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Gestures may help students recall new words in Mandarin

Students' comprehension of words in a foreign language improves if teachers pair each word with a gesture, even if the gesture is arbitrary and does not represent a word's actual meaning, according to research released by the University of Illinois.

The 30 participants in the study were all native speakers of American English or considered it to be their first language. About one-third of the participants considered themselves bilingual, though none had any experience with Mandarin.

Students watched as the instructor introduced 18 new words in Mandarin, presenting them to the students in groups of six: six words each accompanied by arbitrary gestures, iconic gestures and without gestures.

Instructors and students repeated both the Chinese word and its English translation twice. However, the students only watched and did not replicate any hand gestures that the instructor used with the words.

After two sessions, the students took a multiple-choice test, with the instructor presenting the words and associated gestures in random order and the students choosing the English translation of each word from a list of four words.

When the words were presented with iconic or random gestures, the students' ability to recall the words' meanings was 8-10 percent better than with words that were presented without gestures, the researchers found.

"A 10 percent improvement isn't huge, but it could boost a student's score on a test by one grade level," says UI educational psychology professor Kiel Christianson, one of the co-authors of the study.

"We also found that gestures do not need to be obviously iconic to facilitate learning. Instructors can use any unique hand movement that students do not associate with another word."

This finding is important for pedagogical reasons, Christianson says, because many words cannot be easily represented with gestures. However, the study suggests that foreign language instructors can pair a new word with any type of unique gesture and facilitate learning.

Christianson and his co-authors hypothesize that simply watching the instructor move their hands while presenting a word enables students to create a kinetic image of that word in their mind.

When new words were paired with arbitrary gestures that were not representative of a word's meaning, students may have generated idiosyncratic ad hoc iconic associations between the gestures and the words in their memory, the researchers say.

"Visualizing a gesture with each word creates multiple pathways into the semantics of new words and helps students remember them better," Christianson says.

However, the gesture advantage in learning declined when students were introduced to more than 10-12 words at a time, the researchers found.

Source:Xinhua  Editor:Lucky

(Source_title:Gestures may help students recall new words in Mandarin)