Using Gestures to Improve Language Learning

Today we discuss how to use gestures to improve language learning. Why would you do that? And what exactly do I mean in the first place? Well, using gestures is proven to be a large help in learning and memorizing. 

When it comes to learning a first language, children take in a lot by the use of gestures. They quickly learn gestures like this, that, me, you. They learn to point. Further along, they can easily learn about different animals by their parents or others acting out the sounds and movements the animal would make. The list goes on and on.

Can adults learn a second language in a similar way? There have been studies that show that adults too can learn and memorize new vocabulary and phrases significantly faster by using gestures. By engaging the sensorimotor area of your brain you’re helping yourself to reinforce what you’re learning. You can probably imagine, when you learn a phrase like ‘close the door’, if you literally close a door while learning it, your ability to remember the phrase will drastically increase. 

Consider some other examples:

Put on shoes
Eat noodles
Play a game
Take a picture
Ride a bike
Open the window
Read a book

You may study new words. It may not be practical to actually perform the action. But you can gesture them. If you are learning ‘riding a bike’ in your new language, you don’t have a bike. Maybe you’re sitting in a chair at a desk. You can put up your hands as if you’re grabbing handlebars, lift your feet and make small peddling motions. Do this while saying and repeating your phrase, ‘ ride a bike’, in your target language.

You can easily gesture most common verbs. Consider some:


Act out and make gestures as you learn the new vocabulary. 

Young Asian Woman makes sleep gesture with her hands | Use Gestures to Improve Language Learning

Now you may learn nouns that have no action word. That’s when you get extra creative. Like if you were playing the game charades. Let’s go back to the example we mentioned at the beginning of this blog. How children learn animals by their parents acting them out. You could learn animal vocabulary like a penguin, wobbling your feet with your hands at your sides moving your shoulders back and forth. Or how about a crocodile? Slowly creep and wave through the water as you approach your next meal, then plunge with a large open mouth.

Creating your own, unique gestures if you have to, or using common ones you use all the time, make use of gestures and your body to learn new vocabulary and phrases in your target language! It will be a great aid in learning and remembering them both short and long term.

Please share your thoughts about this language learning tip below in the comments.

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