Talking with your hands can make a difference, says study


Hand gestures generally helped study participants to understand lexical stress patterns in English. Photo: AFP

There's always a good reason to learn a foreign language. But it's not always easy to achieve a level of fluency that allows you to express yourself with ease in an idiom that isn't your own. One study claims that there's a simple technique for speaking languages that involve lexical stress: talking with your hands.

A research team at New York University in Shanghai has examined the role that gestures can play in the learning of languages that use lexical stress, pronouncing certain syllables with more stress than others, putting emphasis on specific parts of words.

The researchers wanted to determine whether gesturing with the hands helps learners better understand the specific intonation of these languages. They conducted a series of experiments with 124 native Chinese speakers, dividing them into four groups.

In one experiment, the study participants watched videos in which an actor made hand movements to visually illustrate the pronunciation of three-syllable English words. The gestures were more or less pronounced in each video, and didn't always indicate the correct syllable to be stressed in English.

The volunteers watched different videos depending on which group they were assigned. Before and after viewing, they were asked to take a test to determine whether they knew which syllable should be stressed orally for each English word.

It turns out that hand gestures generally helped the study participants to understand the various lexical stress patterns of English. But those who saw the video in which the actor made more pronounced movements with their hands when the stress fell on the right syllable found it easier than others to understand the lexical stress of the language.

It's important to note that findings of this research, featured on the pre-publication site bioRxiv, are based on the results of various experiments. But Xing Tian, one of the co-authors, told New Scientist that gestures made participants 10-15% better at identifying the right syllable to stress in English.

These findings open up new prospects for learning modern languages, particularly those requiring good intonation. - AFP

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Language , talking , hands , English , research


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