The effects of observing and producing gestures on Japanese word learning

Naomi Sweller*, Aya Shinooka-Phelan, Elizabeth Austin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
53 Downloads (Pure)


While observing and producing gesture can enhance native language learning, research in foreign word learning is limited. English-speaking university students were verbally presented with Japanese verbs with their English translations in one of three conditions: no gesture, observing an instructor's iconic gestures, or observing and reproducing the instructor's gestures. Participants verbally recalled the words immediately following training and after a one-week delay. Both observing only as well as observing and reproducing gestures at encoding enhanced learning and were equally beneficial for both the short and longer term beyond verbal learning alone. Reproducing the instructor's gestures during learning increased the rate of spontaneous iconic gesture production during recall, though the effects of this spontaneous gesture production at test were inconsistent. Findings emphasise the importance of an instructor's gesture production during foreign language learning, and suggest that motor imagery plays a key role in the beneficial effects of gesture on learning.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103079
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalActa Psychologica
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • iconic gesture
  • learning
  • Japanese verbs
  • language
  • memory
  • vocabulary


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