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Hand gestures facilitate novel segment learning (Xi et al., 2020)

journal contribution
posted on 2020-10-22, 19:23 authored by Xiaotong Xi, Peng Li, Florence Baills, Pilar Prieto
Purpose: Research has shown that observing hand gestures mimicking pitch movements or rhythmic patterns can improve the learning of second language (L2) suprasegmental features. However, less is known about the effects of hand gestures on the learning of novel phonemic contrasts. This study examines (a) whether hand gestures mimicking phonetic features can boost L2 segment learning by naive learners and (b) whether a mismatch between the hand gesture form and the target phonetic feature influences the learning effect.
Method: Fifty Catalan native speakers undertook a short multimodal training session on two types of Mandarin Chinese consonants (plosives and affricates) in either of two conditions: Gesture and No Gesture. In the Gesture condition, a fist-to-open-hand gesture was used to mimic air burst, while the No Gesture condition included no such use of gestures. Crucially, while the hand gesture appropriately mimicked the air burst produced in plosives, this was not the case for affricates. Before and after training, participants were tested on two tasks, namely, the identification task and the imitation task. Participants’ speech output was rated by five Chinese native speakers.
Results: The perception results showed that training with or without gestures yielded similar degrees of improvement for the identification of aspiration contrasts. By contrast, the production results showed that, while training without gestures did not help improve L2 pronunciation, training with gestures improved pronunciation, but only when the given gestures appropriately mimicked the phonetic properties they represented.
Conclusions: Results revealed that the efficacy of observing hand gestures on the learning of nonnative phonemes depends on the appropriateness of the form of those gestures relative to the target phonetic features. That is, hand gestures seem to be more useful when they appropriately mimic phonetic features.

Supplemental Material S1. Twelve Chinese disyllabic words used for the training session.

Supplemental Material S2. Twelve Chinese disyllabic words used for the identification task.

Supplemental Material S3. Twelve Chinese disyllabic words used for the imitation task.

Supplemental Material S4. Screenshots of one trial of the first training block in the No Gesture (NG) condition (upper panel) and Gesture (G) condition (lower panel).

Supplemental Material S5. Screenshots of one trial of the second training block in No Gesture (NG) condition (upper panel) and Gesture (G) condition (lower panel).

Xi, X., Li, P., Baills, F., & Prieto, P. (2020). Hand gestures facilitate the acquisition of novel phonemic contrasts when they appropriately mimic target phonetic features. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Advance online publication.


This research was supported by funding from the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities (PGC2018- 097007-B-I00) and the Generalitat de Catalunya projects (2017 SGR-971). The third author holds a predoctoral research grant awarded by the Department of Translation and Language Sciences, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.