Cash Flow and Budding Economies – teaching metaphors Business English lives by
Since LAKOFF/JOHNSON’S significant breakthrough in metaphor theory in 1980, cognitive linguists have provided conclusive empirical evidence for the key idea that metaphors are a natural phenomenon and thus are pervasive in language. “Metaphorical thought is normal and ubiquitous in our mental life, both conscious and unconscious.”(LAKOFF/JOHNSON 2003 Afterword) In fact, especially the unconscious, involuntary usage of metaphor predominates communication. Yet, as the coding and decoding of metaphors is influenced by cultural presuppositions, metaphorical expressions are culture-specific: the choice of source domains as well as the scope of metaphorical concepts varies from culture to culture. Indeed, metaphorical expressions constitute a principal source of misunderstanding in intercultural communication. Limiting misunderstanding by raising metaphor awareness is, therefore, crucial especially in international business communication, where lack of understanding may have dire consequences.
After more than two decades of theoretical analysis of the conceptual nature of metaphors, linguists are challenged to apply the findings, for example in language teaching. After all, the long persistent fallacy to believe that metaphors are arbitrary, lengthy lexical units of speech has been eliminated. In fact, metaphorical expressions are not only motivated individually but constitute whole concepts that map structures or parts of structure from one domain to another. This cognitive semantic proposal carries the potential of alternative learning and consequently innovative teaching strategies in the foreign language classroom (BOERS 2004). Memorizing large chunks of words and learning their meaning by heart has proved to be an ineffective technique. On the contrary, teaching new metaphorical expressions by giving insights into their cognitive motivation, that is making metaphorical concepts explicit, results in active learning that is more successful (RADDEN 1997). Furthermore, detecting the meaning of and eventually the concepts behind metaphors, learners devote more attention to the individual words and concepts and consequently, they integrate the new vocabulary into a web of already existing concepts. In the long run, this way of learning metaphors will involve the formation of multiple new neural connections (LAKOFF/JOHNSON’S 2003 Afterword) and metaphors will thus be easier and quicker retrieved from our memory. Enhanced metaphor awareness may therefore be a valuable vehicle for vocabulary acquistion as well as vocabulary retention (BOERS, 2000).
My contribution focusses on the teaching and learning of metaphors in German Business English courses. In summer term 2006 a group of Business English course participants in the Bachelor of Information Management programme will be encouraged to invest cognitive effort in metaphor decoding. The theoretical knowledge about the centrality of metaphors in language in general, thus the identification of metaphors as potential sources of misunderstanding in intercultural communication, as well as the role of metaphors as a means of political manipulation in the socio-economic discourse, and the resulting need for metaphor awareness shall be made explicit in this language teaching to future managers. Applying cognitive metaphor theory to language teaching, I will try to set out didactic guidelines concerning the teaching of metaphor awareness and give insights into the chances and problems arising from a metaphor-oriented teaching strategy.
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BOERS, Frank (2004): “Expanding Learner’s Vocabulary Through Metaphor Awareness.” In: Achard, Michel und Susanne Niemeier (eds.) Cognitive Linguistics, Second Language Aquisition, and Foreign Language Teaching. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 211-232.
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RADDEN, Günter (1997): “Konzeptuelle Metaphern in der kognitiven Semantik.” In: Börner, Wolfgang und Klaus Vogel (eds.) Kognitive Linguistik und Fremdsprachenerwerb: das mentale Lexikon. Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 67-87.