figure cats and dogs

Anyone who has learned a foreign language knows that some words are more difficult to master than others. This seems to be particularly true for words with multiple meanings, and specifically words that can be used metaphorically.

But why? Metaphoric expressions vary greatly across languages, and they are often soaked in cultural habits and beliefs. For example, while English lovers have ‘butterflies in their stomach’ Chinese ones have ‘a little deer jumping in their heart’.

Moreover, while some of these expressions trigger images that can help the learners understand the metaphorical meaning, others are less imagistic, and seem to have no rational explanation: alarms go off when they actually go on, and houses burn up as they burn down!

The following questions arise: What do metaphoric expressions reveal about the underlying language and related culture? What types of difficulty do foreign learners have when they encounter such expressions? How can these metaphors be taught effectively?

These questions will be explored in a discussion with Professor Jeannette Littlemore and Dr Linda Fisher (chaired by Dr Marianna Bolognesi).

Professor Jeannette Littlemore is Professor of English Language and Applied Linguistics at the University of Birmingham and Head of Research for the English Language and Applied Linguistics department. She is a founding member of the International Association ‘Researching and Applying Metaphor’, and a member of the ‘Everyday Creativity, New Media and Multimodality’ research group. Her research focuses on the acquisition and use of metaphor and other types of figurative language by second language learners. 

Dr Linda Fisher is Senior Lecturer in Education at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. Her current research interests are in multilingualism, multilingual identity, metaphor in relation to belief schemata, second language teacher education, motivation, and the academic and social integration of English as an Additional Language. She is Co-Investigator in two AHRC large grants: MEITS Multilingualism Empowering Individuals Transforming Societies and Creative Multilingualism.

The event is free and open to the public.

We’ll provide food for thought as well as food for lunch.

To participate, please register on Eventbrite, at this link:

Creative Multilingualism

Contact name: Marianna Bolognesi

Contact email:

Audience: Open to all