Hold your horses! It’s a piece of cake! Analyzing the effect of idiomatic expressions on L2 learners’ evaluations of writers and texts in an ELF setting.

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Idiomatic expressions, such as have a go or out of the blue, belong to a special part of language. They are frequently used in everyday communication by native speakers; however, studies have shown that non-native speakers tend to have difficulty processing and understanding them (Cooper, 1999; Ellis, Simpson-Vlach & Maynard, 2008; Van Lancker Tidtis, 2003). When interlocutors do not share the same first language in intercultural communication and the business world, English is often used as a lingua franca (ELF). Nevertheless, idioms have not received a lot of attention in the research field of ELF, even though they could help non-native speakers to come across as more fluent and native-like (Boers, Eyckmans, Kappel, Stengers & Demecheleer, 2016; Thyab, 2016). Because of this research gap, the current study investigated whether the use of idiomatic expressions in written communication influenced the way non-native speakers of English evaluate the competence of the writer as well as the comprehensibility of the text in an ELF setting. Furthermore, we were interested in whether there was a difference in evaluation when the writer was supposedly a native or non-native English speaker. A between-subjects design experiment was performed in which 85 native speakers of Dutch were asked to evaluate four business related emails and their authors, containing idioms or their literal translations, signed with a native or non-native sounding name. Our results showed no significant difference between the evaluation of comprehensibility whether idioms were used or not. There was also no significant difference found for the evaluation of competence when idioms were used or not by either a native or non-native writer. The absence of significant results suggests that idioms do not have a significant influence on non-native speakers’ evaluation of writers. Ultimately, the lack of significant outcomes could indicate that there is no effect or that it was not successfully confirmed by this study. Further research is needed to clarify the issue.
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