Challenges and Strategies of Acquiring English Idioms for EFL Undergraduate Saudi Students

Nahla Nadeem, Shahd Almowalad


Learning idioms is one of the key areas in acquiring English language vocabulary and achieving language proficiency.  In spite of their great importance in acquiring fluency, they are often neglected in the EFL classroom.Therefore, the aim of the present study is to investigate the challenges facing EFL Saudi students in learning English idioms and the effective strategies that they can utilize to understand idiomatic expressions. The subjects were 50 male and female Saudi EFL students at the Department of English enrolled in the first semester of the academic year 2022/2023 in King Abdulaziz University- Rabigh branch. The researcher prepared a questionnaire to identify the strategies employed by students to facilitate learning idioms and to explore the difficulties that they faced during their learning. The study findings showed that the participants had great difficulty in acquiring and understanding idioms. Moreover, study results also revealed that the most commonly used strategies were guessing the meaning of idiomatic expressions from the context, learning idioms outside the classroom, breaking them into parts to guess their meaning and translating them into the first language.


idioms, figurative language, vocabulary learning strategies, Saudi EFL students

Full Text:



Alexander, R. (1987). Problems in understanding and teaching idiomaticity in English. Anglistik and Eneglichunterricht, 32(2), 105-122.

Alhaysony, M. H. (2017). Strategies and Difficulties of Understanding English Idioms: A case study of Saudi University EFL Students. International Journal of English Linguistics, 7(3), 70–84.

Al-Kadi, A. (2015). Towards idiomatic competence of Yemeni EFL undergraduates. Journal of Language Teaching and Research, 6(3), 513-523.

Al-Khawaldeh, N., Jaradat, A., Al-Momani, H., & Bani-Khair, B. (2016). Figurative idiomatic language: Strategies and difficulties of understanding English idioms. International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature, 5(6), 119-133.

Baker, M. (2018). In other words: A coursebook on translation. Routledge.

Boers, F., Demecheleer, M., & Eyckmans, J. (2004). Cross-cultural variation as a variable in comprehending and remembering figurative idioms. European Journal of English Studies, 8(3), 375-388.

Boers, F., Eyckmans, J., Kappel, J., Stengers, H., & Demecheleer, M. (2006). Formulaic sequences and perceived oral proficiency: Putting a lexical approach to the test. Language teaching research, 10(3), 245-261.

Bortfeld, H. (2003). Comprehending idioms cross-linguistically. Experimental psychology, 50(3), 217-230.

Bulut, T., & Yazici, I. (2004). Idiom processing in L2: through rose-colored glasses. The Reading Matrix, 4(2), 105-116.

Celce-Murcia, M. (2008). Rethinking the role of communicative competence in language teaching. In Intercultural language use and language learning (pp. 41-57). Springer, Dordrecht.

Clark, J. M., & Paivio, A. (1991). Dual coding theory and education. Educational psychology review, 3(3), 149-210.

Cooper, T. C. (1999). Processing of idioms by L2 learners of English. TESOL quarterly, 33(2), 233-262.

Cornell, A. (1999). Idioms: an approach to identifying major pitfalls for learners.

Cowie, A. P., Mackin, R., & McCaig, I. R. (1983). Oxford Dictionary of Current Idiomatic English Volume 2: Phrase, Clause & Sentence, Idioms.

De Caro, E. E. R. (2009). The advantages and importance of learning and using idioms in English. Cuadernos de Lingüística Hispánica, (14), 121-136.

Ellis, R. (1997). SLA research and language teaching. Oxford University Press, 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016-4314.

Howarth, P. (1998). Phraseology and second language proficiency. Applied linguistics, 19(1), 24-44.

Ifill, T. (2002). Seeking the Nature of Idioms: A Study in Idiomatic Structure. Haverford College.

Irujo, S. (1986). A piece of cake:learning and teaching idioms. ELT journal, 40(3), 236-242.

Irujo, S. (1986). Don’t put your leg in your mouth: Transfer in the acquisition of idioms in a second language. TESOL Quarterly, 20(2), 287-304.

Khan, Ö., & Can Daskin, N. (2014). " You Reap What You Sow" Idioms in Materials Designed by EFL Teacher-Trainees. Novitas-ROYAL (Research on Youth and Language), 8(2), 97-118.

Kövecses, Z. & Szabo, P. (1996). Idioms: A view from cognitive linguistics. Applied Linguistics, 17(3), 326-355.

Larson, M. (1984). Meaning-Based Translation: A Guide to Cross-Language Equivalence. Lanham. MD. New York and London: University Press of America.

Lazar, G. (1996). Using figurative language to expand students' vocabulary. ELT journal, 50(1), 43-51.

Littlemore, J., & Low, G. (2006). Metaphoric competence, second language learning, and communicative language ability. Applied linguistics, 27(2), 268-294.

Liontas, J. (2002). Exploring second language learners' notions of idiomaticity. System, 30(3), 289-313.

Liu, D. (2008). Idioms. Description, Comprehension, Acquisition, and Pedagogy. New York & London: Routledge.

Lundblom, E. E., & Woods, J. J. (2012). Working in the classroom: Improving idiom comprehension through classwide peer tutoring. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 33(4), 202-219.

McPartland, P. (2000). Take it easy: American idioms (2nd ed.). White Plains, NY: Longman-Pearson Education.

Mitsis, N. (2004). Language teaching through the communication approach. Athens: Gutenberg.

Moon, R. (2006). Vocabulary connections: Multi-word items in English. In N. Schmitt & M. McCarthy (Eds.), Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy (pp. 40-63). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nation, P. & Meara, P. (2002). Vocabulary. In N. Schmitt (Ed.), An introduction to applied linguistics (pp. 35– 54). London, England: Edward Arnold.

Nattinger, J. R., & DeCarrico, J. S. (1992). Lexical phrases and language teaching. Oxford University Press.

Nelson, E. (1992). Memory for metaphor by nonfluent bilinguals. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 21(2), 111-125.

Orfan, S. (2020). Afghan EFL Students’ Difficulties and Strategies in Learning and Understanding English Idioms. Cogent Arts and Humanities, 7(1), 1-13.

Ortega, B. A. (2004). Wray, Alison (2002): Formulaic Language And The Lexicón. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 332 Págs. ELUA: Estudios de Lingüística. Universidad de Alicante, (18), 349.

Palmer, B., & Brooks, M. (2004). Reading until the cows come home: Figurative language and reading comprehension. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 47(5), 370-379.

Pollio, H. R., Barlow, J. M., Fine, H., & Pollio, M. R. (1977). Psychology and the poetics of growth: Figurative language in psychology, psychotherapy, and education. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Richards, J., & Schmidt, R. (1990). Longman dictionary of language teaching and applied linguistics.

Rohani, G., Ketabi, S., & Tavakoli, M. (2012). The Effect of Context on the EFL Learners' Idiom Processing Strategies. English Language Teaching, 5(9), 104-114.

Saleh, N., & Zakaria, N. (2013). Investigating the difficulties faced in understanding, and strategies used in processing, English idioms by the Libyan students. International Journal of English Language and Translation Studies, 1(2), 69-90.

Seidl, J., & Mordie, M. (1978). English Idioms and How to Use Them. Oxford University Press.

Smadi, O., & Alrishan, A. (2015). Strategies used by Jordanian EFL university graduate students in translating idioms into Arabic. Journal of Education and Practice, 6(6), 45-55.

Ta'amneh, M. A. A. A. (2021). Strategies and Difficulties of Learning English Idioms Among University Students. Strategies, 12(23).

Thawabteh, M. (2011). Linguistic, cultural and technical problems in English-Arabic subtitling. SKASE journal of translation and interpretation, 5(1), 24-44.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2022 Journal of Applied Linguistics and Language Research