Teaching English Polysemous Words to Iranian EFL Learners: Underlying Meaning Approach and Sense Selection in Comparison

Document Type : Research Paper


Shiraz University, Shiraz, Iran


The primary goal of this experimental research was to replicate Nakahara's (2005) experiment on Iranian learners' acquisition of polysemous words, and to see whether the underlying meaning approach is an effective strategy to teach polysemous words to low proficiency learners or not. The participants were 46 female first grade students with the age range of 14 to 15 studying in two intact classes of the same high school instructed by the same teacher (researcher). To achieve the research objective, the participants were taught 40 polysemous words using two distinct approaches: one traditional sense selection approach, and the other more modern reference specification approach through the presentation of the underlying  meaning. To analyze the collected data, t- test was used. Results of the analysis indicated that the application of underlying meaning approach was more beneficial to Iranian learners than the traditional alternative; that is sense selection approach. The study ends with the pedagogical implications of this principled approach for teaching polysemous words that both EFL teachers in teaching and learners in learning have difficulty with.