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Hum Brain Mapp. 2011 Jun;32(6):982-98. doi: 10.1002/hbm.21084. Epub 2010 Jul 19.

The impact of iconic gestures on foreign language word learning and its neural substrate.

Author information

1
Department of Neuropsychology, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany.

Abstract

Vocabulary acquisition represents a major challenge in foreign language learning. Research has demonstrated that gestures accompanying speech have an impact on memory for verbal information in the speakers' mother tongue and, as recently shown, also in foreign language learning. However, the neural basis of this effect remains unclear. In a within-subjects design, we compared learning of novel words coupled with iconic and meaningless gestures. Iconic gestures helped learners to significantly better retain the verbal material over time. After the training, participants' brain activity was registered by means of fMRI while performing a word recognition task. Brain activations to words learned with iconic and with meaningless gestures were contrasted. We found activity in the premotor cortices for words encoded with iconic gestures. In contrast, words encoded with meaningless gestures elicited a network associated with cognitive control. These findings suggest that memory performance for newly learned words is not driven by the motor component as such, but by the motor image that matches an underlying representation of the word's semantics.

PMID:
20645312
DOI:
10.1002/hbm.21084
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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