Study: Gestures help language learning

Jan. 3, 2012 at 7:55 PM

LEIPZIG, Germany, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- People learn a new language more easily when words are accompanied by movement or gestures, European researchers say.

Twenty volunteers took part in a six-day course at Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, to learn "Vimmi," an artificial language designed to make study results easier to interpret, NewScientist.com reported Tuesday.

Half of the material presented was taught using spoken and written instructions and exercises. The other half was taught with body movements to accompany each word, which the students were asked to act out.

Researchers Manuela Macedonia and Thomas Knosche said participants recalled significantly more of the words taught with movement, and used them more readily when creating new sentences.

The researchers said this was true not only for words that have an intuitive physical counterpart, like "cut," but also with abstract words like "rather" that have no obvious gestural equivalent.

Macedonia and Knosche say they believe gestural enactment helps memory by creating a more complex representation of the word that makes it more easily retrieved.

The method "could really speed up foreign language learning in schools," Macedonia said.

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