Observing Learning Through the Hands: A Longitudinal Study of the Gestures of an English Language Learner


Hand gestures are an additional window into the mind of language learners allowing a glimpse of how learners might be conceptualizing in the second language (L2). It might also allow pedagogues to assess how learners are processing the language. Most studies comparing the same individuals gesturing in their L2 and in the mother tongue (L1) report a higher frequency of gestures in the L2, however, the reason for this difference is not yet clear. Aside from idiosyncratic and cultural variations, differences in language type and in the proficiency of the speaker are likely to affect the production of gestures. This presentation details the gestures observed in L1 and L2 narrations of a Cantonese speaker learning English at two points in time (during which his proficiency increased). Our observations clearly suggest that:
1. As proficiency develops the frequency of referential gestures in the L2 seems to converge with frequencies observed in the L1. This might be related to a more effective use of gesture-word chunking.
2. There is an increase in gestures with pragmatic functions (beats and discursive gestures) as proficiency increases. We believe beats might increase to reflect prosodic control while discursive gestures increase as they accompany more complex narrations.
We call for additional longitudinal studies tracking changes in proficiency in specific individuals to confirm these observations and to allow for the inclusions of factors such as language type and culture variables as well as idiosyncratic differences.

Author Information
Renia Lopez-Ozieblo, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong

Paper Information
Conference: ECLL2022
Stream: Psychology of the learner

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Posted by James Alexander Gordon