The Importance of Gestures in English Language Learning

The Importance of Gestures in English Language Learning

We all are aware that actions speak louder than words. Isn’t it? Yes, active engagement is vital for learning any language. As an online English-speaking course, we strive to apply several ways to engage the students in learning. It can be using different activities, language games, videos and other interesting content. It becomes really important to use gestures while teaching. Gestures can be made with any part of the body such as head, shoulders, or even the legs and feet, but most of them are made with the hands and arms in a classroom.

As an online English tutor, I believe that by adding movement and gestures to language instruction, the learning becomes more active, engaging and comprehensible. It not only provides confidence to you and your students but also reassures them about the concept that you are teaching. It can even make your students feel safe, homely and self-assured and enable them to participate in the classroom more effectively. The gestures improve the accessibility of the learned words and help the students to enhance their memory skills.

To learn English online or otherwise and put that into action, it requires more effort just using mere words. It is also about movement of your body as well as gestures while speaking. Gestures can also be used to convey ideas and emotions when you’re learning English. For example, during dialogue delivery, you can try to use your body to mirror the emotion that you want to convey with your words.

Gestures and speech go hand-in-hand. As a parent too, you can encourage your child’s overall development and communication by using gestures. Non-verbal communication cues like body language, facial expressions, gestures etc. helps the learners to express themselves.

Why are gestures important in language learning in both traditional and online English-speaking courses?

Studies reveal that two-thirds of our communication is non-verbal. Both teachers as well as students use many non-verbal cues such as head nods, smiles, head tilts, raised hands and many more on a daily basis. Gestures came into play in the eighties and nineties in foreign language instruction in the lessons involving drama.

As a memory supporting strategy, these gestures should not only be performed by the teacher, but also practiced by the learner, as per Carles (1981). He explains that first a teacher should narrate the topic and the required vocabulary items for the learners to understand. Thereafter, the learners should repeat the same thing and the pantomimes, for the retention of the vocabulary items. These cues convey warmth and affection, especially while teaching and telling your students that you are there to support them.

Non-verbal communication involves not only the hand movements but also facial expressions, which definitely make an essential contribution in the classroom. Most of the teachers will agree that these cues help the learners to understand the clarity and meaning of what is being taught in the class. I believe that gestures and non-verbal cues as a teaching tool can also transcend cultural boundaries.

Non verbal communication cues that can be used while teaching English online

There are a few ways and gestures which can be used in online English classes to engage your students:

  • 1. Smile: Students connect best with online English teachers who are lively, affectionate and are able to interact with the students. Apart from verbal communication, non-verbal communication also serves as the most important factor in transfer of knowledge. It becomes indispensable to take classes actively with a smiling face as the students reciprocate what they have seen and learnt during the class. Remember, most of your students may try to imitate you, therefore, make it a point to always appreciate the students and smile during the class.
  • 2. Eye Contact: One of the most important gestures that must be used for communication. If you want your students to focus, the best way to connect with them is through frequent eye-contact. You’ll be amazed to see that the students are more attentive in the classroom as you’re speaking directly to them with eye-contact.
  • 3. Expressions: It is necessary to be expressive in the class. This can be done in many ways when explaining the content or when asking questions. When you are communicating with your learners, make sure that you are expressing your thoughts and feelings using voice modulation and proper gestures. This will help the learners to brainstorm and come up with new ideas.
  • 4. Acknowledgement & Praise: Gestures such as thumbs-up for good work or a victory sign can often aid learners to boost confidence and do better. It gives them a sense of satisfaction and motivation to prepare for the next lesson.
  • 5. Showing Emphasis: When you teach the learners, you are likely to point hands or fingers to put emphasis on the things that are important. This is yet again an important gesture telling the learners that the matter should be kept in mind.

Gestures for behavior management in online spoken English lessons

Gestures can also help in managing behaviors in even online spoken English classes. For example, a silent countdown can be used to show the students to finish up the work quickly. According to Clark and Paivio, movements and actions add imagery to the things taught in class and contribute to a better comprehension and understanding of concepts. Any one will be able to recall the word ‘walking’ after connecting it with a personal memory of walking.

A key gesture pokes the brain into producing the correct word, phrases or sentences without the need for translation. Vanessa Van Edwards, an author on human behavior, explains how gestures help with the study of foreign language and communicating with others. Repetition provides the practice that children need to master new skills. A reflexive reaction in the brain is created by the repeated visual cues and gestures. Directive gestures make the communication process easier while you’re learning.

Each one of us has a natural impulse to punctuate and communicate with gestures. Remember, don’t suppress that impulse by retreating behind a mask of impassiveness as it can only create tension among the learners. Remember to focus on being genuinely yourself. If you impose artificial gestures onto your natural style, you will never be able to connect with your learners and therefore, lose track.

The use of gestures encourages greater participation of the students. You can connect certain gestures with the words to recollect the words and engage every part of your brain in the learning process. Just as repetition helps the brain remember body movements, similarly a facial expression, gesture or certain posture may help the brain recall and use the correct word at the right time.

The simple act of adding movements will be useful to students. The cues or gestures will help them to fully understand a word, and thereby, the whole lesson taught to them in the class.


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