Gesturing Verb Conjugations and Tenses

Note: I apologize but can’t remember who sent this in:
I am testing an idea to see if I can use finger gestures to establish meaning of more than just the third person, and also to gesture verb tenses at the same time.  We’ll see how it works out. I am trying to get a video blog on this topic as well, as some things are easier to explain than they are to write about.

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30 thoughts on “Gesturing Verb Conjugations and Tenses”

  1. I’ve seen finger gestures suggested for persons, I think the sign language signals, but we could also make up our own. A useful exercise may be to TPR the subject pronouns early in the year and then use the gestures in the future as necessary.
    Here’s the frequency rank of the subject pronouns in Spanish:
    he/they – 41
    I – 52
    she/they – 69
    we – 191
    you (f) – 269
    you (inf) – 554
    They combine él & ellos as 1 word and ella and ellas as 1 word. I do not see ustedes listed and it’s not reported with usted. . . hmmm. This is another argument for teaching you (f), before you (inf).
    There is probably a sweet spot for how much we should utilize gestures. Underuse and the input is less comprehensible. Overuse and it’s like giving kids subtitles (they don’t have to process the input if they can get meaning from gestures). Makes sense to me that quantity of gestures go from a lot -> a little as we progress through the 3 steps.

    1. “This is another argument for teaching you (f), before you (inf).” That is an interesting point, Eric. And I do favor learning formal you, “usted” before informal “tú.”
      There might be other reasons for the greater frequency of “usted” (formal). 1. As the object of a preposition, “usted” continues to be used, whereas, “tú” is replaced by “ti.” 2. Due to the ambiguity of the “usted” verb forms it may be necessary for clarification, whereas the informal “tú” form is mark by an “-s,” rendering the pronoun unnecessary for clarity.
      I think the lack of mention of “ustedes” with “usted” is that a) the English translation is the same and b) “ustedes” is the predictable plural form, the same as the consonant-final nouns in the list. So since the plural for “tú” in most countries is “ustedes”3) the plural of “tú” gets counted as “usted.” (I know you anticipated this last issue based on your comments.) Given the three observations, we do not know how much of a frequency argument we can make for the primacy of “usted.” (It is still a socio-cultural issue, though.)

      1. Someone here a while back (was that you Nathaniel?) referenced a movement by Spanish-speaking parents to try to get their kids to use “Usted” with adults more and so would model it with their little ones. I had not heard this, but it reinforced why I use “Usted” in class with levels 1 and 2. My main reason for sheltering it in favor of “Usted” is that I would rather my kids err on the side of being overly polite as opposed to a bit presumptuous and perhaps even rude. That being said, I had a student from Pamplona, Spain a couple years ago who told me she used “Tú” when talking to most people, even her teachers. So I don’t know. I’m sticking with “Usted” for now.

  2. When I use the yo form (I) for Spanish I make an “O” with my hand and put it over my I because the verb will end in an O and it refers to I.
    When use the tu form (You) I make an “S” with my arm. The verb ends with an S in this form. The arm is supposed to be a snake (because snake starts with an S) and the snake tries to jab at YOU.
    When I use the ellos, ellas, uds. form (they, you guys) I draw an “n” in the air right side up and then do it again as if its laying down (making me point to the crowd). I do this because the verb ends in an “n” and refers to they and not we.
    I don’t have one for the nosotros from yet.
    I hope this makes sense.

  3. “Overuse and it’s like giving kids subtitles (they don’t have to process the input if they can get meaning from gestures).”
    I am SO guilty of this, but I’m not sure of the solution. With my slow-processors (and most of my classes are special education classes), there are a number of students who struggle with recalling previously-introduced structures. When I recycle them, I nearly gesture the entire sentence, and I love the image of “subtitles” because it provides a clear picture of what I am doing (good and bad) when I do this. On the other hand, though, if I don’t gesture, I am left with writing the previous structure and its translation on the board, which can be very tedious if those words are appearing in every sentence. In an ideal world, each structure would be acquired when it is introduced, but this is simply not the case. I guess the answer is just to find a balance between gesturing to ensure comprehensibility and just allowing some of what we say NOT to be 100% comprehensible to our students.
    I also had this thought the other day about one of ACTFL’s criticisms of TPRS, which is that input does not have to be 100% comprehensible. This is somewhat true, as Krashen has recently endorsed the inclusion of a little extra “noise” in input so long as it is i+1. The realization I had, though, is that no matter what we do, it will never be 100% comprehensible, since we ALWAYS think our kids understand more than they do. So, if we shoot for 100%, we are probably only hitting 80-90% anyway for a lot of kids. If this is the case, what happens when we don’t try to keep it 100% comprehensible? How much are they getting then? 40-50% at best? Just a thought.

    1. Delaying the gesture may be another solution. At least this gives them a chance to process without the extra cues.
      1) Say the sentence.
      2) Then gesture OR repeat the sentence while you gesture.
      Or have a Student Job be “Gesture King/Queen” and that person does the gestures for the teacher.

      1. Delaying and then omitting the gesture after enough reps, that is a good rule I think. When I took Linda Li’s class a few years back, I really appreciated the gestures, but there was a point where I (perhaps only I, and maybe a few others, but perhaps not the majority) wanted her to stop doing them, or at least delay them, so that I could do the processing without training wheels so to speak. Of course, I only got 16 hours with her so this would probably be something she’d have done eventually anyway.
        And opposite of delayed gesture is “delayed speaking while gesturing” and they start to fill in the missing word in their head. Later, we gesture and have them fill in the blank chorally as a way to check ease/accuracy of production. I know others do this too, perhaps without even realizing it.

  4. Joseph Scott, a retired French teacher from MA, had a system that he used. It is a way to make person, gender and number better understood by the students. You have problem done much of this, but Joe Scott is the only person I have seen demonstrate a consistent and complete system of PGN gestures.
    I — point to self
    you — point directly in front of self
    she — point to side, Joe arbitrarily used left for she
    he — point to side, Joe arbitrarily used right for he
    For plurals, use combinations of the above.
    we — point to self and to the other (he, she, you, etc.)
    you formal — “point” with palm out (it is not polite to point)
    you informal plural — “point” with two finger out
    they — he or she with two fingers or two hands
    they mixed — he and she — point to left and right
    The gestures are not limited to subjects. They can be recycled for objects (him, her, to them, ourselves) and verbs. If kids have to know these items by a certain date for a common exam, it is superior to charts. It is natural, meaningful, kinesthetic and acoustic.
    As in all CI gesturing, it is important for students to perform the gestures themselves. Not only do they need to get the meaning in their bodies, there is a tendency to mix up you and I, due to their complementary points of view. It is also important to focus on meaning. To those who walk around viewing the world through grammar glasses this looks like grammar, but it is vocabulary.
    Joe would gesture and have the students call out the L2 word. But it works great as a gestured physical response/ CI activity, also. That is the teacher says the words and the students gesture the PGN relationship. As an activity it can be used to bail out or brain break.

  5. I use gestures for past and future, and when introducing verbs (e.g. walking fingers) and nouns. I also do TPR (I say and do; they say and do) once per class. The gestures disappear as they acquire things. After a month I do not need to gesture there is/are, goes, etc.

    1. Ok y’all. My next experiment: learn sign language for ALL the words I use in class and then simultaneously sign while I speak FL. I believe 2 methods, AIM & WAYK, do this. It was Connie Jean, an experienced EFL teacher in France, who wrote me to advocate the use of sign language with TPRS. Since she started doing it, she notices students output more and create more with the language and use more complete sentences.
      She calls it bimodal instruction. And she quotes Eric Jensen saying that “90% of the brain’s sensory input is from visual sources” (p.58). She says: “more likely to be recalled because it is recorded and processed in the memory both verbally and visually” . . . Kids “see, hear, and feel the words.” She does not require students to sign except for when introducing a new sign. Eventually she says she can just silently sign and the kids output it. Apparently, this discussion with Connie was had here back when Ben’s blog was public. And I guess Krashen agreed that student speech from voicing signs is NOT to be considered output. She said it’s the little grammatical words that benefit from being gestured, processing abstract words visually. And she said signing forces the teacher to slow down big time.
      She referenced this book on improving literacy with sign language that we should check out:
      http://www.amazon.com/Dancing-Words-Signing-Childrens-Literacy/dp/0897897234
      Connie will sign a fraction of a second before she says the word. I hypothesize this “primes” the meaning of the word so the student will have more resources to process form. Other explanations for the benefit of sign language & FL use:
      – encouraging more output gets students to pay more attention to input
      – gesturing the grammatical features that may not be processed (since they carry little meaning) gets students to also process those words
      – gestures are like brain-based mnemonics that keep language in our memory for more time, keeping input more comprehensible
      Now, I just wonder if I should be using a Spanish sign language if I teach Spanish . . . ?

      1. Makes a lot of sense to me, Eric. I need to go look up the ASL of those little words; “and”, “but”, “for”, “of” and “to” and maybe not have to point to those words written on my wall so much.

        1. Even if we don’t have a sign per se, we can and probably do do something for those words. For “but”, early on when they’re still acquiring it, I have them repeat it in the same way I say it. That also gets the other modes involved. (That being said, knowing the sign would still be cool.) I’ve noticed the ASL for “and” has helped my kids comprehend more and follow along (i.e. not focused on that little word they didn’t recognize, because they got it through the sign). But…. as someone said here somewhere, we don’t want it to be like subtitles to the language. Right? Or maybe not? This is an area for more experimentation for sure. I personally see lots of value in signing while speaking. When they’ve really acquired it, I stop, and then the signs come in handy for those moments when I want them to demonstrate comprehension (sign what I’m saying with your eyes closed) or to produce language from sign prompts. Several parents have come up to me and said how much they appreciate that their kid is learning ASL in my class.

      2. I use ASL signs but I wondered about using Spanish sign language. I chose ASL for two main reasons. First it is what most of my students will encounter here so they can use it right away and second there are several people in my community that I can go to for help. If you find any reason to use Spanish sign I would be interested to hear the reasons. However I only sign main structures with ASL and sometimes I make the sign up. If I knew more ASL I would use it all the time.

        1. I go with ASL for the same reasons Melissa states above.
          I watched a WAYK lesson with the creator, and some of his ASL signs were quite different that what I learned in my short class a few years ago. Perhaps there’s lots of variation even within ASL…

          1. I have been taught the same thing. Some of the signs that they use in my town varies from another city nearby.

          2. Connie told me she uses Signed Exact English (SEE).
            http://www.signingexactenglish.com/?pageid=3
            “American Sign Language (ASL) is a language in and of itself. It has its own grammar, syntax and idioms. It is as different from English as are Spanish, German or Chinese. In contrast, Signing Exact English (SEE) is a sign system modeled after the English language. SEE includes many signs that are taken from ASL; however, the sentence structure, the idioms, the verb endings, etc. are taken from English. In essence, SEE is a visual form of English.”
            If we teach Spanish we would want to ideally use Signed Exact Spanish (SES).
            en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signed_Spanish
            I’m having a hard time finding info on SES. I did find this:
            “El término ‘el español de señas exactas’ se refiere al método que usa las señas del LSM con el orden de palabras en español y algunas señas para representar la morfología del español. Hay un grupo de sufijos que el español de señas exactas usa de manera similar al inglés de señas exactas. Estos símbolos representan las terminaciones de palabras del español, como -dor y -ción (para sustantivos); -oso y -al (para adjetivos); -ado, -ido y -ando, -iendo (para verbos); -mente (para adverbios). Algunos sustantivos que nombran personas se especifican como femeninos por medio de un morfema indicador del femenino que se hace después de la seña que generalmente indica el masculino. Los intérpretes deletrean con los dedos los artículos y los pronombres (el, la, los, las, le, les, me, te, mi, etc., con excepción de nos, nosotros y nuestro), y también se hace así en las lecturas públicas o cuando se dirige un canto. En una conversación normal entre adultos sordos estos artículos y pronombres se omiten completamente, o se apunta hacia la persona o cosa a que se refiere uno; los morfemas que tienen influencia del español se usan en muy pocas ocasiones.”

          3. That is one of the things that I love about ASL is that it is directional. “Help me”uses the sign for help and moves toward oneself.

  6. This is a neat idea. The connecting words. Be some work to set up an inventory. I have to agree with the “double reinforcement” idea. One of AIM’s strengths is that they support EVERYTHING with gestures. The kids apparently often don’t like gesturing but who cares, if it helps them process input, awesome.

  7. Why don’t the kids like gesturing? I think maybe one answer would be that they are being asked to do a receptive and an action skill in the same moment. If AIM wants to teach gesturing that is one thing. But the aim is to teach the language and that requires massive input. So if the teacher supports the input with her gestures, that is not the same, is better for the kids in my opinion, but when a kid has to gesture out something at the same time they hear it, it just seems weird. Like they have to listen to the L2 and at the same time speak it with their hands. I don’t know. I always forget to gesture anyway. Mary Beth – she’s up observing Bryce today and we are both watching Julie tomorrow – and I noticed yesterday that Sabrina gestures “has” or “had” every time with a moving back and forth of her hand kind of wavy left and right. I think it helped the kids. But gesturing is hard to remember with all the other stuff going on. That may be one of the truly advanced teaching skills involved in this work.

  8. ^ the people I talked to about AIM said that little kids liked or didn’t mind gesturing. Adolescents, nu-uh. It maybe feels silly, I dunno. This btw is a common AIM thing: AIM seems to work better with younger kids.

    1. I’ve learned a good number of the AIM signs, which I use quite a bit with my beginning classes, because it’s systematized quite well, and when I do the gestures while I’m speaking it really slows me down and helps my students to latch onto the meaning of the words.
      I agree that one of the strong points is that it helps kids a ton with all of the linking words, and also the verbs. It takes awhile to get down, but I’ve had quite a few students react positively to it because it’s just one more way to help them to understand what’s going on. Plus, there are some students who like to learn the actions because it really does help them to remember.

  9. I’ve picked up a lot of signs from watching video of CI teachers. It’s often subtle but now that I’m alert for it I see it and often get good ideas. A brain break I like that I think I picked up from Joseph Dzeidzic is to just stand up and sign a bunch of verbs. I know it is not technically a brain break but nobody really has to think because they can just copy other people if they need to. One connecting word that I sign is “with”, by linking my pointer fingers together in front of me. It seems to help certain students a lot. Then “without” becomes releasing those fingers and moving them away from each other. It’s really cool when I see students signing to themselves when they are reading or acting. Sometimes it seems to happen spontaneously, almost subconsciously. That does not happen very often but it gives me a little thrill when it does. I love signing while I’m talking with students. It kind of makes me feel like I’m dancing.

  10. Thinking/clarifying here: For more concrete/gesture-able language (i.e., action verbs) gestures/TPR is an obvious choice. For connection/transition & other abstract words, we have them posted to pause and point, or use another set gesture (i.e. I pause & point my index finger up for pero=but; then we joke and say, “not this butt – “and everyone points to their butt). So we are wondering whether a coded system, ASL, WAYK, AIM etc. would help Ss acquire these abstract words in conjunction with, not as a substitute for, the posted translation.
    Having/remembering/using a gesture that may not be intuitive/carry meaning definitely forces a pause, and slow is good.
    I am concerned about adding another layer of abstractness, though.
    I am going to explore some of the gestures in ASL etc and see if I can get it ‘into my body’ comfortably enough to mobilize during a lesson.
    I have definitely observed the power of gestures to trigger language, especially when a Ss wants to speak and gets stuck. If I prompt with a known gesture, the words often tumble out. Is this real output?
    I guess it doesn’t really matter; all that matters is that the gesture supports the recall of the mental representation, engraving the language into the Acquisition Device, right?
    Wow, could be powerful, but seems soooo hard!!

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