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The effect of idioms on children's reading and understanding of prose Edwards, Peter

Abstract

A survey of related literature showed that, although many educational researchers have stressed the importance of idioms in the English language, very few experimental studies have been carried out to ascertain the role played by idioms in the reading process. The author conducted a study to determine whether idioms cause difficulty for children in the reading and understanding of prose. A pilot study was performed to facilitate the selection of test items and to establish testing procedures. The experimental study consisted of four randomly chosen groups in each of two schools. Randomly assigned children in each group were given one of the four reading tests as follows: Non Literal 1 (N.L. 1), which contained idioms in all eighteen test items; Non Literal 2 (N.L. 2), which contained idioms in twelve of the eighteen test items; Non Literal 3 (N.L. 3), which contained idioms in six of the eighteen test items; Literal, which did not contain idioms in any of the eighteen test items. The children read their assigned test and answered comprehension questions by selecting one of the four multiple choice alternatives for each test item. The following statistical results were obtained: the treatment effect was highly significant; the means increased steadily, with the highest scores associated with the Literal test and the lowest scores associated with Non Literal 1 test. There was no significant difference between the performance of girls and boys in the tests; there was no linear or curvilinear interaction with I.Q. and treatment, nor was there a sex by treatment interaction. An analysis of the four treatment groups showed that there were significant differences between the means of all groups except Non Literal 1 and Non Literal 2, the two groups containing the greatest number of idioms in the test items. The results of the study raised several implications which necessitate further research. Several questions are concerned with the incidence and type of idiomatic language used in books and the best method of teaching idioms to school children. Another raises the possibility of having to allow for idioms when compiling readability formulae. A further implication is that there may be a need for strictly literal reading materials which would serve as a transitional link between the multiplicity of dialects existing in society today, and the need to read and understand written Standard English.

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