers process familiar idioms in the L2 in a native-like manner by providing the figurative meaning first. Near-native speakers of Spanish as an L2 are rarely targeted by current research because it is usually assumed that they have a good command of figurative language. The two studies, however, reveal important findings which show that idiom interpretation and production should not be taken for granted by researchers or language teachers.