Movements and images facilitate vocabulary learning
“Atesi” - what sounds like a word from the Elven language of Lord of the Rings is actually a Vimmish word meaning "thought". Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig have used Vimmish, an artificial language specifically developed for scientific research, to study how people can best memorise foreign-language terms. According to the researchers, it is easier to learn vocabulary if the brain can link a given word with different sensory perceptions.
The motor system in the brain appears to be especially important: When someone not only hears vocabulary in a foreign language, but expresses it using gestures, they will be more likely to remember it. Also helpful, although to a slightly lesser extent, is learning with images that correspond to the word. Learning methods that involve several senses, and in particular those that use gestures, are therefore superior to those based only on listening or reading.
For most students, the very thought of learning new vocabulary evokes a groan. Rote learning of long lists of words must surely be one of the most unpopular types of schoolwork. That said, many schools and language courses have now understood that learning outcomes improve if vocabulary, for example, is presented not just as a word, but also as an image. The multisensory learning theory states that the brain learns more easily when several senses are stimulated in parallel.
The results obtained by the Leipzig-based researchers confirm this. For their study the scientists used Vimmish, an artificial language they developed themselves, which follows similar phonetic rules to Italian. This ensured that the vocabulary was equally new to all participants. Over the course of a week, young women and men were to memorise the meaning of abstract and concrete Vimmi-nouns under different conditions. In the first experiment, the subjects heard the word and then observed a corresponding image or a gesture. In the second experiment, they symbolically drew the corresponding word in the air or expressed it with a gesture. The researchers then checked whether the participants could still recall the term at different times after the learning period.
"The subjects' recollection was best in relation to terms they themselves had expressed using gestures. When they heard the term and its translation and also observed a corresponding image, they were also better able to remember the translation. By contrast, however, tracing a term or observing a gesture was no better than just hearing the term", explains Katja Mayer of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences. The way a term was learned was even reflected in the subjects' brain activity. In this way, areas of the brain responsible for the motor system were active when a subject translated a term previously learned through gesture, while areas of the visual system were active in the case of words learned with the help of images.
This suggests that the brain learns foreign words more easily when they are associated with information from different sensory organs. It may be that these associations are mutually reinforcing, imprinting the source-language term and its translation more deeply in the mind. "If for example we follow a new term with a gesture, we create additional input that facilitates the brain's learning", says Katharina von Kriegstein, head of the study at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences. The scientists now want to discover whether the activity in the motor and visual centres is actually the cause of the improved learning outcomes. They plan to do this by activating the neurons in these regions using electrodes and measuring the impact on learning outcomes.
It is not only in learning vocabulary that the multisensory principle applies; other studies have shown that multisensory input also facilitates word recognition in the subject's own language. "If we're on the phone with someone we know, for example, the areas of the brain responsible for facial recognition are active during the phone call. It seems that the brain simulates the information not being captured by the eyes and creates it for itself", explains von Kriegstein.
Thus, we learn with all our senses. Taste and smell also have a role in learning, and feelings play an important part too. But does multisensory learning work according to the principle: the more senses, the better? "That could well be so," says von Kriegstein, "but we don't know how much the learning outcomes improve with the addition of more senses. Ideally, however, the individual sensory impressions should match one another. In other words, to learn the Spanish word for apple, the subject should make an apple gesture, taste an apple or look at a picture of an apple."
Dr. Katharina von Kriegstein
Katja M. Mayer, Izzet B. Yildiz, Manuela Macedonia, Katharina von Kriegstein
Visual and motor cortices differentially support the translation of foreign language words
Current Biology, 5 February 2015
Dr. Katharina von Kriegstein | Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig
Symbiotic bacteria: from hitchhiker to beetle bodyguard
28.04.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis
28.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Grenzflächen- und Bioverfahrenstechnik IGB
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
28.04.2017 | Event News
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering
28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences
28.04.2017 | Life Sciences