Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Language, Education, Humanities, and Innovation 2017

Figurative Language Proficiency among Second Language Learners: The Effect of Malay-English Degree of Similarity

Nurul Atiqah Abd. Hamid, Nurul Bazilah Abd. Hamid

MARA University of Technology, Malaysia


This study was designed to look at influences on the mastery of targeted figurative language among second language learners while anticipating their difficulties. English non-literal phrases translated into Malay by Malaysian learners of English were examined, taking into account familiarity factors, in order to ascertain how different levels of users could understand and produce abstract phrases in the English language. Figurative language tests were conducted to assess 41 Malay-speaking tertiary learners of intermediate and advanced levels of English. Half of the number was of authentic participants of the second language environment. It was discovered that figurative phrases that contain equivalent conceptual bases and linguistic forms were the simplest to interpret, while the most difficult were those with (1) equivalent linguistic forms yet different conceptual bases and (2) different surface forms and conceptual bases. From the findings, there is some evidence that the learners may commit negative transfer when processing unknown or unfamiliar English figurative language. Besides, Malaysian learners were able to comprehend more abstract phrases than they produced as contextual clues play a major role in assisting the learners’ interpretations. However, the findings differ between the two groups with different levels of proficiency. The implications of these findings are that teachers need to pay more attention to introducing figurative expressions in English classrooms. This study highlighted the low standard of non-literal language proficiency among Malaysian learners. However, the actual effects of using figurative language in classroom instructions in the Malaysian context require further study.


Figurative Language, Linguistics, English as a Second Language, Language Transfer, Second Language Acquisition, Sociolinguistics, Bilingualism

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