Wissenschaftlicher Sammelband, herausgegeben von Thomas Tinnefeld - unter Mitarbeit von Christoph Bürgel, Ines-Andrea Busch-Lauer, Frank Kostrzewa, Michael Langner, Heinz-Helmut Lüger, Dirk Siepmann. Saarbrücken: htw saar 2014. ISBN 978-3-942949-05-7.
Idiomatic Expressions for the Foreign Language Learner?

Günter Schmale (Metz, France)

Abstract (English)
Given the strong presence of all types of formulaic language in communication, it is not surprising that the question of whether and which types of phrasemes should be part of systematic foreign language teaching evokes intensive discussion within phraseodidactics. While some researchers favour an unrestricted approach to the teaching of all types of phrasemes, others adopt a more differentiated view. In the present paper a distinction is drawn between formulaic expressions which should be acquired by the foreign language learner for both productive and receptive competence (routine formulae, collocations, sequential “frames”) from those prefabricated constructions which should be excluded from any systematic language teaching, i.e. idiomatic expressions based on metaphors or strong pictorial elements. Six basic arguments are developed to justify the exclusion of idioms from systematic foreign language teaching: the lack of an empirical basis, complex conditions of use and connotations, the discrepancy between the learner’s general language level and the stylistic level of idioms, metaphorical and / or pictorial expressions as “culturemes”, the conversational treatment of pictorial constructions by native speakers, and the elimination of constructions with an irregular syntactic and / or semantic structure.
Key words: Formulaic constructions, idiomatic expressions, phraseodidactics, FL learning

Abstract (Deutsch)
Angesichts der Omnipräsenz vorgeformter Konstruktionen in der Kommunikation ist es kaum überraschend, dass innerhalb der Phraseodidaktik intensiv die Auswahl und Vermittlung von Phrasemen im Fremdsprachenerwerb diskutiert wird, wobei absolute Befürworter eher differenzierten Positionen gegenüberstehen. Im vorliegenden Beitrag wird zwischen zu vermittelnden Phrasemtypen, sowohl was aktive als auch passive Fremdsprachenkompetenz angeht (Routineformeln, Kollokationen, Sequenzmuster), unterschieden und solchen, die von gezielter Vermittlung im Hinblick auf die gezielte Herausbildung produktiver Sprachkompetenz ausgeschlos-sen bleiben sollen. Bei letzteren handelt es sich insbesondere um idiomatische Ausdrücke mit metaphorischem und / oder bildstarkem Charakter. Sechs Argumente werden entwickelt – die fehlende empirische Basis, multiple Verwendungsbedingungen und Konnotationen, die Diskrepanz zwischen allgemeinem Lernerniveau und stilistischem Niveau von Idiomen, bildstarke Ausdrücke als „Kultureme“, die konversationelle Behandlung von Idiomen durch Muttersprachler, der Ausschluss vorgeformter Konstruktionen mit unregelmäßiger syntaktischer und / oder semantischer Struktur –, um die strikte Ablehnung gezielter Vermittlung bildstarker Idiome im Fremdsprachenunterricht zu begründen.
Stichwörter: Vorgeformte Konstruktionen, idiomatische Ausdrücke, Phraseodidaktik, FS-Erwerb

1 The (Omni)Presence of Formulaic Elements in Speech

Insight into the strong presence of prefabricated forms of language is by no means recent. As early as 1872, Michel Bréal pointed to the existence of locutions toutes faites (Bréal 1872: 54; quoted from Lüger 2012: 86), while Hermann Paul affirmed “Erst wo Sprechen und Verstehen auf Reproduktion besteht, ist Sprache da”1 (Paul 1880). Sapir (1921) mentioned “compounded elements”, Jespersen (1924) “formulae”, and Firth (1937) “collocations” (cf. also Bally’s 1909 “groupements usuels”, Saussure’s 1916 “locutions toutes faites”, Porzig’s 1934 “wesenhafte Bedeutungsbeziehungen”, and Coseriu’s 1967 “lexikalische Solidaritäten”). Bolinger observed that language “provides us with an incredibly large number of prefabs” (Bolinger 1976: 1), Mel’čuk asserted that “people speak in phrasemes” (Mel’čuk 1998), and Mejri that “frozenness is inherent in all language” (cf. Mejri (2007).
Gasparov even goes as far as alleging:
Whatever we say or perceive in speech is made from other facts of speech, which we recognize more or less as being present in our previous experience and being set in our memory. (Gasparov (2004: 46)
Totally opposed to Gasparov’s categorical point of view, Pinker claimed that
Virtually every sentence that a person utters or understands is a brand new combination of words, appearing for the first time in the history of the universe. (Pinker 1994, quoted from Gasparov 2004: 45)
However, Pinker’s belief in systematically creative, and hence totally innovative, non-formulaic language production has been refuted by recent empirical studies on the frequency of formulaic elements in different types of speech exchange systems. Wray & Perkins for instance have found that a considerable amount of adult speech relies on formulaic constructions.
If we take formulaicity to encompass, as some do, also the enormous set of ‘simple’ lexical collocations, […], then possibly as much as 70% of our adult native language may be formulaic […]. A range of corpus studies […] have shown that the patterning of words and phrases in ordinary language manifests far less variability than could be predicted on the basis of grammar and lexicon alone, and in fact most natural language, written or spoken, appears to consist largely of collocational ‘sets’ or ‘frameworks’ […]. (Wray & Perkins 2000: 1-2)
Altenberg (1998) goes as far as estimating the presence of formulaic material in “normal language” at 80%, whereas Erman & Warren (2000) register 52% of formulaic expressions in written and 58% in oral language production. In a study of the screenplay of the film “Some like it hot”, van Lancker-Sidtis & Rallon discover that 25% of the “sentences” contain “speech formulas, idioms, proverbs and other formulaic expressions” (Lancker-Sidtis & Rallon 2004: 207).

Widdowson (1989) consequently states that communicative competence:
[…] is not a matter of knowing rules for the composition of sentences and being able to employ such rules to assemble expressions from scratch as and when occasion requires. It is much more a matter of knowing a stock of partially pre-assembled patterns, formulaic frameworks, and a kit of rules, so to speak, and being able to apply the rules to make whatever adjustments are necessary according to contextual demands. (Widdowson 1989: 135)
Given the widely established knowledge of the existence and frequency of use pertaining to prefabricated language, it is hardly surprising that foreign language pedagogy in general and phraseodidactics in particular is concerned with the role of formulaic language and the question concerning the extent to which phraseological competence should be developed. Two approaches can be distinguished: one in favour of the teaching of formulaic expressions without any reserve, the other one adopting a more nuanced perspective.
Jesenšek (2006) takes an undifferentiated stance towards the teaching of phraseological expressions:
Im Folgenden wird die Auffassung vertreten, dass der Phraseologie im gesamten Sprachunterricht von Anfang an ein fester Platz einzuräumen ist […]. So ist eine systematische Förderung der (passiven und aktiven) phraseologischen Kompetenz bei Sprachenlernern notwendig, um einigen deklarierten Zielen des Fremdsprachenunterrichts gerecht zu werden, u.a. dem kommunikationsorientierten Ansatz im Fremdsprachenunterricht (…). (Jesenšek 2006: 138)
Jesenšek, as well as Sajankova (2005), neither distinguishes different types of phrasemes, nor active or passive phraseological competence while dealing with a communicative approach to foreign language teaching.

On the other hand, far more nuanced attitudes towards the FL-teaching of phraseological expressions have been developed within the phraseodidactics paradigm, differentiating between different types of phrasemes, and, in particular, between active and passive knowledge of the latter. Both Hessky (1997) and Lüger (1997) are in favour of the acquisition of phraseological expressions from the periphery of the formulaic domain, i.e. of collocations and routine formulae, occupying important communicative functions (cf. also Schmale 2009, 2012a, 2012b). As for Ettinger (2007; cf. also 2013), he advocates the teaching of phrasemes to advanced learners:
Phraseme sollten eher im Fremdsprachenunterricht für Fortgeschrittene gelernt werden, d.h. an der Universität, und weniger im gymnasialen Fremdsprachenunterricht. Phraseme sollten in erster Linie passiv beherrscht und nur mit starken Einschränkungen auch aktiv verwendet werden. (Ettinger 2007: 896)
What is more, Ettinger recommends passive knowledge of phrasemes and warns against their active use2.

In order to be able to discuss which phraseological expressions should be acquired by the foreign language learner for active or passive FL-competence, we will first of all define and delimit different types of formulaic expressions (FEs) (Section 2). On this basis, we will then draw up a list of which FEs belong in the foreign language classroom and which do not (Section 3), proposing arguments against the teaching of certain types of FE to foreign language learners (Section 4). Section 5 will be dedicated to the presentation of methodological principles for the treatment of FEs in the foreign language classroom.

2 Formulaic Language – Definition and Forms

Bearing in mind that there is a great number of different categories and classifications pertaining to phraselogical, prefabricated or formulaic language, the present study will be based on Burger, Buhofer & Sialm’s (1982) and Burger’s (2010) widely used classes and typology of phraseological expressions. The authors distinguish three basic types of phraseological expressions which have to be (a) polylexical3 and, to some extent, (b) stable or fixed, and which may have (c) non-compositional semantics. This implies that every single phraseme is characterized by criterion (a) and (b), but that only a restricted class, i.e. idiomatic expressions (cf. infra), is additionally marked by criterion (c):
  • structural phrasemes serving the creation of syntactic relations, e.g. either – or, ou – ou, entweder – oder; as well as, et – et, sowohl als auch;
  • communicative phrasemes implementing speech acts in stereotyped communicative situations, such as good morning, bonjour, Guten Morgen; thank you, merci, danke;
  • referential phrasemes which refer to objects or states of affairs of the world (cf. infra for different types).

Knowing that Coulmas (1981) distinguishes between numerous types of routine formulae, we will concentrate on the category of referential phrasemes as developed in Burger (2010), which is highly relevant for the purpose of the present paper. In fact, Burger differentiates nominative phrasemes having a syntagmatic structure from propositional phrasemes which possess sentence or even textual value. Propositional phrasemes cover proverbs (All that glitters is not gold, Tout ce qui brille n’est pas or, Es ist nicht alles Gold, was glänzt), commonplaces (You only live once, On ne vit qu’une fois, Man lebt nur einmal) as well as fixed phrases containing an exophoric deictic element (That’s the last straw, C’est la goutte d’eau qui fait déborder le vase, Das schlägt dem Fass den Boden aus). Nominative phrasemes are divided into three sub-categories:
  • (totally) idiomatic phraseological expressions or idioms, such as push the daisies, manger les pissenlits par la racine, sich die Radieschen von unten betrachten;
  • partially idiomatic phraseological expressions or partial idioms (“Teil-Idiome”), for instance as thick as two short planks, con comme la lune, dumm wie Bohnenstroh;
  • collocations whose meaning is semantically compositional, at least as far as their decoding is concerned, e.g. brush one’s teeth, se laver les dents, sich die Zähne putzen.

3 Prefabricated Language in the Foreign Language Classroom

Following the classification of formulaic expressions established in the previous section, we will now discuss which types of prefabricated language should be deliberately taught to the foreign language learner and which ones should be excluded from systematic teaching and learning.

3.1 Formulaic Expressions Essential for the Foreign Language Learner
The following types of formulaic language are necessarily part of foreign language teaching and learning as they cannot be replaced by non-formulaic expressions:
  • Routine formulae or communicative phrasemes apart from those which may not be appropriate to the learners’ age or their social status as they might imply a ‘position haute’, for instance Would you be so kind as to…, Auriez-vous la gentillesse de…, Seien Sie bitte so freundlich und…; how do you do, enchanté, Angenehm!.
  • Collocations of all types, representing preferred conventionalized ways of expressing activities, states of affairs and so forth, especially as they are idiomatic from the encoding perspective, as mentioned above: make / give / deliver a speech, faire / tenir / proposer un discours, eine Rede halten; take an exam, passer un examen, eine Prüfung machen.
  • Partial idioms without a non-phraseological equivalent, such as blinder Passa-gier (stowaway, passager clandestin), get on one’s nerves, taper sur les nerfs, auf die Nerven gehen.
  • Highly stereotyped sequential patterns which go beyond the simple turn-construction unit, organizing the treatment of specific communicative purposes within “frames”. These are composed of prefabricated constructions which are more or less lexically endowed, e.g. situations such as asking the way / asking for information, buying sth. in a shop or having a meal in a restaurant. Adjacency pairs such as hello – hello; thank you very much - you’re welcome; I’m sorry – that’s alright, consisting of two or more turns, also belong in this category. These “frames” equally exist by way of written textual models, for instance obituary notices, cookery recipes or curricula vitae (Gülich & Krafft 1997).
  • “Constructions”, be they “formal”, i.e. constituting a syntactic pattern, or ‘substantive’, i.e. lexically filled prefabricated structures (Fillmore et al. 1988). These encompass phraseological constructions of all kinds, but also, and this is why they are highly pertinent for language teaching, constructions characterized by both syntactically and semantico-lexically more or less stable constituents. Such constructions could be notions from the good old Threshold Level (van Ek & Trim 1998), but also – for German – syntactic patterns from Duden 4 (Drosdowski et al. 1984), i.e. 23 main-clause-models and 18 subordinate-clause-patterns, or the valency models in Helbig & Schenkel (1975), provided all of these constructions are being empirically revisited via a corpus-based approach. Schmale (2012a, 2012b) proposes describing grammatical phenomena which are particularly difficult for learners of German as a foreign language as constructions rather than by invoking abstract rules, for instance the use of the modals sollen and müssen. In fact, long-winded theoretical explanations are unsuccessful as even speakers with a high proficiency level seem to produce inadequate structures that are likely to create confusion.

3.2 Formulaic Expressions Unsuitable for the Foreign Language Learner
Apart from routine formulae that are likely to imply the assumption of a “position haute” or collocations that are stylistically too strongly marked for the foreign language learner (be indebted to sb., être redevable de qc. à qn., jmdm. Dank für etwas schulden), we are convinced that it is mainly idiomatic expressions, both metaphoric and pictorial, that should be deliberately excluded from the foreign language classroom in non-authentic institutional contexts.4
Schmale (2013) distinguishes three types of semantic idiomaticity:
  • Idiomatic espressions that contain unique or archaic lexemes which "survive" within an idiomatic expression (IE) only, such as jemanden ins Bockshorn jagen (not be irritated, discouraged, frightened, misled) or many a mickle makes a muckle, go haywire or take potluck;
  • IEs that include pictorial elements or images which do not correspond to a concrete model, i.e. which are not metaphorical as there is no tertium comparationis between a logically reproducible source domain and an abstract target domain, thus no semantic basis whatsoever, e. g. sich die Radieschen von unten begucken, manger les pissenlits par la racine, both meaning push the daisies, i.e. be dead and buried;
  • IEs that involve figurative elements which do represent an abstract state of affairs via a concrete model, thus being metaphorical, such as das fünfte Rad am Wagen (be superfluous, literally: be the fifth wheel of the cart’), einen Schlussstrich ziehen (draw a line, wipe the slate clean), zweigleisig fahren (pursuing a two-fold strategy, literally: travel simultaneously on two tracks’) (Schmale 2013: 89-90).

Formulaic locutions marked by the criterion of idiomaticity are all types of - totally and partially - idiomatic expressions, be they of syntagmatic or utterance value, be they metaphorical or not, be they regularly constructed or not. The next section of the present paper will develop the motives for the didactic dismissal of these phraseological expressions.

4 Arguments against the Deliberate Teaching of Idioms to the
Foreign Language Learner

Foreign language classes should exclude idiomatic expressions from any systematic teaching for several reasons which will be developed in this section.

4.1 Lack of Empirical Basis for the Selection of Learner-Relevant IEs
First and foremost, it has to be stated that a reliable empirical description of forms and functions of frequently used IEs in general and of learner-relevant IEs in particular has not been carried out to this day. Even specialized dictionaries of phraseology, e.g. Duden 11 (1998) or Schemann (1993) for German, do not necessarily lemmatize forms of IEs effectively employed by language users as the study of authentic corpora reveals (Schmale 2013). In fact, only a minority of IEs used in naturally occurring conversation seem to correspond to the exact form lemmatized. Compilations of phraseological minima or optima (Hallsteinsdottir et al. 2006), on the other hand, do not refer to necessary large corpora of spoken or written language, either. They are in fact based on enquiries among native speakers as to what the latter claim to know or to use, in order to establish a context-free list of phrasemes (IEs and collocations) which are considered as desirable knowledge for the proficient language user (of German, in this case). However, even if the phrasemes of this list were in fact those very frequently used by natives, it still would not provide indications of conditions as well as co- and contexts of use which are absolutely indispensable for adequate use (Schmale 2009). Only corpus-based or, preferably, corpus-driven studies of naturally occurring conversations, permitting the description of all appropriate conditions of use and equally of relevant connotations (cf. infra), as well as functions of the phrasemes in question in specific contexts, can serve as a basis for the determination and description of learner-relevant formulaic language (Schmale 2012c, 2013; cf. also Steyer’s 2013 studies on multi-word patterns). In any case, no phraseme or IEs should ever be dealt with in the foreign language classroom in a context-free form, which by no means implies that one should try to contextualize IEs from existing lists nor - and even less so - deliberately select texts because they contain certain phrasemes.

4.2 Multitude of Conditions of Use and Connotations Pertaining to IEs
Apart from the fact that dictionaries do not systematically present IEs in their currently used form, the provision of a very limited number of generally context-free examples does not suffice to illustrate the conditions of use and connotations prerequisite to adequate utilization by foreign language learners. The detailed knowledge and mastery of these conditions, which are, in fact, constraints to be respected, is nevertheless a conditio sine qua non for the proficient use of IEs. Neither dictionaries nor lists of phrasemes can provide this information. And it is by no means obvious that a native speaker, even a fully qualified teacher, could invent situations of adequate usage off the cuff, let alone a description of all relevant conditions of use. In order to realize how difficult it is to describe situations and conditions of use for IEs realistically, the reader of the present paper might try to find off hand definitions for IEs such as sich aus dem Staube machen, auf der Stelle treten, in den Sternen stehen, am gleichen Strang ziehen, taken from the “Phraseologisches Optimum” (Hallsteinsdottir et al. 2006). What is more, even the treatment of an IE marked by a great number of connotations in a naturally occurring context will most likely not be sufficient to serve as a basis for its acquisition and future adequate use by the learner. In fact, it is not at all certain that a new communicative situation encountered by the learner will have exactly the same characteristics justifying the production of the same IE. Irrespective of the reasons treated in Sections 4.3 and 4.4 of this paper, which constitute a general obstacle to the use of any metaphorical or strongly pictorial idiom, even proficient learners are not likely to adequately master IEs which imply complex conditions of use (Finkbeiner 2008: 165ff, Kühn 1987, Lüger 1999).

Let us take the metaphor am gleichen Strang ziehen, meaning something like act in concert and define its connotations and the requirements of its correct use. Whereas the Duden Universalwörterbuch (2007) simply defines “an einem / am gleichen / an demselben S. ziehen (das gleiche Ziel verfolgen)“ (Duden Universalwörterbuch 2007: 1627), without providing a single example of its use, Duden 11 (1998) gives the definition “in der gleichen Lage sein und das gleiche Ziel verfolgen” for am gleichen / am selben Strang ziehen, quoting the following illustrative utterances:
Es hat keinen Sinn zu streiten; wir ziehen schließlich alle am gleichen Strang. … dass man bei der gemeinsamen Fahrt und Aussprache im Gefängniswagen eingesehen habe, wie viel besser es sei, am selben Strang zu ziehen (Mostar, Unschuldig 38). (Duden 11 1998: 696).
Schemann (1993) in Die deutschen Redensarten im Kontext provides the following explanation for am gleichen / an einem / (an demselben) Strang ziehen (ugs).:
Wenn wir am gleichen Strang ziehen, schaffen wir das natürlich! Aber wenn wir gegeneinander statt miteinander arbeiten, nicht zusammenhalten - uns auseinander dividieren lassen, wie das heute so schön heißt -, dann… . (Schemann 1993: 810)
The most complete lemma provided for the entries an einem Strang / am gleichen Strang ziehen is given in the online dictionary redensarten-index.de which comprises a definition and four examples:
Fig. 1: Redensarten-Index: Stichwort Strang5
This dictionary is also the only collection of phrasemes that indicates a prosodic specification, i.e. the accentuation of einem6, as well as indications concerning the origin of the metaphorical image of the expression. None of the four dictionaries, however, delivers reliable information for the productive use of this idiom; one might even doubt if Schemann’s “contextual” example facilitates effective understanding. The latter’s qualification of the IE as “ugs = umgangssprachlich” (colloquial) seems arguable, given its frequent use in journalistic and / or political language7. On the contrary, the IE’s stylistic level is rather high and could, thus, not be recommended for learners. Lexicographical information should also indicate the fact that pursuing the same goal, i.e. das gleiche Ziel verfolgen (supra: the Duden Universalwörterbuch definition of am gleichen Strang ziehen), does not necessarily imply that am gleichen Strang ziehen can be used. In fact, person A and B have to pursue the same goal “in concert” (cf. LEO for “Strang”), working together, not separately, in order to be able to use the IE in question. What is more, even if two people work together on a project trying to achieve a goal, one cannot necessarily employ am gleichen Strang ziehen, as the IE implies that this fact is remarkable, unattended or explicitly opposed to not working “in concert”. The dictionary definitions quoted here are therefore not only incomplete; they may also induce the user to an unacceptable use of the IE in question, by not providing all necessary lexicographical data. As a consequence, if even dictionaries compiled by qualified lexicographers do not include reliable information as to the use of IEs, these should definitely not be deliberately taught to learners. If, however, they “naturally” appear in texts or situations treated, learners should be discouraged from using them in their own language production (cf. supra).

It goes without saying that the use of IEs with well-known colloquial and especially vulgar connotations, particularly “appreciated” by foreign language learners, should carry a strong warning as (communicative) sanctions are likely to ensue. IEs such as go arse over tit, tomber sur le cul, auf den Arsch fallen, but also less vulgar phrasemes such as kick the bucket, avaler sa chique, ins Gras beißen, as instances of social relations and of the communicative situation need to be perfectly mastered in order to produce acceptable utterances.

Learners should equally be made aware of the fact that the presence of a lexeme in an IE in language A whose translation is used in an IE in language B does not necessarily imply equivalence of meaning of IEA and IEB. For instance, send someone off with a flea in his ear (criticize sb. severely), mettre la puce à l’oreille (inform sb. of a fact he ignores but which he should know), jemandem einen Floh ins Ohr setzen (put ideas into sb.’s head) all contain the lexeme flea / puce / Floh, but all these IEs have a mar-kedly different meaning. Particularly dangerous for the learner are IEs that have the same lexeme, e.g. cat / chat / Katze, and which share semantic contents without nevertheless being employed in the same contexts. Thus, whereas let the cat out of the bag and die Katze aus dem Sack lassen, i.e. reveal a fact that was kept a secret, generally share the same phraseological meaning and probably the same usage conditions, French donner sa langue au chat has a totally divergent meaning and use. Its producer does, as a matter of fact, not provide any information at all; he rather abandons his efforts to discover a hidden fact, often within a guessing game.

4.3 Discrepancy between the Degree of Learner Competence and the Stylistic
Level of IEs
One major obstacle to the use of IEs by foreign language learners resides in the discrepancy between the learner’s general proficiency level on the one hand and the (high) stylistic level attributed to idiomatic expressions on the other. As a matter of fact, foreign language production which is subject to phonetic, prosodic, syntactic, lexical or pragmatic shortcomings or inadequacies and which is a sign of little or even poorly developed proficiency, is hardly compatible with the use of complex idiomatic metaphors which would be a sign of a speaker’s high level of communicative competence. Indeed, a non-native speaker who still makes basic mistakes is highly unlikely to use metaphorical and / or pictorial idioms adequately. What is more, he may, at best, create a humoristic impression and be laughed at, but he may also be considered as someone wanting to show off linguistic competence that he does not really possess, gaining ironic or even unpleasant comments rather than praise, or even be faced with rejection.
Ettinger (2013) relates his personal experience as a student in Paris, deliberately employing idiomatic expressions in his French language production:
Aber ein starker teutonischer Akzent, ein recht bescheidenes Allgemeinvokabular und eine ziemlich unsichere Grammatik haben trotz phrasemreicher Ausdrucksbemühungen meine sprachlichen Erfolge auf der Pariser Bühne stark beeinträchtigt. Zumeist hatte ich den Eindruck, lächerlich zu wirken, … […] Ziemlich schnell wurde mir klar, dass der Phrasemgebrauch in einer Fremdsprache für einen Nichtmuttersprachler ein heikles Unterfangen darstellt, gewissermaßen ein zweischneidiges Schwert ist (…). (Ettinger 2013: 13)
Apart from the categories developed in Section 3.1 of the present paper, the foreign language learner should, even if he has attained advanced proficiency in the target language, refrain from resorting to idiomatic expressions in particular (Section 3.2), but also generally to any prefabricated constructions which correspond to a stylistic level that goes beyond the general functional language level of the speaker. Rather than saying he vanished into thin air (Er ist von der Bildfläche verschwunden. or Il a disparu de la circulation.), he should therefore employ he disappeared; or instead of it was a thorn in his flesh (Es war ihm ein Dorn im Auge. or C’était une épine dans le pied (pour lui)), it would be preferable to produce he disliked it or he did not appreciate it. Teaching this type of IEs to foreign language learners for productive purposes is therefore strongly advised against. Of course this does not exclude the explanation of such constructions when they emerge in naturally occurring situations or authentic texts - but: for decoding purposes only!

4.4 IEs as “Culturemes” Reserved for Native Speakers
The fact that native speakers do not welcome learners’ usages of metaphorical and / or highly pictorial IEs may also be due to the phenomenon that the former consider IEs as part of the “culturemes” (Poyatos 1976, Oksaar 1988) of their mother tongue. As opposed to “culturemes” representing culture-specific types of conversational behavior or activities, e.g. most routine formulae, which are expected and whose non-execution may be negatively sanctioned, the use of metaphorical or pictorial idioms by non-natives, be they highly proficient or not, may be rejected by native speakers of a given language. Dobrovol’skij & Lubimova (1993) actually point out:
Als Nichtmuttersprachler muss man sozusagen immer ein doppeltes Spiel spielen nach dem Prinzip: Ich fühle mich zwar in dieser Kultur wie zu Hause, bin mir aber ständig
darüber im Klaren, dass es sich für mich dabei um eine fremde Kultur handelt. (Dobrovol’skij & Lubimova 1993: 156)
Apart from the argument developed in Section 4.3 relating to insufficient proficiency, various reasons might be the origin of native speakers’ negative, ironical or critical reactions to the IE-usage of non-natives. Natives might not use a great number of metaphorical IEs themselves or not the ones chosen by non-native speakers and thus notice idiomatic speech as differing from their own habits. They may themselves not speak a foreign language or have a very limited command of one, which may entail an over-critical - or possibly jealous? - attitude towards non-native speakers of their own language who seem to - voluntarily - demonstrate their competence in the target language.

Long-standing personal observations on this subject, which, admittedly, cannot claim scientific status, provide some basis for the validity of our hypothesis, whereas reliable evidence via enquiries is almost impossible to obtain, metadiscursive comments in naturally occurring conversations are arduous to discover and necessitate the study of very vast corpora.

Let us mention, however, that Chinese foreign language learners still seem to be taught lists of IEs because of their high cultural status and argumentative status in Chinese culture. As Günthner (1991) states (cf. also Ettinger 2013: 22 on this issue):
The Chinese speakers (learners of German; GS) reveal a frequent use of proverbial sayings when asked to comment the social norms and values in the Chinese society. The quoting of this ‘little genre’ functions as backing for the speakers’ statements on Chinese norms and ethics. (Günthner 1991: 399)
This is obviously the reason why Chinese foreign language learners are being taught lists of formulaic constructions to this day:
I noticed that my Chinese colleagues were handing the Chinese students of German lists of German proverbs and set phrases; these were also tested in the German language examinations taken by the Chinese. (Günthner 1991: 415)
Günthner (1991) proves through conversation analyses of exolingual German conversations involving Chinese speakers that these frequently rely on such proverbs and set phrases. The fact that this conversational “behaviour” is in no way commented on by German native speakers does not necessarily invalidate our prior hypothesis on native appreciation of non-native use of formulaic language. In fact, speakers more often than not “normalize” communicative activities even though they might find them inadequate or even criticisable.

4.5 Conversational Treatment of IEs by Native Speakers
Analyses of conversations in different speech exchange systems reveal that native speakers treat idiomatic expressions in specific ways (Schmale 2012c, 2013), rephrasing or paraphrasing them, introducing them with metadiscursive formulae, producing concomitant nonverbal activities, word-playing with them, and so forth. To be precise, speakers do not treat any type of idiomatic expressions conversationally, but - almost systematically - those which are metaphorical and / or pictorial. Let us quote just one occurrence of a non-idiomatic auto-paraphrase of a - potentially - metaphorical idiom.

Nurse explaining the aim of the admission interviews.
01 K alle menschen sind verschieden; ne,
02 P ja;
03 K kann man nich alle eh eh so nehmen wie - (4.0)
04 K über einen kamm scheren;
'you can’t lump everyone together’
05 P nee im gegenteil; (2.0) ich [sage immer, man müsste‘] richtich;
06 K [man müsste alles indivi]duell‘
07 K man muss eigentlich auch jeden individuell beTREUen;
'in fact one should treat everyone individually'
(Walther 2005: 204-7; retranscribed following GAT conventions.)
In this sequence, patient K paraphrases his own metaphorical IE über einen Kamm scheren (lump everyone together)8 by the non-idiomatic paraphrase individuell betreuen. The conversation analyst has no means of deciding whether K does so intentionally, de facto, however, he delivers a transparent and understandable explanation of a potentially non-transparent IE with non-compositional semantics. Participants quite regularly resort to this type of non-idiomatic paraphrase of IEs, but they also use IEs to paraphrase non-idiomatic expressions or even another IE. Possible motives for the conversational treatment of or by IEs are developed in Schmale (2013). What is essential from a teaching perspective is that native speakers obviously do not produce certain types of IEs “on their own”, using them in specific conversational environments. In view of the conditions of use and connotations which are attached to IEs and which are extremely difficult to master for learners, the conversational treatment of IEs as in sequence (1) is a priori not at the disposal of non-natives. In any case, it is not recommended for them.

However, this by no means implies that those IEs remaining untreated, probably memorized and stored like simple lexemes by native speakers who might not notice their pictorial-metaphorical nature any more - e.g. sich pudelwohl fühlen (feel extremely comfortable / on top of the world); die Quittung für etwas erhalten (pay the price for sth.); über Leichen gehen (walk over corpses / stop at nothing) - should be taught to advanced foreign language learners. The arguments developed against the teaching of pictorial idioms (cf. supra), are indeed not invalidated by the fact that native speakers do not “adopt” certain types of IEs.

4.6 Exclusion of IEs Displaying an Irregular Structure
To complete our reflections as to why idioms should not be taught to foreign language learners, here is an argument against the teaching of idioms from the perspective of learning psychology:
Word-strings presented in a syllabus must, if they are to enable the learner to infer lexical patterns or grammatical rules, be semantically and grammatically regular. It follows that some formulaic sequences, namely those that are non-canonical, metaphorical or archaic, must be excluded. (Wray 2000: 482)
Even if Wray (2000) basically accords with the reasoning developed in this paper, she seems to believe that learners are able to infer lexical patterns and syntactic rules from regularly constructed formulaic word-strings. However, on the one hand, a great number of indispensable routine formulae or collocations are “non-canonical”, being syntactically elliptical (good day) or carrying an idiomatic footprint (brush one’s teeth). On the other hand, the majority of formulaic sequences are syntactically canonical, but not semantically, e.g. drop a brick (ins Fettnäpfchen treten, mettre les pieds dans le plat). According to Wray, both would therefore have to be excluded from foreign language teaching, which is inconceivable as far as the first category (i.e. pragmatic idioms and collocations) are concerned as they are conventional means of expressing specific contents. Formulaic sequences, be they polylexical or polyfactorial, should be learned as lexical entities, models, or constructions if knowledge of them is crucial for the foreign language learner and if they cannot be replaced by a non-idiomatic expression. It seems rather dangerous to incite learners to derive rules, syntactic or semantic ones, from prefabricated language strings that are subject to a great number of syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic constraints.

5 Didactic Principles for the Treatment of Naturally Occurring
Idioms in Foreign Language Teaching

It goes without saying that IEs cannot be definitely banned from all foreign language teaching. However, idioms designating states of affairs which can be “naturally” expressed non-idiomatically should at no stage be introduced deliberately for the reasons developed in Section 4. Only those naturally occurring in texts or communicative situations, not specifically designed for methodological purposes, should be dealt with, i.e. explained to the learner to enable him or her to decode them adequately. Encoding, i.e. the active production of metaphorical and / or pictorial idioms is not an objective of foreign language teaching at any point! Idiomatic expressions are strictly reserved to passive knowledge and competence!

Ettinger (2013) even goes as far as to talk of a deadly didactic sin to recommend active usage of idiomatic expressions to a foreign language learner:
Einem Nichtmuttersprachler den aktiven Gebrauch von Phrasemen zu empfehlen, stellt eine phraseodidaktische Todsünde dar, zumal viele dieser Phraseme selten verwendet wurden und bisweilen ausschließlich der gehobenen Sprache angehörten. (Ettinger 2013: 13)
This implies that IEs, if and when they occur, are treated in naturally occurring contexts, never in an isolated form, especially not by way of lists of phrasemes. This also implies that texts or situations are not artificially designed in order to consciously transmit certain idioms. And, of course, one does not deliberately select texts or situations because of the presence of specific IEs and, even less so, because of their abundance of idiomatic expressions. Texts presenting an accumulation of IEs should probably rather be avoided.

How about the presence of idioms in foreign language textbooks? A look at randomly chosen manuals from English, French and German used in France reveals that these contain a very limited number of idioms, which means that - contrary to what some experts in phraseodidactic research recommend - authors of teaching materials are very hesitant in including idiomatic expressions in their texts and dialogues.

As an example, we will quote the phrasemes present in the textbook for French as a foreign language Alter Ego 2 (Berthet 2006):9
  • collocations: décrocher un job, avoir droit à qc, faire preuve de qc, surmonter la peur, tenir bon, avoir le moral, se déplacer à pied, prendre conscience, avoir raison / tort, porter plainte contre qn, se faire prendre;
  • metaphorical idioms: garder au fond du cœur, ouvrir son cœur à qn, les feux de l’amour, le coup de foudre, la décharge électrique, être sur le dos de qn, marcher sur les pieds de qn, avoir le bras long, faire le pont, avoir un chat dans la gorge, avoir une bonne oreille;
  • idioms containing a non-metaphorical image: au fil du temps, casser les pieds à qn, perdre la tête, se faire prendre, avoir du culot, passer une nuit blanche, poser un lapin à qn;
  • idioms containing a non-productive lexeme: (jobs) à gogo;
  • partially idiomatic expressions: une panne de réveil, découvrir des horizons nouveaux, se meubler l’esprit, prendre un coup de vieux, pleuvoir des cordes, avoir une fièvre de cheval, aller droit au but, le complexe de la page blanche.
The number of idioms as defined in Section 2 is indeed extremely limited; the authors obviously haven taken care not to overburden their texts with IEs. As long as these are being reserved for the learner’s passive knowledge of the target language, there is nothing to say against their presence in naturally occurring communicative situations.

One final remark: rather than drawing up lists of frequently used formulaic expressions in order to teach unsuitable idiomatic expressions to foreign language learners, foreign language pedagogy in general and phraseodidactics in particular should concentrate on the study and description of “constructions” which may go far beyond what phraseological research has been dealing with so far: “constructions” that are far more useful for the learner and possess the capacity to render foreign language teaching and learning far more effective, maybe simply revolutionize it.

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1  Only where speaking and understanding are based on reproduction, will language come into existence. (our translation)
2  The Common European Framework’s attitude towards formulaic language, in spite of an otherwise systematic communicative approach, seems ambiguous: on the one hand creative “grammatical competence” is opposed to non-creative “memorizing and reproducing […] fixed formulae” (cf. CEFR 2001: 112-3), on the other hand, within the domain of “lexical competence”, different types of “fixed expressions”, “phrasal idioms” or “fixed collocations” are mentioned (id.: 110).
3  Cf. Schmale (2013) for a discussion of the criterion of polylexicality which he proposes to replace by polyfactoriality in order to cover phrasemes consisting of one lexeme only, e.g. routine formulae that are highly predictable and conventional in situations marked by specific “factors”.
4 Obviously, one could not stop a learner from picking up - and using - idiomatic expressions in a target-language context. The present paper does not deal with foreign language learning in naturally occurring situations at all.
5  http://www.redensarten-index.de/suche.php?suchbegriff=Strang&bool=relevanz&gawoe=
an&such-spalte[]=rart_ou&suchspalte[]=rart_varianten_ou; 18/10/2014.

6  Which could, however, be misleading as it is not einem alone that has to be stressed, but rather the complete noun phrase einem Strang that carries level stress.

7  E.g. the headline in Stuttgarter Zeitung of 27/07/2012: Frankreich und Deutschland wollen am gleichen Strang ziehen (http://www.stuttgarter-zeitung.de/inhalt.hollande-und-merkel-frankreich-und-deutschland-wollen-am-gleichen-strang-ziehen.936b612b-4651-474e-87ee-35af4525a 6b2. html; 18/102/2014).

8 This is metaphorical provided the addressee is able to establish a semantic relation between source and target domain, which obviously is the case in this sequence, considering that P immediately ratifies K’s turn (cf. l. 05). In this case K’s initial statement alle Menschen sind verschieden ('all people are different from one another') most certainly sets a semantic frame facilitating the subsequent interpretation of the idiomatic expression. Obviously, we proceed in conversational terms in order to decide whether an idiom is metaphorical or not – within the process of conversational management.

9  Routine formulae have not been collected, and collocations non-systematically. Many thanks to Ph.D. student Ms Ran Ji for providing this information.