Sunday, March 10, 2013

Gesture enhances foreign language (pronunciation) learning

The first question I often get after a presentation is something like, "So what is the evidence that systematic use of gesture (or pedagogical movement patterns, as we call them) can enhance pronunciation?" It is around, to be sure, but--outside of our personal experience and action-research-based studies--it takes about four or five minutes to orally cover the background from half a dozen other disciplines that makes the approach as compelling as it is. Here is a readable,  2012 article, by Macedonia and Kriegstein, published in Biolinguistics (one of my favorite, "newer" sources) that does a decent job of summarizing the research literature on the question as it relates to language learning in general and acquisition of lexical material, not pronunciation specifically. It'll get you close, however.

Love the last line of the abstract: "Thus, we propose the use of gesture as a facilitating educational tool that integrates body and mind."

I know that is perilously close to making the "Well . . . duh" file, but what is worth noting about this research summary is that, coming from two "bio-linguists," (not pedagogical apologists),  it brings together an impressive number of studies from related fields to reach that conclusion. (I'll probably use this reference in the future for those that need to get up to speed on what HICP(R) is about. Constructing that kind of case for haptic-integrated pronunciation teaching--until the empirical studies are in later--represents the essence of theory and method development not only in our work but in applied linguistics generally.

They conclude their summary as follows, "Nevertheless, controlled laboratory research is lacking and is needed in order to collect empirical evidence for the use of gestures in these language domains." (E.g., syntax, morphology, pronunciation.) That is where we typically  part company with the biologists, on the way to the lab, but their point is well taken. Probably half the blogposts here take on the same form, of arguing from basic research frameworks in "neuro- and physio-" sciences, not from "hard evidence" . . . yet.
Clip art: Clker

Nice piece, nonetheless. "Hat tip" to M & K. (One of my favorite haptic gestures here, BTW!)

Macedonia, M & K. Kriegstein, Gestures enhance foreign language learning. Biolinguistics 6.3–4: 393–416, 2012 -

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