Learning L2 idioms in a CALL environment: The role of practice intensity, modality, and idiom properties

Cucchiarini, C., Hubers, F., & Strik, H. (2022). Learning L2 idioms in a CALL environment: The role of practice intensity, modality, and idiom properties. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 35(4), 863-891. doi:10.1080/09588221.2020.1752734.
Idiomatic expressions like hit the road or turn the tables are known to be problematic for L2 learners, but research indicates that learning L2 idiomatic language is important. Relatively few studies, most of them focusing on English idioms, have investigated how L2 idioms are actually acquired and how this process is affected by important idiom properties like transparency (the degree to which the figurative meaning of an idiom can be inferred from its literal analysis) and cross-language overlap (the degree to which L2 idioms correspond to L1 idioms). The present study employed a specially designed CALL system to investigate the effects of intensity of practice and the reading modality on learning Dutch L2 idioms, as well as the impact of idiom transparency and cross-language overlap. The results show that CALL practice with a focus on meaning and form is effective for learning L2 idioms and that the degree of practice needed depends on the properties of the idioms. L2 learners can achieve or even exceed native-like performance. Practicing reading idioms aloud does not lead to significantly higher performance than reading idioms silently.These findings have theoretical implications as they show that differences between native speakers and L2 learners are due to differences in exposure, rather than to different underlying acquisition mechanisms. For teaching practice, this study indicates that a properly designed CALL system is an effective and an ecologically sound environment for learning L2 idioms, a generally unattended area in L2 classes, and that teaching priorities should be based on degree of transparency and cross-language overlap of L2 idioms.
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