Multimodally Enhanced Opportunities for Language Learning: Gestures Used in Word Search Sequences in ESL Tutoring


  • Mi-Suk Seo California State University



gesture, word search, conversation analysis, second language learning, ESL tutoring


Focusing on word search sequences initiated by ESL learners in conversation tutoring, this study examines how the participants use gestures in order to facilitate language learning as well as mutual understanding. Adopting the methodological framework of Conversation Analysis, it analyzes two particular sequential contexts: (a) when a tutee uses gestures without a candidate solution to her/his word search, directly soliciting the tutor’s co-participation; and (b) when a tutee uses gestures with a candidate solution to her/his word search but there is mismatch between the candidate solution and the accompanying gesture. A fine-grained analysis of the participants’ moment-by-moment verbal and nonverbal actions reveals that gestures create multimodally enhanced opportunities for language learning by allowing the tutor to offer lexical items that are new or unfamiliar to the tutee and/or to provide corrective feedback on the lexical errors. The findings from this study offer implications for the role of gesture in L2 learning and for some of the key concepts in second language acquisition such as output, corrective feedback, and communication strategies.


Alibali, M. W., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (1993). Gesture-speech mismatch and mechanisms of learning: What the hands reveal about a child’s state of mind. Cognitive Psychology, 25, 468-523.

Allen, L.Q. (2000). Nonverbal accommodation in foreign language teacher talk. Applied Language Learning, 11, 155–176.

Belhiah, H. (2009). Tutoring as an embodied activity: How speech, gaze, and body orientations are coordinated to conduct ESL tutorial business. Journal of Pragmatics, 41, 829-841.

Belhiah, H. (2013). Using the hand to choreograph instruction: On the functional role of gesture in definition talk. The Modern Language Journal, 97, 417-434.

Brouwer, C. E. (2003). Word searches in NNS-NS interaction: Opportunities for language learning? The Modern Language Journal, 87, 534-545.

Burch, A. (2014). Pursuing information: A conversation analytic perspective on communication strategies. Language Learning, 64, 651-684.

Cassell, J., McNeill, D., & McCullough, K. (1999). Speech-gesture mismatches: Evidence for one underlying representation of linguistic and nonlinguistic information. Pragmatics and Cognition, 7, 1-33.

Church, R. B., & Goldin-Meadow, S. (1986). The mismatch between gesture and speech as an index of transitional knowledge. Cognition, 23, 43-71.

Efron, D. (1972). Gesture, race, and culture. The Hague: Mouton. [Reissue of Efron 1941].

Ekman, P. (1976). Movements with precise meanings. Journal of Communication, 26, 14–26.

Ekman, P. (1977). Biological and cultural contributions to body and facial movement. In: Backing, J. (Ed.), The anthropology of the body (pp. 39-84). London: Academic Press.

Eskildsen, S. W., & Wagner, J. (2015). Embodied L2 construction learning. Language Learning, 65, 268-297.

Firth, A., & Wagner, J. (1997). On discourse, communication and (some) fundamental concepts in second language acquisition research. Modern Language Journal, 81, 285–300.

Freedman, N. (1972). The analysis of movement behavior during the clinical interview. In A. Siegman & B. Pope (Eds.), Studies in dyadic communication. New York: Pergamon.

Goldin-Meadow, S., Wein, D., & Chang, C. (1992). Assessing knowledge through Gesture: Using children’s hands to read their minds. Cognition and Instruction, 9(3), 201-219.

Goldin-Meadow, S., & Alibali, M. W. (2013). Gesture’s role in speaking, learning, and creating language. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 257-283.

Goodwin, C. (1986). Gesture as a resource for the organization of mutual orientation. Semiotica, 62, 29-49

Goodwin, C., & Goodwin, M. (1986). Gesture and coparticipation in the activity of searching for a word. Semiotica, 62, 51-75.

Gullberg, M. (1998). Gesture as a communication strategy in second language discourse. Lund, Sweden: Lund University Press.

Gullberg, M. (2006a). Handling discourse: Gestures, reference tracking, and communication strategies in early L2. Language Learning, 56, 155-196

Gullberg, M. (2006b). Some reasons for studying gesture and second language acquisition. International Review of Applied Linguistics, 44, 103-124.

Gullberg, M. (2010). Methodological reflections on gesture analysis in second language acquisition and bilingualism research. Second Language Research, 26, 75-102.

Guvendir, E. (2011). The role of non-verbal behavior of teachers in providing students corrective feedback and their consequences. Sino-US English Teaching, 8, 577-591.

Hayashi, M. (2003). Language and the body as resources for collaborative action: A study of word searches in Japanese conversation. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 36, 109-141.

Hosoda, Y. (2006). Repair and relevance of differential language expertise in second language conversations. Applied Linguistics, 27, 25-50.

Kendon, A. (1972). Some relationships between body motion and speech. In A. W. Seigman & B. Pope (Eds.), Studies in dyadic communication (pp. 177-210). Elmsford, NY: Pergamon.

Kendon, A. (2004). Gesture: Visible action as utterance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Koshik, I., & Seo, M. (2012). Word (and other) sequences initiated by language learners. Text & Talk, 32(2), 167-189.

Lazaraton, A. (2004). Gesture and speech in the vocabulary explanations of one ESL teacher: A microanalytic inquiry. Language Learning, 54, 79-117.

Lee, D. S. (2004). Conversation analytic approach to communication strategies: Appeals in language learners’ word searches. Unpublished Master’s thesis. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Lee, J. (2008). Gesture and private speech in second language acquisition. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 30, 169–190.

Markee, N. (2000). Conversation analysis. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Markee, N. (2004). Conversation Analysis for second language acquisition. In E. Hinkel (Ed.), Handbook of research in second language teaching and learning (pp. 355-374). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

McCafferty, S. G. (1998). Nonverbal expression and L2 private speech. Applied Linguistics, 19, 73–96.

McCafferty, S. G. (2002). Gesture and creating zones of proximal development for second language learning. The Modern Language Journal, 86, 192-203.

McCafferty, S. G., & Ahmed, M. (2000). The appropriation of gestures of the abstract by L2 learners. In J. P. Lantolf (Ed.), Sociocultural theory and second language learning (pp. 198-218). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McCafferty, S. G., & Stam, G. (Eds.). (2008). Gesture: Second language acquisition and classroom research. New York: Routledge

McNeill, D. (1992). Hand and mind: What the hands reveal about thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

McNeill, D., Cassell, J., & McCullough, K. (1994). Communicative effects of speech mismatched gestures. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 27, 223-237.

Morett, L. M. (2014). When hands speak louder than words: The role of gesture in the communication, encoding, recall of words in a novel second language. The Modern Language Journal, 98, 834-853.

Mori, J., & Hasegawa, A. (2009). Doing being a foreign language learner in a classroom: Embodiment of cognitive states as social events. International Review of Applied Linguistics, 47, 65–94.

Mori, J. & Hayashi, M. (2006). The achievement of intersubjectivity through embodied completions: A study of interactions between first and second language speakers. Applied Linguistics, 27, 195-219.

Olsher, D. (2004). Talk and gesture: The embodied completion of sequential actions in spoken interaction. In R. Gardner & J. Wagner (Eds.), Second language conversations (pp. 221-245). London: Continuum.

Park, I. (2007). Co-construction of word search activities in native and non-native speaker interaction. Working Papers in TESOL & Applied Linguistics, 7, 1-23.

Rimé, B. (1982). The elimination of visible behavior from social interactions: Effects of verbal, nonverbal and interpersonal variables. European Journal of Social Psychology, 12, 113-129.

Schegloff, E. A. (1984). On some gestures’ relation to talk. In J. M. Atkinson & J. Heritage (Eds.), Structures of social action: Studies in Conversation Analysis (pp. 266-296). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schegloff, E. A. (2007). Sequence organization in interaction: A primer in Conversation Analysis (v. 1). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schegloff, E. A., Jefferson, G., & Sacks, H. (1977). The preference for self-correction in the organization of repair in conversation. Language, 53, 361-382.

Seo, M., & Koshik, I. (2010). A conversation analytic study of gestures that engender repair in ESL conversation tutoring. Journal of Pragmatics, 42, 2219-2239.

Seyfeddinipur, M. (2007). Repair at hand: Fixing up gestures for recipients. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of American Association for Applied Linguistics, Costa Mesa, CA.

Sidnell, J. (2010). Conversation analysis: An Introduction. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell

Smotrova, T., & Lantolf, J. P. (2013). The function of gesture in lexically focused L2 instructional conversations. The Modern Language Journal, 97, 397–416.

Stivers, T. (2004). “No no no” and other types of multiple sayings in social interaction. Human Communication Research, 30, 260-293.

Streeck, J. (1993). Gesture as communication I: Its coordination with gaze and speech. Communication Monographs 60, 275-299.

Sueyoshi, A., & Hardison, D. M. (2005). The roles of gestures and facial cues in second language listening comprehension. Language Learning, 55, 661-699.

Swain, M (1985). Communicative competence: Some roles of comprehensible input and comprehensible output in its development. In S. Gass & C. Madden (Eds.), Input in second language acquisition (pp. 235-253). Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Taleghani-Nikazm, C. (2008). Gestures in foreign language classrooms: An empirical analysis of their organization and function. In M. Bowles et al. (Eds.), Selected Proceedings of the 2007 Second Language Research Forum (pp. 229-238). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project

Wang, W., & Loewen, S. (2015). Nonverbal behavior and corrective feedback in nine ESL university-level classrooms. Language Teaching Research, 20, 459-478.

Willey, B. (2001). Examining a “communication strategy” from a conversation analytic perspective: Eliciting help from native speakers inside and outside of word search sequences. Unpublished master’s thesis. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.