Effect of metaphor awareness on L2 vocabulary learning and retention

Huichen S. Hsiao*, On Kei Leong

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The goal of this study is to investigate the effect of metaphor awareness on vocabulary learning and retention by exploring ten business-related words along with the conceptual metaphor "BUSINESS IS WAR". Previous studies indicate that metaphor-guided teaching or explanations have positive effects on either long-term or short-term vocabulary learning (i.e. Boers 2000b; Guo 2007). However, some results show that the increase of metaphor awareness is not effective in phrasal comprehension (Boers 2000a; Condon 2008) or in students' new-learned vocabulary regarding mapping principles (Beréndi et al. 2008). These studies are mostly concerned with English, while few studies delve into learning Chinese as a second language in terms of vocabulary learning. Therefore, this study is set out to fill up the gap. Participants in this study were thirty-one Japanese CSL learners (intermediate level or above), who were divided into two groups and guided to learn ten war-related business target words (including six primary target verbs, e.g. kaida "to start a battle", four secondary target nouns, e.g. zhangchang "battlefield", and five fillers). The experimental group learned the target words through visual aids of metaphorical mapping, showing the connection between the Source Domain (BUSINESS) and the Target Domain (WAR), whereas the control group used the traditional method (meaning-giving method) to learn. Aside from the pre-test, the two groups engaged in a posttest and a delayed-posttest after instructing learning stage. Both tests include the multiple choice, cloze test and reading comprehension, aiming at investigating the vocabulary learning effect and retention of two different groups. The results showed that: (1) The experimental group performed significantly better than the controls in the vocabulary task (blank-filling and multiple choice) in the posttest (M=8.34 vs. 7.57, SD=0.98 vs. 1.12, t(29)=2.07, p=0.024). Moreover, the experimental group overall significantly outperformed the control group in the delayed-posttest (M=8.53 vs. 7.50, SD=0.90 vs. 1.59, t(29)=2.24, p=0.017); (2) In the posttest, the experimental group performed better in the comprehension task, the difference between the two groups was significant (M=7.19vs. 6.40, SD=0.83 vs. 1.45, t(29)=1.87, p=0.036); (3) Though there was no significant difference between the two groups in the performance of unexplored metaphorical nouns, the experimental group overall were better in the performance of metaphorical verbs (M=5.00 vs. 4.30, SD=0.58 vs. 0.82, t(29)=2.76, p=0.01). Overall, the preliminary results indicated that the effect of metaphor awareness on understanding new words was not obvious, but it is effective facilitation for the vocabulary learning, reading comprehension and retention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-170
Number of pages30
JournalChinese as a Second Language Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Apr 25


  • Chinese business vocabulary
  • conceptual metaphor
  • metaphor awareness
  • vocabulary learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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