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Journal Article

Learning a second language naturally: The voice movement icon approach


Macedonia,  Manuela
Max Planck Research Group Neural Mechanisms of Human Communication, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
Johannes Kepler University, Linz, Austria;

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Macedonia, M. (2013). Learning a second language naturally: The voice movement icon approach. Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology, 3(2), 102-116. doi:10.5539/jedp.v3n2p102.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0014-6587-B
Second language (L2) instruction greatly differs from natural input during native language (L1) acquisition. Whereas a child collects sensorimotor experience while learning novel words, L2 employs primarily reading, writing and listening and comprehension. We describe an alternative proposal that integrates the body into the learning process: the Voice Movement Icon (VMI) approach. A VMI consists of a word that is read and spoken in L2 and synchronously paired with an action or a gesture. A VMI is first performed by the language trainer and then imitated by the learners. Behavioral experiments demonstrate that words encoded through VMIs are easier to memorize than audio-visually encoded words and that they are better retained over time. The reasons why gestures promote language learning are manifold. First, we focus on language as an embodied phenomenon of cognition. Then we review evidence that gestures scaffold the acquisition of L1. Because VMIs reconnect language learning with the body, they can be considered as a more natural tool for language instruction than audio-visual activities.