Figurative Language for ESL teachers
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As a trainee or novice ESL teacher, you might not have given much thought to figurative language. In fact, a few of you may not really know what is meant by this term: this might be especially true for those coming into ESL teaching from non-humanities based disciplines or professions.
The purpose of this short article is to define some important types of figurative language which you should be familiar with for the purpose of ESL teaching: if your ESL students are to develop fluency, you will have to ensure that they can recognize and understand figurative language – which may be defined as follows: “Figurative language is a language that uses words or expressions with a meaning that is different from the literal interpretation.” Figurative Language – YourDictionary.
Here are eight important types of figurative language (definitions source http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/ ):
A cliché is “A phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought,” e.g. ‘a woman’s place is in the home’, ‘to get under someone’s skin’. A euphemism is “A mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing,” e.g. ‘I’m going to have to let you go’; ‘He passed away last year’. An idiom is “A group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words,” e.g. ‘over the moon, ‘let the cat out of the bag’. Idiomatic speech is one of the most difficult aspects of language learning that students have to deal with.
A metaphor is “A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable,” e.g. ‘feel blue’, ‘broken heart’ Onomatopoeia is “The formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named,” e.g. ‘rockets whoosh’, ‘sausages sizzle’. A personification is “The attribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something non-human, or the representation of an abstract quality in human form,” e.g. ‘His life passed him by’; ‘The fire was running wildly through the forest’.
Personification is often encountered in poetry. A pun is “A joke exploiting the different possible meanings of a word or the fact that there are words which sound alike but have different meanings,” e.g. “A horse is a very stable animal”; “Do hotel managers get bored with their jobs?” A simile is “A figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid,” e.g. ‘as timid as a mouse, ‘she swims like a fish. ‘Like and ‘as’ are often used with similes.
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LAST UPDATED: 27th August 2021
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