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Reuniting the body and mind: How gesture empowers language learning

Speaker: Dr Manuela Macedonia, Johannes Kepler University Linz.

Click here to watch this talk.

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.

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