Language and gestures

According to an article on ScienceDaily, moving your hands and making gestures while speaking can help you to access your memory and language. A study at the University of Alberta found that bilingual children who were observed telling the same story in two different languages tended to use gestures more in their stronger language. The researchers believe that moving your hands helps you to recall parts of the story.

The researchers initially thought that the gestures made while speaking were used to convey information. They now think that the gestures are related to memory. So if you find that the words just are flowing, trying moving your hands. It might just help.

This entry was posted in Language.

9 Responses to Language and gestures

  1. Josh says:

    WOW. This is definately true. Whenever I just speak normally, I hardly gesture if at all. When I’m telling a story however, I gesture A LOT- almost to the point of downright pantomime. I’m one of the most animated storytellers I know.

  2. BG says:

    In German class we have to act out dialogs, and we are supposed to be “dramatisch” (this includes gestures as well as playing the part correctly). Maybe this actually does help us remember the dialogs better. Many people in my class are becoming annoyed by having to be dramatic, but there seems to be a pretty good reason for doing it. We might have one of these “tests” tomorrow, and it will be the last one as it happens.

  3. I went through an experimental Spanish class in 9th grade that use what was called the “Total Physical Response” method, where you coupled your new vocabulary words with hand signs. I can tell you that compared to when I took German without such assistance, it REALLY made a difference in basic vocabulary acquisition in the early stages where it’s most important!

    You actually have a silent period of three weeks before you even start speaking, where you respond solely through these signs–but believe it or not, it works!

    One thing about this that may help (part opinion, part science) is that the brain area responsible for gestures is the same one that’s responsible for language. This has been proven by scanning the brains of people communicating through sign language–the way their brains react is identical to the way they do when people speak. I may be wrong about this next part, but it may help to start with just gestures because there’s a fear of grappling with the new sounds of the language at the very early stages that can get in the way of just pure LEARNING of the vocabulary and grammar that will serve you later.

  4. Travis says:

    Really got me to thinking. Years ago I studied Sign Language to become an interpreter for the deaf… without ever having asked myself the question if the manual language were effecting a better memory or not. I’m anxious to experiment. I no longer interpret, and have become increasingly forgetful the past few years. If I make like an Italian and gesticulate like I mean it, might the confusion of life lessen a few degrees? I don’t know why I stopped sign language. It’s one of the most beautiful modes of communication in my opinion. I have a deaf friend I see once in a blue moon. He signs in ASL(American Sign Language), not in the usual pidgin English most of us are exposed to on television. (ASL’s visual grammar is alien to spoken languages, whereas most Sign Language classes teach a form of watered down signing which is more like pidgin English than the indigenous and expressive language of the deaf). Because ASL is capable of chunking information into pictorial vignettes, with a dancer’s sense of timing, alternating lightning speed with grace, I really love to watch someone using it. It’s like getting a free ticket to performance art… even if the signer is saying something as mundane as asking for directions to the restroom. One of the things that did strike me when I used to have more contact with the deaf community was how well many of the people seemed to remember facts, and how the conversations would go into extremely minute details about any given subject. So I wonder about this. What might a few extra arm movements, or hand shapes per paragraph proffer.

  5. Polly says:

    how well many of the people seemed to remember facts, and how the conversations would go into extremely minute details about any given subject.

    Fascinating! There’s a whole other system out there that we, the Hearing, are blind to. And it aids memory!

    I usually don’t have much trouble learning new vocabulary in Indoeuropean languages. But, in Japanese, I find that many words look alike to me. I keep mixing up vocab. because there are relatively fewer distinct syllables: only 5 vowels and a lack of consonant clusters. I bet if I studied Finnish more, I’d run into the same difficulty.
    I wonder if the > method could help with that.

  6. Travis says:

    Polly, I have the same challenge with Japanese vocabulary as you described. It’s nice to know I’m not alone. It’s fun though, especially when coming across those strings of vowels where not a consonent is in sight. Though the language isn’t usually thought of as having consonent clusters, when the Japanese speak quickly, they drop strategic i’s and u’s, rendering a serious counter balance to the melodic vowel dominance. A really beautiful joining of opposites. I guess it’s kind of like their writing system, where the complex kanji are ink dense on a page, interspersed, or floated within the watery strokes of hiragana.

  7. Joe says:

    I also had to do the Total Physical Response method when I was learning French in both French I and French II. Although it really was awkward for a bunch of 20 somethings to be sitting there responding to commands like frappez les épaules and tirez les cheveux, it really did work to help reinforce new vocabulary, particularly verbs and body parts. It also was useful in teaching stuff like classroom objects (point to the floor, ceiling, clock, desk, etc) and it helps the student learn to listen to the language as well.

    I think probably above all what’s going on is that it’s really assisting your memory in associating the words with an actual motion or object, which turns meaningless phrases into something. Or above all you can at least remember the specific instance when your teacher told you to “sauter” and everyone felt like an idiot jumping up and down in the middle of class!

  8. Joe–Our class felt the same awkwardness, being in the 9th grade at the time. But of course at our age, there were some (BOYS!) who really took it to extremes. When the command “come la pelota” (eat the ball) came up, this one guy on the football team took this orange Nerf ball, shoved it all the way into his mouth, and grinned really big. I will never forget the way the class laughed–or the completely grossed-out expression of the teacher, who then had to handle the Nerf ball with tissues for the rest of the day!

  9. renato figueiredo says:

    I agree with the article, but I tell you about some restrictions. We must be attentive, for what language we are learning, and teachers must tell us about countries culture, because some gestures, may cause bothering confusion, a simple positive sing with your thumb, very common in Europe, and Americas, is not well seeing in Turkey, is considered offensive if it is done for a woman or a group of people. Even among men.

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