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This study examines whether higher-proficiency learners of English as a foreign language (EFL) produce expository writing that exhibits a greater density of metaphorically used words and expressions than what is found in texts produced by lower-proficiency peers. A comparison was made between essays written by 257 undergraduate English majors at three different year levels at a university in Viet Nam. The proportion of metaphorical language making up these essays was indeed found to be positively related to the students’ year levels and also to the grades awarded to the essays by independent assessors. A closer inspection of the data revealed that this positive association between proficiency and quantity of metaphorical expressions held true exclusively for grammatically correct instances of metaphorical language. The findings suggests that learners stand to gain considerably—in terms of perceived writing proficiency—from using words in their non-basic senses, as long as this use is also grammatically target-like.
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