LANGUAGE classes of the future might come with a physical workout. People learn a new language more easily when words are accompanied by movement.
Manuela Macedonia and Thomas Knösche at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, enrolled 20 volunteers on a six-day course to learn "Vimmi", an artificial language designed to make study results easier to interpret. Half of the material was taught using spoken and written instructions and exercises, while the other half was taught with body movements to accompany each word, which the students were asked to act out.
Students remembered significantly more of the words taught with movement, and used them more readily when creating new sentences (Mind, Brain and Education, DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-228X.2011.01129.x).
Whilst this may seem intuitive for words that have a physical counterpart, like "cut", the pair were surprised to find the trick also worked for abstract words like "rather" that have no obvious gestural equivalent.
Based on fMRI scans, the pair argue that enactment helps memory by creating a more complex representation of the word that makes it more easily retrieved. Unpublished results from tests in real language classes suggest that the method "could really speed up foreign language learning in schools", says Macedonia.
2012. "Learn language faster with gestures". New Scientist. Posted: January 3, 2012. Available online: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21228442.800-learn-language-faster-with-gestures.html