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Reuniting the body and mind: how gesture empowers language learning

Speaker: Dr Manuela Macedonia, JKU, Linz





Word learning in a second language (L2) still occurs mainly through reading and listening activities. This is due to the link between L2 practice and the traditional philosophy of language, where words are symbols and language is considered to be an abstract phenomenon of the mind. However, a number of behavioral and neuroimaging studies have shown that accompanying words or phrases with gestures leads to better memory results. The effect of gesture on verbal memory has been called the enactment effect. In this talk, I review behavioral research on enactment for foreign language words and phrases. Then I move to the factors that have been addressed as contributing to this effect. In this context, I will be presenting fMRI studies showing word networks created through gestures during encoding and during retrieval. I embed the reviewed evidence in the theoretical framework of embodiment and address the issue that spoken language and gesture are two sides of the same coin. Finally, I argue that gestures accompanying novel words reinforce or create embodied representations of those words. I conclude by advocating the use of gesture in L2 learning as a tool that supports but also enhances memory compared to audio-visual learning.



Speaker (information from Dr Macedonia's informative website -


I was born in the  Aosta Valley and grew up in Saint Vincent, a small town in the mountains. After high school I studied general linguistics and German Philology at the University of Salzburg. After graduating, I began to think about methods of teaching foreign languages ​​to work and also taught my mother tongue, Italian, at the University of Linz. The sensorimotor learning of language and the game for the automation of morphology (endings) and syntax (sentence structure): From this theoretical and especially practical confrontation with foreign language teaching two main points were developed.

The sensorimotor learning was observed to have striking effects on memory. I then decided to write my dissertation with Professor Dr. Klimesch. My second supervisor was the linguist Prof. Dr. Krisch  (University of Salzburg). At the  Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig , I extended the topic of my PhD thesis in the group of  Professor Dr. Angela Friederici: here I conducted experiments with imaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging to explore further sensorimotor learning  to determine short- and long-term memory. Currently I am in the Max-Planck Research Group working on "Neural mechanisms of human communication" under the direction of  Dr. Katharina von Kriegstein, working as an Associated Researcher. We do research on multisensory enrichment of linguistic information and their effects on memory of young adults. Since March 2012, I have been working with the team of Vice Rector Prof. Dr. Roithmayr at the Institute of Economics of the University of Linz computer science and am working there with neuro-information systems .

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