The Teaching of English Idioms in Kenyan Secondary Schools: Difficulties and Effective Strategies

Moses Gatambuki Gathigia, Martin C. Njoroge


The acquisition of idiomatic expressions is one of the primary challenges to learners of English as a Second Language (ESL) in multilingual contexts such as Kenya; yet, the learners are expected to use these expressions in their writing. The study on which this paper is based sought to assess the teaching of English idiomatic expressions in Kenyan secondary schools with a view to establishing the challenges teachers face in teaching the expressions and, thereafter, proposing effective strategies that can be applied for effective teaching of English idioms to ESL speakers.  Ten teachers of English from both rural and urban secondary schools in Kenya were interviewed to find out the actual practices in their classrooms, the difficulties they face, and the effective strategies they employ for successful teaching of English idioms. The data collected were qualitatively analyzed. First, the study notes that it is possible to infer semantic relations between the literal sense of individual parts of an idiom and its meaning when interpreting compositional idioms. Second, there is incongruity between form and meaning when dealing with non compositional idioms since their semantic interpretation cannot be retrieved by means of their constituent parts. The study concludes that an understanding of the etymology of idioms can improve the comprehension and retention of idioms. The study recommends that idioms should be taught effectively in schools because the acquisition of idioms by learners will be an important indicator of their mastery of the English language.

Keywords: Idiomatic expressions, semantic relations, compositional idioms, non compositional idioms

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