Gestures improve language learning

January 5, 2012 by Deborah Braconnier report

(Medical Xpress) -- Learning a new language usually requires written and spoken instructions but a new study shows that the use of word-specific gestures may aid in the learning process and help students better retain new words.

Led by Manuela Macedonia and Thomas Knosche from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and in Leipzig, Germany, the study looked at 20 volunteers. These volunteers were enrolled in a six-day class to study an artificial language known as “Vimmi.”

The use of an artificial language gave no participant an advantage to already knowing a language and made the study results easier to interpret.

The group of volunteers was broken down into two groups. The first group received traditional written and spoken instruction and participated in language exercises. The other group was taught specific body movements that went along with each individual word of the Vimmi language.

Results of the study showed that the participants in the group that were taught gestures were able to remember a significantly larger amount of words than those taught using traditional methods. In addition, these participants were more able to use the words freely in creating sentences.

While many of the words used gestures similar to their meaning (such as a cutting gesture for the word “cut”), the researchers found that the use of any gesture made a difference as long as it was unique and connected to a specific word. For example, the abstract word “rather” does not have an obvious gesture that would go with it. However, a gesture associated with this word also worked.

The researchers used fMRI scans to then argue that the use of and an enactment of the helped create a more complex representation of the word, thus making it easily retrievable from memory.

Macedonia suggests that these results could greatly improve the speed in which students are able to learn a foreign language in school.

Explore further: Bilingualism no big deal for brain, researcher finds

More information: Body in Mind: How Gestures Empower Foreign Language Learning, Mind, Brain, and Education, Volume 5, Issue 4, pages 196–211, December 2011. DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-228X.2011.01129.x

Abstract
It has previously been demonstrated that enactment (i.e., performing representative gestures during encoding) enhances memory for concrete words, in particular action words. Here, we investigate the impact of enactment on abstract word learning in a foreign language. We further ask if learning novel words with gestures facilitates sentence production. In a within-subjects paradigm, participants first learned 32 abstract sentences from an artificial corpus conforming with Italian phonotactics. Sixteen sentences were encoded audiovisually. Another set of 16 sentences was also encoded audiovisually, but, in addition, each single word was accompanied by a symbolic gesture. Participants were trained for 6 days. Memory performance was assessed daily using different tests. The overall results support the prediction that learners have better memory for words encoded with gestures. In a transfer test, participants produced new sentences with the words they had acquired. Items encoded through gestures were used more frequently, demonstrating their enhanced accessibility in memory. The results are interpreted in terms of embodied cognition. Implications for teaching and learning are suggested.

Related Stories

Bilingualism no big deal for brain, researcher finds

May 31, 2011
How do people who speak more than one language keep from mixing them up? How do they find the right word in the right language when being fluent in just one language means knowing about 30,000 words?

Chinese-English bilinguals are 'automatic' translators

August 2, 2011
New research into how the bilingual brain processes two very different languages has revealed that bilinguals' native language directly influences their comprehension of their second language.

Baby lab reveals surprisingly early gift of gab

December 9, 2011
From the moment they're born, babies are highly attuned to communicate and motivated to interact. And they're great listeners.

Study: Word sounds contain clues for language learners

September 13, 2011
(PhysOrg.com) -- Why do words sound the way they do? For over a century, it has been a central tenet of linguistic theory that there is a completely arbitrary relationship between how a word sounds and what it means.

Recommended for you

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

July 25, 2017
Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

Using money to buy time linked to increased happiness

July 24, 2017
New research is challenging the age-old adage that money can't buy happiness.

Exposure to violence hinders short-term memory, cognitive control

July 24, 2017
Being exposed to and actively remembering violent episodes—even those that happened up to a decade before—hinders short-term memory and cognitive control, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National ...

Researchers pave new path toward preventing obesity

July 24, 2017
People who experience unpredictable childhoods due to issues such as divorce, crime or frequent moves face a higher risk of becoming obese as adults, according to a new study by a Florida State University researcher.

Higher cognitive abilities linked to greater risk of stereotyping

July 24, 2017
People with higher cognitive abilities are more likely to learn and apply social stereotypes, finds a new study. The results, stemming from a series of experiments, show that those with higher cognitive abilities also more ...

Psychologists say our 'attachment style' applies to social networks like Facebook

July 24, 2017
A new investigation appearing this week in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests a strong association between a person's attachment style—how avoidant or anxious people are in their close relationships—and ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.