The role of pointing gestures and eye gaze in second language vocabulary learning

Paula Janjić*, Gozdem Arikan, Harmen B. Gudde, Joseph J.C. Murphy, Laksha Sivaram, Kenny R. Coventry*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Learning a second language is recognized as a necessity for social, political, and economic development. However, the processes contributing to initial vocabulary learning have not been explicated. In a series of experiments, this study examines the role of deictic gestures and gaze in second language vocabulary learning. Such cues have been shown to be fundamental in first language learning, but their efficacy in second language learning has not been established. In three experiments 435 participants learned pseudowords by watching images of a teacher naming objects placed on a table while systematically manipulating pointing and gaze. Moreover, manipulating the position of the object relative to the teacher (within or out of reach) served to establish the possible importance of these cues as social versus attentional constructs in second language vocabulary learning. Results show that gaze and gesture did not affect vocabulary learning, but object position did. We discuss implications of these results for theories of first language and second language vocabulary learning.

Original languageEnglish
JournalDiscourse Processes
Early online date8 May 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 May 2024


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