5. The gaps to be filled

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Over fifteen years have elapsed since the publication of Low’s (1988) article on teaching metaphor; this has been followed by a number of experimental studies on the teaching/learning of figurative language in a FL. Some of these have been able to make recommendations about the treatment of such difficult aspects of English for the non-native speaker as polysemy or phrasal verbs. However, little is known about how much impact this research activity has actually had on the real world of ELT, or on what actually goes on in EFL classrooms. As Gibbs (this volume) suggests, “[…] real-world metaphor research needs to explore situations which are as much social as psychological and to try and examine how both aspects interact.” In order to gain some insight into what learners of EFL gather about the meaning potential of the words they are taught, I examine the text books used in two educational settings with learners between the ages of six and eighteen. Focusing on three highly polysemous words (hand, cool and run), I examine what different senses of these words are introduced, practised and recycled over the twelve years in which English is an obligatory subject, and what activities are used to foster understanding of the figurative uses of these words. This study reveals that applied metaphor research has had virtually no impact on the text books used in these classrooms.


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