How can co
speech gesture be used to teach Irish in primary schools more effectively?
spending roughly 13 years studying Irish, students are leaving education with a
poor standard of Irish. A report carried out in 2006 by Dr.John Harris of
Trinity College, Dublin stated that there has been a sharp decrease in the
level of oral Irish since 1985 and 2002. The Irish Examiner also informs us
that the 2011 census shows a huge 30% of 15-19-year olds, 54% of
20-24-year-olds and 63% of 25-29-year-olds are not able to speak Irish.
method of teaching Irish in classrooms today is through the language of Irish
itself. However, the statistics above show that this method is either
unsuitable or is lacking something. This paper will look at using gesture in
congruency with this method of teaching Irish that is currently in place.
or co-speech gesture, are “communicative movements of hands and arms that
accompany concurrent speech”.
four types of words/vocabulary: Reading, writing, listening and speaking.
(Montgomery 2007). In this paper, we are going to only discuss using gesture
to aid second language learning that is
being learnt verbally: Listening and speaking.
The way in
which we learn our native language is by listening to language being spoken and
actions being displayed with the words to emphasise their meaning: we do not
focus at producing language when we are first learning our native language.
How Language Formed
language first formed from nonverbal communication systems such as gesture.
(McNeill 2006). The formation of human language occurred during the Stone Age
when humans came down from the trees. Michael C. Corballis references William
C. Stokoe, who suggests that humans moving to the ground from the trees was by
chance, which freed up their hands, allowing them to create gestures. However,
their creation of language through gestures formed due to their need to
communicate because of their environment, evolving physiology and a need to
survive. As Spencer D. Kelly states, although it is difficult to prove by
looking at fossil records alone, that human language evolved from gestures, if
we look at modern behavioural and neurocognitive fossils, it is possible to
hypothesise that if speech evolved from gestures that this integrated system continued
to exist until the present day.
relationship between gesture and speech was discovered first in “mirror
neurons” in the F5 region of monkey’s brains (Spencer D. Kelly et al. 2008).
These mirror neurons discharge first, when the monkey carries out an action and
second, when they see another monkey carrying out the same action (Rizzolatti
and Arbib 1998). The Human mirror system is located in the Broca’s area, an
area that has a key role in language production (Acharya & Shukla 2012).
Further research was carried out on this and it was discovered that it is
likely that the Broca’s area in the human brain evolved from the F5 area in
monkeys. This implies that there is a
link between the neural areas for language and gesture (Kelly, S. 2008). A
second experiment that highlights this connection between speech and gesture was
carried out by Floel et al. (2003): they used transcranial magnetic stimulation
which is a procedure that can either impair or aid the brain’s neural
processing of stimuli. Floel et al. (2003) used the transcranial magnetic
stimulation to impair the brain’s processing. His experiment showed that when
areas of the brain responsible for gestures had their neural processing
interrupted, speech production was also impaired. This clearly shows that there
is an integrated system between speech and gesture.
How Speech and Gesture are Integrated
such as Willems et al. (2007) and Skipper et al. (2007) carried out experiments
to show how speech and gesture are
integrated in the brain. They used fMRI (which stands for ‘Functional MRI’),
which measures the amount of blood flow to the brain in response to a stimulus.
The results of this experiment showed that the Broca’s area of the brain,
integrates gestural and speech information in a similar way during
research proves that our speech evolved from gesture, that speech and gesture have
an integrated relationship together and how they’re both integrated. Now we are
going to look at what effect this has on learning.
are being learnt in a foreign language, learning them in accompaniment with
gestures improves how well the words are remembered compared to if they are
just taught verbally. (Zimmer 2001)
One of the
main difficulties with learning a second language is learning vocabulary. The
problem is that vocabulary is arbitrary and when a person looks at a word
they’ve never seen before, it is difficult to find a connection between what
they’re reading and/or hearing and the subject that the word is referring to.
This is where gesture can be used. A useful example of this problem is given by
Kelly et al. (2009): the example given is to take the word to “drink” and the
word “nomu” in Japanese. They are both words with the same meaning, however,
there is no apparent relationship between them: there is nothing to tell us
that they are both related to the concept of drinking.
discusses the idea that learning new vocabulary is a sensorimotor process. A
sensory motor process is “a relationship between the sensory system (nerves)
and the motor system (muscles). Also, it refers to the process by which these
two systems (sensory and motor) communicate and coordinate with each other” (Brown
2014). This research has been expanded on more recently and shows that
vocabulary learning involves the use of the body in cognition. (Goldin-Meadow
and Alibali, 2013)
(2014) states that the idea that gesture aids vocabulary retention was first
written about by Radonvilliers (1768) however, it wasn’t until the late 60s
that Asher attempted to use the body to teach second languages. Asher (1969)
and Engelkamp & Krumnacker’s (1980) noticed that if a person was given an
action phrase in a foreign language, such as “close the door” and the person
then carried out the action, the person’s memory of that command’s phrase would
be much better than if they had only listened to or read the phrase.
Gestures Aid Vocabulary Retention
One of the
most important experiments on the importance of gesture for language learning
was conducted by Kelly et al. (2009). The participants of Kelly’s experiment were
taught 12 Japanese verbs, with each verb being repeated twice. The verbs were
divided into 4 modes: Speech (S), Speech and Congruent gesture (S+CG), Speech
and Incongruent Gesture (S+IG) and Repeated Speech (RS). The ability for the
participants to recall the verbs was tested after five minutes, two days, one
The results of this investigation showed that participants
remembered the most novel Japanese words with speech and congruent gesture
(S+CG), less with repeated speech (RS), less again with speech alone (S) and
the least with speech and incongruent gesture (S+IG).
findings mean for gesture and second language leaning:
Speech and Congruent Gestures (S+CG) aided vocabulary
retention better than Speech (S) alone; and incongruent gesture worsened
vocabulary retention, this supports the claim that gesture aids vocabulary learning in a second language because of an
“simultaneous semantic overlap” between speech and gesture and not as a
result of hand waving that catch the viewers’ attention. (Kelly et al. 2009)
A paper which discussed this topic is Feyereisen (2006).
In his paper, he discusses the idea that congruent gestures aid vocabulary
retention because they are able to take the arbitrary meaning of words and
ground their meaning to a concrete representation in the form of a hand
gesture. Contrasting this, Feyereisan (2006) suggests that incongruent gestures
may do the opposite, that learning vocabulary with incongruent gestures worsens
the memory of them it visually breaks the link between the word and a concrete
representation of the words, making them harder to remember
Second, Speech and Congruent Gesture (S+ CG) aided
vocabulary retention more than repeated speech, which shows that when information being learnt is simultaneously
divided between speech and gesture, this yields better vocabulary retention
than if the information was taught only through speech. (Kelly et al. 2009)
In addition to this, congruent gestures aiding vocabulary learning is not simply a result of
extra exposure to the word’s meaning.
It could be argued that the participants were receiving more information
in the Speech and Congruent Gesture (S+CG) than speech alone and this was the
reason that congruent speech improved their learning best: the participants
were hearing the word and then on top of that, seeing the word’s meaning through
gesture. However, the participants did not learn the vocabulary as well when
the words were repeated in Repeated Speech (RS). This kills the argument that congruent
gestures improved the participants’ learning because of extra exposure: the
participants had double the exposure in Repeated Speech (RS) and they didn’t
retain the vocabulary as well as Speech and Congruent Gesture (S+CG).
Speech and Congruent Gesture (S+CG) not only produced
better results, but it shows that gestures
can be used to teach second language vocabulary in less time as this
experiment showed that repeating the vocabulary twice didn’t improve learning.
An investigation by Macedonia & Knösche (2011) studied
the learning effect of congruent gesture on abstract words. Abstract words are
adverbs, verbs and nouns. The words that were being taught were placed into
sentences. Each sentence had four grammatical components which were: object,
subject, adverb and verb. The only words with concrete meaning were the nouns
(the nouns referred to the actors themselves), all other words were
abstract. The words were taught to the
participants through speech alone or through congruent gesture. The results
from this experiment showed that gesture enhanced memory of the learned words,
but not only for concrete words but also abstract
These experiments show that gestures show that gesture
greatly aids memory retention of vocabulary.
Reduces Workload on the Brain
Skipper et al. (2007) conducted an experiment which
was aforementioned showed participants videos of stories that contained speech
and gestures. Skipper’s experiment showed that the Broca’s area integrates
gesture and speech during language comprehension in a similar way. However, in
the experiment, Skipper used fMRI to prove this. The results from the fMRI
showed that stories that contained congruent gestures made the links between
Broca’s Area and other motor areas that are responsible for gesture processing
were weaker that stories that contained incongruent gestures. The fact that the
link was weaker showed that when speech
is accompanied by gestures, the effort placed on the Broca’s Area during speech
comprehension and processing was reduced.
Another experiment that showed that co-speech gesture
reduces the workload on the brain was conducted by Hamm et al. (2002). The
experiment used ERPs (which stands for event related potentials). ERPs measure
the electrical activity of the brain in reaction to a stimulus. Hamm et al.
(2002) gave the participants in the experiment sentences that contained both
speech and gesture. They were then presented with pictures that a) correlated
to both the speech and gesture or b) the speech solely. The ERP results showed the
brain produces a smaller N400 and N300 effect when the pictures correlated to
both the speech and gesture, rather than the speech alone. Hamm et al. (2002)
explains that smaller the N300 and N400 effects show easier integration of semantic information. This illustrates that gestures
improved the processing of speech.
Note: N300 is
the image based semantic integration that occurs 300ms in the brain after the
stimulus is shown.
The N400 effect
is the traditional semantic integration that occurs 400ms in the brain after
the stimulus is shown. (Kelly et al 2009)
All of these experiments show that gestures improve
memory and processing of vocabulary and that it reduces the amount of effort
needed to learn the new language.
Now we’re going to investigate which type of gesture
is the most effective.
1. how well vocabulary is learnt in
congruency with iconic gestures, rather than other gestures, such as
2. the effectiveness of vocabulary
learning when participants see but do not congruently produce gesture with
3. how well vocabulary is learned
without producing gestures
Gesture to help understand language
Gesture to help remember vocabulary
ambiguous/ non ambiguous.
How do we learn a first language
learning novel words with gestures facilitates sentence production.
influence on language production and comprehension
does gesture improve second language learning? Examples
Now that we’ve
seen that gestures significantly improve second language learning, the next
question is which is the most effective gesture to use to? As mentioned at the beginning
of this paper, one of the greatest problems with learning a second language is learning
vocabulary. “Words are arbitrary and bear no inherent relationship to their
referents (Quine, 1960 as referenced in Kelly et al 2009).
What are the Different Types of Gesture?
al. (2008) discusses the 5 different types of gesture that McNeill 1992
mentions in paper: deictic, metaphoric, beats, emblematic and iconic. Deictic
gestures are pointing gestures (Liddell & Metzger 1998), for example, is a
person points and says, “this bag”: without the person pointing to the bag, it
would not be possible to determine which particular bag they are talking about.
This type of gesture is not particularly helpful to teaching a second language
as as we have seen in various experiments carried out by researchers, such as,
we now know that the gestures must embody the meaning of the word, so that if
they were to be used on their own, it would still be possible to gain meaning
from them. However, a pointing action used on its own has no meaning.
gestures are used to turn abstract ideas into concrete representatives (Andric
2012). This is gesture is used for abstract ideas,
and so would not be helpful in teaching a second language.
gestures illustrate the rhythm in speech, they coincide with the pauses, breaks
and rhythms of the language. Beat gestures are generally back and forth or up
and down hand movements (Alibali 2005). Again, these gestures would not help
convey meaning of words and so would not be suitable.
gestures are generally gestures that have culturally specific meanings (Uhlig
et al. 2012). For example, a person giving a “thumbs up” could signify “well
done” or “I’m okay. Emblematic gestures do appear to meet the criteria needed
to aid language learning: emblematic gestures embody the meaning of the word
which allows the learner to ground the meaning of an ambiguous word to a
We will not look
at iconic gestures. “Iconic gestures are a natural and prevalent part of
spoken language, but they are different from speech in that they are not
arbitrary, and instead convey information that visually represents the concepts
to which they refer” (Kelly et al. 2008) An example of this is when someone
places their hands together as if praying and lays their head on their hands,
the person is able to convey the image of sleeping.
Both emblematic gestures and iconic
gestures embody and ground the meaning of words, so which is more suitable and
effective? Emblematic gestures have a number of drawbacks: emblematic gestures
may not translate into other cultures. For example, in Japan the “thumbs up” gesture
is a sign for “money. Other culturally defined gestures (emblematic) include
the ‘peace sign’ or the “V” for victory sign that Winston Churchill brought in
during World War II. Depending on where this gesture is used, depends on its
meaning. For instance, in countries such as Ireland, England and Australia,
this is an inappropriate and rude gesture if the palm is facing towards
oneself. However, iconic gestures are universal, they can be understood in any
language in any country. An example of this is if a person forms a “c” shape
with their hands and lifts their hand to their mouth to represent “to drink”. Iconic
gestures “facilitate word vocabulary learning by linking words in one’s native
language and words in a foreign language through rich and non-arbitrary
embodied meanings.” (Kelly et al. 2009)
So, if this
method of teaching second languages aided by gestures were to be taken on by
schools, there would be many advantages for a universal system of gesturing
i.e. if there were only one gesture that all schools used for the verb “to drink”
such as the ‘c-shaped’ gesture, or only one gesture that all schools used for
the word “book”, such as placing both hands parallel to each other. These advantages
would include: all school using the one system of gestures would reduce confusion
i.e. if a child were to change schools, the same gestures would be present. As
seen from Kelly et al’s (2009) experiment, incongruent gestures actually worsened language learning, so if the child
were to move schools and the teacher present was using gestures for words that
the child already knew but that didn’t match what they had already learnt, this
would disrupt their learning.
to this, the benefit of using iconic gestures is that they are easily
understood, the teacher would not have to teach the pupils how to “read them”. There
would be no time wasted teaching iconic gestures as they are gestures that are
used every day: they are gestures that enhance comprehension of what is being
said. A good example of this every day use is when a parent is teaching a child
to talk. In order for the
that a universal gesture system would be most effective. There is a sign
language system currently in use called “Lamh”, that majorly focuses on iconic
can lamh be used in the classroom to teach Irish?
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