The Learning of Phrasal Verbs among Malaysian ESL Learners: A Sign-Oriented Approach

  • Radika Subramaniam Politeknik Sultan Idris Shah


Phrasal verbs have been identified as one of the most challenging linguistic items to be mastered by EFL and ESL learners. Previous studies in cognitive linguistics have illustrated that not only literal expression but each idiomatic expression of phrasal verbs is also analysable to certain extent, through its individual word analysis which contributes to the figurative meaning as a whole. This study aims to see if the exposure to the core meanings of the individual items that make up a phrasal verb (i.e. verb and particle) helps Malaysian learners to use phrasal verbs appropriately in English writings. There were two groups of students involved in this study. Each group (i.e., experimental and control) consisted of fifteen students. The experimental group was given semantic-based explicit (verbs and particles in phrasal verbs) instruction whereas the control group was engaged into traditional instruction by providing the meanings of the phrasal verbs extracted from the Oxford Phrasal Verbs Dictionary.  Students were instructed to write an essay during pre-test and post-test to see the improvement on the taught phrasal verb items. These students were also tested on novel phrasal verb items (i.e. different combinations of verbs and particles) which were not taught, before and after treatment to see if the instruction yields significant results. The inferential analyses through paired samples t-test and independent samples t-test for the taught items indicate that although both groups performed significantly better in post-tests compared to pre-tests, the experimental group which received the semantic-based explicit (verbs and particles in phrasal verbs) instruction outperformed (significantly) the control group which received traditional instruction. This suggests that the explicit exposure to the invariant meaning (which comprises conceptual metaphor) of individual signs that makes up phrasal verbs helps learners to assimilate the meanings to interpret the messages conveyed by the phrasal verbs as a whole, in all contexts. The results of this study support the sign-oriented approach where each linguistic item is perceived as a sign which carries a vague (unchanged) meaning which motivates the distribution of messages in every context of its occurrences (i.e. a sign is extended metaphorically from concrete ‘spatial’ messages to the more abstract realm of ‘temporal’ to the even more abstract realm of ‘existential’ message).

How to Cite
SUBRAMANIAM, Radika. The Learning of Phrasal Verbs among Malaysian ESL Learners: A Sign-Oriented Approach. Politeknik & Kolej Komuniti Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities, [S.l.], v. 2, n. 1, p. 82-100, nov. 2017. ISSN 0128-2875. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 30 may 2024.