Using Body-Brain Coupling to Augment Language Learning

October 2022

Every day, it seems, we’re learning more and more about the brain-body connection; even though we’ve explored this topic once before in the past, in our March 2020 Embodied Cognition issue, we felt that there was still so much left for us to explore that we simply had to revisit the topic again this year. So without further ado, let’s investigate how the brain and body work together and how we can use that knowledge to our advantage in the classroom. 

Our cover: “The chief function of the body is to carry the brain around.” – Thomas A. Edison

photo by おにぎり on Unsplash; others from Pixabay & Pexels

Watch before you read...

In March 2020 we made our first foray into embodied cognition—how the brain and body work together to make meaning of the world around us (link). In this Think Tank we’re reexamining the fundamental connection of mind and body in foreign language learning. In the Main podcast episode Sheila Macrine and Jennifer Fugate not only explain how we use our bodies and the surrounding environment to learn, but also talk about practical applications in educational contexts. In the More podcast episode, Susan Hrach tells listeners how they might apply insights from embodied cognition inside and outside the classroom.

Starting our Think Tank articles off, Curtis Kelly writes about embodied cognition and how it is changing our view of memory and language. Tim Murphey continues by illustrating key concepts from Annie Murphy Paul’s The Extended Mind with his own experiences and ideas. Next, Harumi Kimura shares her observation of teachers using gestures effectively to facilitate students’ language learning. After Marc Helgesen offers readers a banquet of practical brain-body activities, Mohammad Khari delves into embodied cognition and its importance for language teachers. Matt Ehlers rounds off the issue with solid advice for conducting efficient Internet searches.

Macrine & Fugate

Embodied Cognition in Education and Learning

Susan Hrach

Minding Bodies

Our Thoughts on Body-Brain

How the Brain Uses Physical Experiences for Cognition Curtis Kelly

It is hard to read or talk about the brain without someone saying “it is a totally amazing machine. It does this or that.” We can all share in the wonder, because, indeed, it is amazing. The awe comes from how this simple organ, a mere 3% of our body mass, can perform such unbelievable feats, such as organize light frequencies into creatures and objects; paint the world in colors; organize sound frequencies into communication symbols; organize wants, needs, and behaviors into collaboration; and so much more. It is a pretty long list.

Think Tank Articles

The Extended Mind: Using the World to Enhance Thinking Tim Murphey

I used to think that my thinking was restricted to my brain, that thing in my head behind my eyes. When really, I have been using an extended brain many times without realizing it. It seems that my parents, siblings, coaches, and teachers even trained me to extend. An extended brain is a brain that incorporates aspects of the world as part of its cognition. The world then too is part of the thinking.

Teaching Language with Gesture, and More Harumi Kimura

How talkative our hands are and how eloquent our body is! Actually, our hands and body can be powerful language teaching tools (Paul, 2021). Because cognition is embodied, so is language, making motor movement is a part of language processing, even if not externalized. Therefore, it is natural for us to communicate with gestures and body movements, but we can also use them strategically in teaching language.

Haptic (tactile-kinesthetic) Teaching in the Classroom Marc Helgesen

 You’ve heard the adage: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” You’ve probably also heard that “multi-sensory teaching” is the way to teach. Multi-sensory just means making use of more than one sense. And, doing so, they are making direct use of what the brain does so well: making sensory-motor connections, which, in turn, lead to learning and memory.

Pigasus or Superswine? Body as a Mirroring Tool Mohammad Khari

Language itself is a tool the brain creates to help it understand and interact with others, but from the brain’s perspective it is no easy process. To make this tool, the brain must engage in mirroring and embodied simulation.

Think Tank Plus

How You Can Use Google as a Brain Tool Matt Ehlers

 This issue introduces readers to how the brain uses the body and world as tools of cognition. And, those who are curious about them can find out even more about them online by using search engines. For example, looking up “cognition body world” on Google gives 297 million results. Likewise, searching for “brain-based learning” returns 940 million different ones. Other searches, such as “embodied cognition” and “how movement affects the brain,” present users anywhere from tens to hundreds of millions of results.

Call for Contributions: Ideas and Articles Think Tank Staff

Become a Think Tank star! Here are some of the future issue topics we are thinking about. Would you, or anyone you know, like to write about any of these? Or is there another topic you’d like to recommend? Do you have any suggestions for lead-in, or just plain interesting, videos? How about writing a book review? Or sending us a story about your experiences? Contact us.

Going Deeper

Check out this article from Edutopia with lots of useful activities you can add to encourage movement in the classroom. 

Fostering Language Learning through Using the 5 Senses

Ms. Ghada Yacoub was a Fulbright teaching assistant, and she talks about how she used the 5 senses when teaching her students Arabic at a university in Ohio. Don’t miss how she made Arabic fun!

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The MindBrained Think Tanks+

is produced by the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) Mind, Brain, and Education Special Interest Group (BRAIN SIG). Kyoto, Japan. (ISSN 2434-1002)

Editorial Staff

Stephen M. Ryan                Julia Daley                   Marc Helgesen

             Heather Kretschmer          Curtis H. Kelly            Skye Playsted               

    Jason Walters                               Mohammad Khari




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