Learn with gestures

Movements and images make learning vocabulary easier

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig conducted a study to find out how best to memorize the vocabulary of a foreign language. It has long been known that learning success increases when several sensory channels are addressed during learning. The researchers were actually able to confirm this effect. The movement system of the brain is of particular importance.

In the first experiment, the study participants were presented with the vocabulary aurally and immediately afterwards a suitable picture or gesture was shown. In the second experiment, the test subjects had to draw the word they heard in the air or express it with a gesture. After completing the learning phase, the scientists examined the extent to which the test subjects could remember the vocabulary.

The evaluation showed that the greatest learning success was achieved when the learning of the vocabulary was supported with the help of gestures. If the test subjects heard the term and were presented with a picture of the word to be learned, they were also able to remember the translation better. On the other hand, tracing the vocabulary in the air or simply observing a given gesture had no learning-enhancing effect. The learning outcome achieved was no different from simply hearing the vocabulary.

The way in which vocabulary is learned can also be observed in brain activity. When translating terms that had been learned, it was found that the movement center of the brain was particularly active when the word was learned with the help of gestures during the learning phase. Once again, regions of the visual center were active if the word had been learned with the help of images during the learning phase.

Conclusion Efficient learning works best when all the senses are involved. But the motto "a lot helps a lot" also applies. The study supports this assumption. However, care should be taken that the gesture supporting learning is related to the meaning of the word to be learned. For example, if the Italian word for tree is being learned, one should make a gesture that depicts the tree spatially. At the same time as making the gesture, one should visualize a tree.

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