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By Tae Kunisawa

Why did my former American high school students’ Japanese oral proficiency skyrocket with the use of coverbal non-object related finger and hand action imitation (CNFHAI)?

It is important to note that my first year Japanese language students’ performance had been very poor at the beginning of the1999-2000 school year; however, at the time of my instruction to the students, creation of CNFHAI and its pictorial representations assisted with the students’ grammatical competence to improve their Japanese oral production significantly.  Crucially, their Japanese oral proficiency skyrocketed by the end of school year.

Prior to my introduction to CNFHAI, the students had difficulty to converse in structured sentences of Japanese, including verbs, adjectives, negative and affirmative sentences to questions and particles.  It was imperative for me to create an effective teaching method to help the students.  Depiction of the predisposing, or enabling factors that demonstrated how the students improved their Japanese by comparing and contrasting their experiences will be given in this paper.  In order to clarify the experiences, first an explication of my Asian puppet shadow show production, which had contributed to the improvement of Japanese oral proficiency in class by students with strong language background, will be described. Second, the weak language background students’ ability in first language (L1) and Japanese language at the beginning of the school year will be presented. Specifically, their weakness of grammar usage will be expressed.  Third, an explanation will be presented about the importance of learning grammar for beginners, citing the Higgs and Clifford hypothesis (see Illustration 1) and McKelvey’s proposal (see Illustration 2.)   Fourth, an interpretation will be bestowed on how the difficulty teaching Japanese grammar caused discipline problems, if teachers do not have an effective teaching method.  Fifth, a clarification will be given about how I adapted Total Physical Response-Storytelling (TPR-S) (Ray, 1993), as it is considered to cause the delay of grammar learning.  In addition, a description will be shown about the reasons that I have modified TPR-S to teach Japanese grammar.  Sixth, a detailed explanation will be given about the visually stimulating and pleasurable CNFHAI activities, which helped significantly with the students’ oral proficiency and motivated the students to learn Japanese.  Seventh, a depiction will be demonstrated about how Japanese oral improvement with CNFHAI gave the students a passion to learn the new and difficult language.  Eighth, a suggestion will be proposed about the necessity of investigation of the reasons that CNFHAI helped with the students’ oral development.  Ninth, literature review about gesture imitation and gesture studies will be presented.  Finally, the limitation of my study will be shortly described.

I.  My Production: Asian Puppet Shadow Show

My Japanese language students (1st year to 4th year) had performed puppet shadow shows in Japanese since 1994 under my direction.  The Japan Center, universities professors, executives at local Japanese companies and the PTSA (parents, teachers and students association) at my school provided assistance for this project.  Students benefited from participating in this production by developing language skills and by increasing their understanding of culture.  There was also a development of computer literacy.  This was a chance for the students, their parents, faculty members, people from local Japanese communities, and students who did not take Japanese classes to share in different cultures.  My students also performed a fashion show, wearing costumes from their ancestral countries after the puppet shadow show.   Following the show, a reception was held with ethnic food, which had been cooked by my students, their parents and myself.  These activities enabled us to expose a realistic culture rather than an artificial culture.  My students’ appreciation of and enthusiasm for the Japanese language and culture further improved due to the production.

Without difficulties, I generated the production until 1999, while also developing curriculum, and receiving support from the parents, administrators and students as well as Japanese communities. However, the lack of an efficacious teaching method for the weak language background first year Japanese language students eroded their desire to learn the language, which was complicated for English speakers, although they had been motivated to learn Japanese at the beginning of the school year (refer to Illustration 3).

Serious discipline problems for the first time in my twenty-five years teaching experience resulted.  As the Illustration 3 shows, it takes learners of Japanese about three times as long to learn the language as it would take them to learn a language more closely related to English, such as French or Spanish.  This only concerns speech.  If we also teach Japanese writing systems, it will take students more than three times as long to learn Japanese because the Japanese language has four different writing systems.  Thus, if the learners would like to become proficient in Japanese, they need to plan on spending many years studying it.  It was urgent for me to produce a relevant teaching method for the weak background students.

II. Weak Background Students

In the fall of 1999, the 9th through 11th graders enrolled in a first year Japanese class at my high school.  Four different levels of English courses, which were AP (advanced placement), academic gifted, average and basic English, were offered at my high school.  Usually students, who took AP and academic gifted English courses, enrolled in my class at my high school.  However, many of the first year Japanese language students in the fall of 1999 were taking average or basic English courses.  One of them failed in Spanish level one and others have never taken a foreign language course.  The English teachers told me that students of those courses had a difficulty to describe themselves in a written form with their first language. Thus, I foresaw that the students would have problems with learning Japanese in my class because through my twenty-five years of teaching experience, in general, students with L1 problems would also have a difficulty to learn second language (L2).

My teaching methods, which integrated communicative approach and, a structuralist with the audio-lingual method had been successful in the past, but totally failed to guide the students with weak-language-back ground.  I had a certain pride in the fact that I had had training at Bryn Mawr College and Columbia University, where leading authorities in Japanese language pedagogy had instructed me.   At the beginning of the course, students were required to introduce themselves in Japanese.  At that time, they conversed with their classmates and me fairly well, though they had fumbled a little with vocabulary. 

With the introduction of grammar concepts, they totally confused their Japanese conversation skills because of their inability to facilitate grammar, and synthesize their vocabulary and phonological knowledge.  The textbook for my class had written by structurists, who had adapted the communicative approach.  The syntactical structure, vocabulary, and pronunciation of the Japanese language are entirely dissimilar to those of English except derived words from English.  Apparently, students with weak-language-back ground had suffered from the large difference between the two languages.  It was no doubt that many of them did not have good study habits either.  Consequently, their limited language capacity inhibited the use of the methods, which had been successful in teaching other high school Japanese language students at my high school for the past eight years.

Specifically, they had problems conjugating verbs and adjectives, forming structured sentences, including how to respond with negative and affirmative sentences to questions. Various inflection forms and particles were an enormous obstacle for them, partly because they are not a part of the English language.  They struggled with inflectional forms, the particles, semantics and complicated syntactical structures such as how to respond with negative and affirmative sentences to questions, even though I set up situations and used Japanese toys and picture cards, that had pleased my previous years students and that had helped with enhancement of their inflectional forms as well as particles and syntactical abilities. The weak language background students were capable to communicate with the instructor in Japanese at first; however as the complexity of Japanese language instruction increased, they hit a wall trying to learn Japanese.

They were also capable of pronouncing Japanese words because of two reasons.  One of them is that there is no remarkable difficulty for English speakers with Japanese phonology, other than the absence of the /l/ phoneme and its replacement, where it is required e.g. to pronounce foreign words, by /r/.  Another account would be the use of the audio-lingual method; thus their phonological competence enabled us to have Japanese conversations in certain situations.  However, I had virtually foreseen that the students would have difficulties with those rules in Japanese because in the past, even students with strong language background had encountered some degree of difficulty with applying their knowledge of the rules to Japanese conversations.  It appeared that the complex syntactical configuration, particles, and the inflectional forms of verbs and adjectives impaired and hampered their ability to have Japanese conversations with their instructor.

III. Importance of learning grammar

III-1. Higgs and Clifford hypothesis

Why is teaching grammar critical in a foreign language (FL) and L2 classroom?  Two reasons account for this.  First, Higgs and Clifford (1982) proposed their hypothesis to learn foreign languages.  They consider that vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation would be crucial to master FL at the beginners’ level. 

While the most efficient way to achieve survival level proficiency would be a course that stressed vocabulary, our experience indicates that such a program would work to the disadvantage of students who wished to develop higher levels of proficiency.  Students entering such a program would have to be warned of its potentially negative effect on their long-range aspirations (p.73.)


Participating in the puppet shadow show production, which includes learning stories in FL with inflectional forms of words, particles, and intricate syntactical construction, is a demanding task for American high school students to learn Japanese, thus it was crucial for me to modify my teaching situation as in my earlier statements.

III-2. McKelvey’s proposal for grammar instruction

In addition to Clifford and Higgs’ hypothesis, McKelvey proposes a more eclectic approach.  He presented a model that suggests beginning level students need more structure, repetition, and support. Therefore the teacher’s control with beginners is the gateway to communication success, practicing pronunciation with the audio-lingual method, and integrating pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary, which are the crucial points to assist the beginners to acquire a certain level of proficiency. My hypothesis was that the students’ difficulty existed in the lack of support in internalizing and retrieving grammar at the time of my instruction.  

IV. Difficulty teaching syntactical grammar to weak language background students.

As they realized the degree of complexity to learn Japanese with the introduction of certain rules of the Japanese language, the novelty of learning a new language wore off quite rapidly.  Lack of effective teaching methods for the students left me unable to handle their discipline problems.  Any modification did not help with their progress. Inevitably, this led to students’ misbehavior.  My motivation to teach Japanese gradually eroded due to the lack of effective teaching methods derived from an examined theory. I considered relegating my teaching standard to fit their language ability; however I was unable to do so because if I lowered my standards, they would not be able to improve their Japanese language abilities.   Worse yet, I was anxious about the potential problems associated with their participation in my puppet shadow show production.  Crucially, their parents had paid their attention on the production so that some of the parents used to request me to give their children certain roles for the production.  If many of Japanese language students in a specific Japanese class were unable to participate in the production, it was apparent that parents’ criticism would occur.

Showing a videotape of our past production failed to motivate them, though it usually had worked to improve students’ motivation to learn the Japanese language in the past.  It was apparent that due to the deficiency in discernible connection to improve their Japanese language proficiency, they lacked a clear goal to learn the Japanese language and culture.  

An assumption of a potential use of TPR-S occurred in my mind.  A book, FLUENCY THROUGH TPR STORYTELLING, written by Blaine Ray was a possible resource to solve the problem.  TPR-S had been popular in Spanish and worked very well to improve Spanish students proficiency.  Blaine Ray, who is an originator of TPR-S, stated that:

Although formal grammar instruction in TPR-S is delayed, test results show that grammar is nevertheless successfully acquired early in the program.  In spring 1993, middle school students in a pilot Pre-Spanish One introductory TPR-S program at Phoenix County Day School actually scored ABOVE the national average on the Level One National Spanish Exam.


I recalled a Spanish teacher’s quote such as  “ Tae, I have to teach Spanish to students who do not understand English grammar.”  My immediate decision was flying to Texas to attend a TPR-S session, which was a part of ACTFL (American Council on Teaching of Foreign Languages) annual conference held in November 1999.  However, I was wondering if delaying teaching grammar in my class might cause problems later, though my students might get a benefit from TPR-S.

V. CNFHAI is a teaching method which expanded from TPR-S

V-1. TPR-S Workshop at ACTFL

My first voyage, which was serendipitous, to Texas would not guarantee a solution to the problems.  The exotic atmosphere in Texas intrigued me. The Mexican style colorful buildings, the Cajun food and tropical plants such as red bougainvilleas’ flowers and big hemp palms welcomed me.  The conference was held in a huge hotel filled with thousands of language professionals and administrators from across North America.  I could feel the powerful FL movement in North America.  I was lucky enough to find a seat for the TPR-S session. The presenter for the TPR-S session at ACTFL was full of excitement and anticipation about teaching an Indian language, which was new for all of us.

The presenter requested us to be her students for the session.  She divided us into small groups and had us practice telling a story using gesture, including body action as well as drawings.  She first demonstrated how to teach vocabulary using a story with gesture and drawings.  Teaching vocabulary is important for beginners to acquire the language.  She then requested us to practice telling the story with the actions while pronouncing the words.  Finally, she requested some volunteers to come up to the front to perform the story with gesture and costumes, which she had brought for the session.  The volunteers did a great job, demonstrating the story with their humorous gesture and conversations in the Indian language.  The presenter and the volunteers received a big round of applause from the participants because of their outstanding performance.  Fun derived and stimulus activities would be less likely to become frustrated or “turned off” by demanding a learning experience. However, I considered that just transferring her method to my class would not work.  Possible amendments of TPR-S would be required by synthesizing the visual and kinesthetic through fun and interesting activities, which would fit my students’ language capacity. Each student is quite different.

V-2. Adaptation of TPR-S

The first stage of TPR-S was involved in breaking the ice.  It allowed me to explore the extent of my interest in the modification of the method to fit the Japanese language students; however probable problems of TPR-S for my students was the clear seven steps for TPR-S proposed by Blaine Ray.  Those are as follows:

1. Teach the words of a story through gesture.  Have students practice the gesture.  (2 minutes max)

2.  Assess.  When the students know the words, go on to the next step.

3.  Use the above words in personalized questions and answers.  Also use the words in a mini-situation.  The mini-situation will be bizarre  (eliminate the expected) and have elements from the students' lives and exaggeration.  We exaggerate size and numbers to create interest and to aid in long-term memory.  Students act out the story.

4.  Teacher retells the same story two more times.  S/he asks questions while s/he retells.  This gives the students much more input.  It also gives them a great deal of repetition of the new words from that day.

5.  Students retell.  They retell in groups and to the class.  (5 min. max)

6.  Teacher teaches students how to retell from another perspective.  (Retell the story as if you were in the story.  All changes must be made in the story so it is grammatically correct from the point of view of the narrator.)

7.Students retell from perspective.

Cited from

TPR-S is an excellent way to teach FL.  It consists of innovative ways, including using a story and gesture as well as drawings; however, four different problems with this procedure will be described in this section, though I realize that the TPR-S is a groundbreaking way to teach FL. First, the use of TPR-S is related to delayed formal grammar instruction.  However, my problem with the weak language background students was having them internalize grammar concepts for their oral production.  The students, who need immediate assistance to improve grammatical use for conversations, could not get immediate benefit from TPR-S.  Second, following the exact procedure of TPR-S does not allow teachers to create their own ways to fit their students’ proficiency and motivation.  For instance, he suggests that gesture should be used for two minutes at maximum; however I used much more than two minutes in my class, rather extensive use of gesture pleased my students and contributed to their oral development in Japanese.  Third, creating many interesting stories was difficult for me because I taught at seven different levels in middle school, and high school.  Time limitation hindered the creation of stories.   Fourth, evaluating students’ comprehension of the stories is too simple for Japanese language students.  Thus, generation of my own way was still urgent for me, including activities with CNFHAI as well as drawings, which assist with the students’ Japanese grammatical competency.  The revelation of lack of the resilience regarding TPR-S for the students led me to creative ways with CNFHAI as well as cartoons.


VI. Creation of activities with observation and CNFHAI, integrating communicative, structurist approaches and audio-lingual method.

A description about the details of my Japanese language students’ improvement in my class will be bestowed in this section.  In 1999, creation of finger and hand action, and cartoons with memorable visual images for my students to learn vocabulary and grammar were presented in my class.  Points of the instruction are from the bottom- up and from the top-down.  Thus, primary organization of the instruction was simple skills in isolation as learners can only initially handle simple information.  After embodiment of the simple information, I had them process the information slowly and progressively in more complex situations.  As in my earlier statement, my teaching method is derived from communicative and structurist approaches, as well as the audio-lingual method.  In this section, first a description will be presented to explain organizing activities with CNFHAI.  Second, an explanation about the importance of deferred imitation to learn language will be proposed.  Third, clarification of the top-down procedure to assess their Japanese oral proficiency in the absence of CNFHAI will be shown   Finally, the improvement of the students with weak language background will be described

VI-1. Stimulation and Pleasure to Learn the Japanese language with CNFHAI

VI-1. Bottom-up with CNFHAI

(1) Assignment

Assigned homework for the students was repeating sentences after an audiotape and copying each sentence from a textbook into their notebook in Japanese and English, using a Japanese textbook with English translation.  Another homework assignment was practicing the sentences with CNFHAI and cartoons. Students were required to do homework everyday at least thirty minutes because Cooper (1998) says that the more homework students completed, the higher their achievement (p. 51.)  In addition, many teachers follow these homework guidelines:

            Grades 1-3: 20 minutes of homework per day

                        Grades 4-6: 20 to 40 minutes per day

                        Grades 7-9: 2 hours per day


The students required their parents’ note, which described the reasons that they could not have done homework, if they did not submit their homework.  Another requirement was studying two hours at home for each conversation test.


(2) Emphasis of Listening Practice

A listening practice at home also was mandatory for the students because undoubtedly students, who had problems with repetition practice in my class, had constrained abilities to acquire Japanese conversation skills.  As in my earlier discussion, Japanese phonology is not difficult for English speakers; however, structural dissimilarity hinders English speakers’ phonological abilities.  Thus, it was apparent that a fair amount of listening practice was necessary to maintain their memories about oral production in Japanese.  An explanation of an experience during my school days provided enough information to convince them of the importance of listening to the tape. 

The grammar-translation method of foreign language teaching, which is one of the most traditional methods, dating back to the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Japan, affected learning English.  This method, originally used to teach Latin and Greek, reflected "the view of faculty psychologists that mental discipline was essential for strengthening the powers of the mind." (Omaggio 1993, p. 89.)  Undoubtedly, the emphasis on achieving correct grammar with little regard for the free application and oral production is the greatest disadvantage to this method.  Readings in the target language are translated directly and then discussed in the native language, often with an in depth comparisons of the two languages. Grammar is taught with extensive explanations in the native language, and only later applied to creation of sentences through translation from one language to the other.  Testing of the students is done almost entirely through translation.  Crucially, less class time is allocated to allow students to produce their own sentences about their life and thought, and no time is spent on oral practice, though repetition practices are provided.  In addition, students lacked discernible connections to English speaking countries, to people and cultures in those countries.  Seriously, inevitable result of teachers’ correction that this method requires is destructive to the students' learning processes: "students are clearly in a defensive learning environment where right answers are expected." (Omaggio 1993, p. 91.)

I am certain that learning about English-speaking countries’ culture would have greatly enriched our learning experience; however no opportunities about learning the culture were provided because of extremely demanding tasks which required passing entrance exams in Japan.  It seems to me now that it was an unfortunate, uninspiring, unnatural, and ultimately discouraging way to learn a FL.
            Despite all of these disadvantages, certain positive traits are found in such a constraint environment. My middle and high school English classes in the 1960s had been entirely grammar-translation based.  After studying English for six years with grammar-translation method at middle school and high school in Japan, listening comprehension inability in English resulted, none the less my sentence comprehensibility regarding the same sentences as those in a written form.  Insufficient exposure to listening to English sentences impaired my listening comprehension capability.  At that time, English textbooks had not accompanied audiotapes, thus teachers and students had not had a chance to access the tapes for the textbooks in Japan. Needless to say, possible problems to improve my English skills existed in my lack of listening comprehensibility.  The inability of listening comprehension had initiated in me a need for pervasive and intensive ear training with the English audiotapes.  Thus I was primed to experience as much of listening to the tapes in English as possible and I therefore had forced myself to listen to English with a tape recorder from early in the morning till midnight almost everyday to train my ears, immersing myself completely in listening to English, even while I had cleaned my room and taken a bath.  An exploration of the extent of my interest in the practices lasted several months, intending to fill the missing link between listening comprehension and written words until the audiotape became intelligible to me.  One day I suddenly realized that I understood what the audiotape said to me.  This experience pleased me enormously.  My English listening comprehension ability had remained dormant for many years, and now it was abruptly activated. Consequently, I began to seek conversation partners to speak in English.  This was a starting point for me to progress oral production in English, which is second language.  Fabrro (2001) stated, “
Further, bilinguals seem to have specific and independent channels according to the direction of translation” (p. 219.)

Thus, after the explanation of the reasons that Japanese language students in my class should listen to the tape, almost all of them listened to the tape diligently.  If they did not have time to listen to the tape at home, they did it in their car or on their school bus on the way to school.  As in my earlier discussion about learning a foreign language, they found that listening to the tape was very crucial for Japanese oral development.

(3) Classroom activities with CNFHAI

In my class, many of CNFHAI, which is a part of gesture, was iconic gesture.  Explanations about how I instructed Japanese class with CNFHAI will be shown in this section.  First, in my classroom, accounts about grammar and necessary vocabulary for sentences to my students were introduced.  It seemed that understanding the grammar concept was not difficult for my students; however they were unable to synchronize their understanding of grammar and vocabularies for oral production. Thus, CNFHAI with cartoons for vocabulary and grammar to help them internalize vocabularies and grammar were given to the students.  In contrast to the text only handouts, handouts of cartoon character drawings for CNFHAI were evocative for them.  These pictographic cartoons demonstrated happy face representations of actions and emotional states.  Second, a demonstration with CNFHAI was performed to explain the actions for the cartoons, accompanying speech and the facial expressions. They observed CNFHAI and facial expressions with full attention.  My actions and speech seemed to get into the two modalities of their brain, which were nonverbal and verbal, while they were observing CNFHAI.  This enabled them to synchronize certain information.  CNFHAI seemingly generated some crucial areas in their brain using face-to-face communication.  Third, CNFHAI was practiced several times with the students and the instructor.  It seems plausible that visualization by the actions as well as cartoons and speech provided them with the creation of the internal motor programs for the action in their brain. A utilization of the audio-lingual method allowed them to pronounce Japanese words and sentences appropriately.  Then, an assignment was given to them to exercise with CNFHAI in a small group, including repetitious practices with imitated actions and speech.  After completion of the assignment, CNFHAI games were performed in the class.  The aim of those activities was to fasten their memory in their brain.  It seemed that repetitious practices with a CNFHAI game, involving observation, accelerated the embodiment of Japanese vocabulary and grammar.  Fourth, the next challenge was having the students have a conversation in Japanese, which required the students to integrate their phonological, semantic and grammatical skills.

(4)  Deferred imitation with CNFHAI to describe student everyday life

Learners’ vocabulary and grammatical acquisition can be enhanced with the embodiment in real-world complicated contexts, which are familiar for them.  Thus, conversations in Japanese about their everyday life with their classmates and me were demonstrated, using CNFHA and picture cards. What astounded me was how comfortably they had conversations with their classmates and me in Japanese to describe their everyday lives.  This is deferred imitation. Merleau-Ponty (1964) states that:


One must distinguish between immediate imitation and deferred imitation (where the model is incorporate into the child’s latent knowledge and is not used until later (p. 19.)


It was easy for them to express their experiences with CNFHA because they had already developed an academic grasp of grammar and vocabulary about the Japanese language.  Finally, they were motivated and challenged by the increased complexity of the learning tasks. It seems that the representation of the visually perceived CNFHAI generated synchronization of meanings and structure of sentences to speak in Japanese by observing other’s action and using CNFHAI.  Merleau-Ponty (1964) claimed that, “the true imitation penetrate beyond conscious limits and becomes global, that is, the acquisition of language.”  Ferraris (1996) stated:


…in the Essay on the Origin of Language, Rousseau recognizes, in Baconian fashion, the natural priority of gesture as the first form of communication-only to subordinate it in short order to the axiological (which becomes chronological) primacy of speech as the vehicle of feelings (p. 133-134).


CNFHAI apparently created some links between visual information and the Japanese language in their brain using interactive communication.  This might have contributed to the formation of the inner motor programs for the action in their mind, synchronizing auditory information and utterance.  It seems that the depiction of the visually perceived CNFHAI created harmonization of meanings and structure of sentences to speak in Japanese to describe their everyday life, applying their knowledge of Japanese language to their conversations.   This activity was certainly light-hearted and enjoyable rather than threatening.  They were fairly excited about the game with the activities and Japanese conversation to explain their everyday life.  Their phonological, semantic and grammatical knowledge orchestrated to speak in Japanese.  They were motivated and challenged, even though the learning tasks increased the complexity because CNFHAI, cartoons, and playing games encouraged them to speak in Japanese.  The foundation of the novel method pleased the students enormously.  This activity dispelled any enduring feeling of reticence or embarrassment during their attempts to speak in Japanese.  At this point, they acquired a certain extent of satisfaction in the fact that they were able to show off their abilities to their classmates and family members.

VI-2. Top-down with CNFHAI

After struggling with teaching them for several months, we finally figured out how to converse with each other in Japanese.  Crucially, at the time of an oral test, they conversed with me in Japanese without CNFHA.  As they became proficient to speak in Japanese, they gradually decreased the use of CNFHA.  They had Japanese conversations with me in a natural and simple way after instruction with CNFHAI.  It seems plausible that CNFHAI assisted with holding body memory.  By the end of school year, their Japanese oral proficiency had improved drastically with the utilization of the non-verbal instruction accompanying speech. 

VI-3. Weak language background students’ oral proficiency skyrocketed

Crucially, their Japanese oral proficiency was almost equivalent to that of the previous year’s students when I assessed their Japanese conversation ability at the end of the school year. In addition, they were full of enthusiasm to learn this difficult language for English speakers. 

What served to breaking the ice, dispel the students’ persistent feeling of inhibition, and enriched their learning experiences?  What were the differences between communication with CNFHAI and in the absence of CNFHAI?  It seemed to me that CNFHAI played a crucial role to create the embodiment of Japanese semantic, grammatical, and phonological internalization.  Consequently, their proficiency skyrocketed significantly as in my earlier discussion.  Many of the elements supporting their FL learning were in harmony.  They realized that learning the novel and complicated language was a pleasurable challenge and inspired them to improve their Japanese language proficiency.   It would be relevant to say that learning Japanese with CNFHAI and cartoons was the powerful motivation.  It was facilitated with the personification, which allowed the students to improve their conversation skills.  Interestingly, CNFHAI with cartoons supported the strong language background students’ writing abilities, as well as those of telling stories in Japanese, which are not an easy task for average American high school students.  The discipline problems totally vanished in my class; rather their motivation toward the Japanese language and culture initiated further desire to learn the language.  Internalizing the various complicated rules to learn the Japanese language was challenging for the weak-language-back ground students.  It is plausible that the observation, and CNFHAI with the cartoons as well as speech assisted their competency on grammatical ability and semantics a great deal.

VII. Passion to Learn the New language

Gaining Japanese conversational ability accelerated the cooperation among first year Japanese language students.  They were willing to help each other and studied together at the library or in classrooms after school.  Others visited their classmates’ home to help with their homework.  There were school regulations such as, students who helped teachers and organizations in the school district earned credits for their volunteer work, and this was a requirement to be promoted to the next grade.  Motivated Japanese language students, who had already qualified for promotion, were still eager to help the other Japanese language students.  These Japanese language students believed that helping the other students also advanced their Japanese language proficiency.  Another distinct improvement was that a student, who had been notorious for incomplete homework and other assignments, was ranked on the top in my class.  He was motivated to improve his proficiency significantly.  He completed his homework in a timely manner without exception and he assisted other students as well as the production a great deal.   Finally, all Japanese first year students decided to participate in our puppet shadow show production.  The novelty of learning the new language with the new method, the pleasure of participating in the big production, as well as the perceived relevance of learning Japanese evoked their passion to learn the new language.

They had already acquired connections between grammatical, semantic and phonological abilities in English at a certain level; however the dissimilarity of the Japanese language had hindered their capability to harmonize the three elements to acquire it.  Undoubtedly, there had been lack of abilities to organizing them in Japanese.  Learning Japanese with CNFHAI and cartoons was memorable for the students and further motivated the students to study the Japanese language.

Another aspect of their motivation was that gaining recognition from their friends, teachers, administrators, and their parents was important to them.  Since one third of the school population observed the show, many people in the community recognized the students who accomplished the big success.  TV crews and newspaper reporters came to our show.  We were on local TV stations and appeared in the local newspaper.  Because of the recognition from school communities and the mass media, they acquired pride, which helped with their continuing study of the Japanese language and culture the following school year.   The recognition is their external indicator for the motivation.   The pleasure of the accomplishment, including improvement in their language proficiency and the success of the show, was their internal motivation.  The motivation contributed to their improvement; however it is clear that the instruction with CNFHAI and cartoons had a significant impact on the improvement.  Edward Casey asserted (2000) that:

Merleau-Ponty…speaks of the body as “habitual” in the Phenomenology of Perception; which succeeds in according to the body a prominence that it has never before received in philosophical treatments in the West…I am proposing that the body is of central most concern in any adequate assessment of the range of remembering powers (p.147.)

It is my desire to explore the mechanism of CNFHAI in language training, indicating the contribution of CNFHAI to the enhancement of a learner’s grammatical and vocabulary capacity, through my twenty-five years of teaching experience.

VIII.  What is the heart of CNFHAI?

What created the important difference between the instruction with CNFHAI and the absence of CNFHAI to improve the student’s grammatical competence?  What pleased the students enormously? What initiated the students’ enthusiasm to learn the language?  What had the impact on Japanese language students’ conversation abilities?  . 

Scientists have hypothesized that humans used and developed gesture to communicate as they gained languages; however, the process of the transformation from gesture to language has not been verified to date.  In addition, the relationship between CNFHAI and language development has not yet been established.  Crucially, current grammar theories are at the beginning stage, therefore the grammar theories are not good enough to uncover process of language development (Sakai 2002. p 322.)  In addition, scientific studies with regard to languages have just started (Sakai 2002, iii).  It is my wish to explore connections among CNFHA, grammar and language development, describing my experience with CNFHA and my former students as well as existing research on aphasiology, developmental psychologists, and studies on neuroimaging.

IX. Literature Review

IX-1.Gesture Imitation Studies (incomplete)

The capability to imitate allows the child to replicate another person’s

action and to internalize a representation of this action. This capacity is

crucial to the child’s development of awareness of self and others (Piaget,


The ability to memorize and imitate random sequences of manual actions with objects has been reported that the ability is associated with the onset and development of grammatical production from 24-30 months in L1 (Bauer & Thal, 1990; Bauer & Dow et al., 1998; Bauer & Hertsgaard et al., 1998; Baure et al., 2000).  However no empirical research on imitated gesture with non-object related gesture in L2, FL and bilingualism has been presented to show the effectiveness for language learners’ grammatical competence in L1, L2 and foreign language (FL) instruction, according to Marianne Gullberg (2002). Thus I have been researching neuroimaging, developmental psychology, sign Language and aphasiology studies to investigate the reasons that my former students with weak language background improved their oral Japanese proficiency and acquired almost equivalent proficiency to the one of previous year’s students, hoping that my study will help with language learners’ oral development.   My hypothesis is that CNFHAI creates whole brain dynamics was generated, sometimes narrowing the gap between two different languages and other times, generating greater activation macroscopically in the same cortical areas where students process their L1, and L2.

 In order to explore my hypothesis, critiques of gesture and sign language studies on language development will be provided in the following section.


IX-2 Gesture Studies


Language and gesture are close families (Bates 2002.)  Finger action is a part of gesture.  Investigation by developmental psychologists show links between early language and development and several aspects of manual movement, with particular stress on communicative and representational gesture.  Initially, this work developed from Piaget’s thought about the shared sensorimotor origins of linguistic and nonlinguistic symbols (Piaget, 1954, 1962, 1970.)

Studies in the Piagetian tradition has led to growing recognition on language development with gesture in North America, Australia and Europe.  A Canadian teacher of French, Wendy Maxwell, received Prime Minster’s Award for Teaching Excellence for her innovative teaching method, “Gesture Approach,” in 1999.  In the US, at the University of Chicago, researchers found that speakers remembered more when they gestured than when they did not gesture and suggested that gesture reduced the cognitive load of explanation (Goldin-Meadow 2001). In Australia, Rose Miranda (2001) reported the differential facilitation effects of gesture and visualization processes on object naming in individuals with aphasia.  In Europe, a substantial amount of gesture and gesture imitation research has been presented, including L1, L2, aphasiology and apraxia.  In the following section, gesture studies in L1 and L2 in North America will be presented.

IX-2-1. L1 and L2 Language with gesture


Mayberry and Nicoladis (2000, p. 192-196) showed the evidence that gesture reflected language development of bilingual children, pointing out the importance of iconic gesture, not just pointing gesture.  The study does not differentiate between self-generated and imitated gesture, which includes recognition, observation, imitation. It seems that their study involves both imitated and spontaneously generated gesture. Their attention to gesture is on the hands and arms. Their study contributes to showing the effectiveness of gesture for language development with gesture.  They reported a longitudinal investigation of the relation between gesture and language development in French-English bilingual children from 2 to 3 ½ years old. The finding shows that gesture is related to language development rather than being independent from it. This means that gestures are linked to growth in language development.  They reported (2000) that:

Five first-born boys, whose parents are English and French speakers, showed development in English and French, generating similar gesture type when speaking their two languages; however children who never used gesture showed less language development when speaking. 


It seems plausible that gesture has a significant role in developing children’s syntactical and semantic ability.  Just an utterance of words does not allow them to communicate appropriately.  It seems that the children needed the gesture to organize their thought, in order to communicate properly.   It appears to me that syntactical ability requires more demanding task for young children to communicate so that the children used the gesture to organize sentence structure and thought.  They further accounted (2000) that:

Finally, 2 children showed comparable development in French and English and produced similar gesture types when speaking their two languages.  No child ever used gesture to compensate when speaking the less-developed language…once they begin to talk, they gesture mostly when speaking, just as adults do.  When they begin to produce sentence like utterances, young children begin to produce new kinds of gestures…the fact that young children’s initial use of iconic gesture is primarily associated with sentence like utterance is a significant observation.  The world’s signed languages have evolved from iconic gestures.  Together, these two observations suggest that iconic gestures may be a central feature in the development of languages, from both an individual and an evolutionary stand-point (p. 194-195.)


It is clear that gesture contributes to children’s language growth because obvious differences exist between children who utilized the gestures and those who did not.  Another significance is that children produce iconic gesture by themselves to generate sentence like utterance.  They also stated (2000), “Utterances accompanied with iconic or beat gestures were more linguistically complex than utterances accompanied with points or no gestures at all…” (p. 194).  This indicates that the development of their language with gesture has a close relationship with the growth of their syntactical capability.

On the other hand, the children’s gesture was similar to that of adults in many ways (p. 194.)  My understanding is that these children should have imitated their parents’ gesture.  My questions are that first, why did they not use gesture when they produced one and two words?  After gaining enough words to conduct complex communication, it seems to me that the children needed syntactical ability; therefore they might have used the gesture to increase their syntactic capacity and reduce their workload when they needed to produce multiple words. Neuroimaging studies show that Broca’s area is activated with imitated finger- action (Iacoboni, Koski et al. 2001) and processes auditory syntactical information (Friederici 2002).  Second, why did the researchers not research deferred imitation of the children?

Merleau-Ponty as well as Piaget suggests two different imitations such initial and deferred imitation. Deferred imitation was identified by Decety and his colleagues (1998).  They asserted that:

Also compatible with this idea are the findings that bilateral increases in the posterior STG region have been detected when subjects observe actions for deferred imitation (Gre`zes et al., 1998). Of course, further research is needed to assess this hypothesis (Decety, 2002. p270.)


Deferred imitation is important for children’s language development as well as initial one.  Besides syntactical processing and language development, gesture might contribute to memory and decrease cognitive load.  Developmental psychologists at the University of Chicago reported their study about Math classes in 2001.


IX-2-2. Math class with Gesture: EXPLAINING MATH: Gesturing Lightens the Load

Susan Goldin-Meadow and her three colleagues at the University of Chicago researched spontaneously generated finger and hand gesture in Math class and claims (2001) that:

The important point is that participants remembered more on long lists when gesturing than when not gesturing either by choice or by instruction (p. 519) …Speakers remembered more when they gestured than when they did not gesture.  These finding suggest that gesture reduces the cognitive load of explanation, freeing capacity that can be used on a memory task performance. (p.521)

To understand the impact of gesture on cognition, they conducted a four-step experiment with 40 children (mean age=9 years and 11 months old) and 36 adults (college age.)   First, the children were asked to solve addition problems at a blackboard, while the adults were asked to solve factoring problems. Second, after solving each math problem, a list of items (words for children, letters for adults) to memorize were given to the participants. Third, all the participants were asked to explain their math answers under two conditions  "gesture permitted" and "gesture not permitted." Finally, after completion of the math explanation, the participants were asked to recall the list of items in order to measure the cognitive load obligatory by the explanation task. The results of the memory task show that the adults and children remembered more than 20 percent of the words and letters when they gestured while explaining the procedures of the math problems, as compared to the absence of gesturing. They concluded their study by saying that:

…producing gesture can actually lighten a speaker’s burden…or gesture can facilitate the link between the words a speaker utters and the world that those words map onto, not only in comprehension (as Golenbery & Robertson, 1999, have shown), but also in production.  Finally, gesturing can help speakers organize information (particularly spatial information) for the act of speaking and thus facilitate conceptualization of the message (Alibali, Kita & Young, 2000)…An alternative possibility is that, rather than simply lightening cognitive load, gesturing shifts some of the load from verbal working memory to other cognitive systems…The effect of this shift from verbal to gestural representation might be to reduce demands on verbal working memory, thus making it possible to remember more words or letters…our finding suggest that gesturing can help to free up cognitive resources that can then be used elsewhere.  Traditional injunctions against gesturing while speaking may, in the end, be ill-advised.


They claim that not gesturing is a cognitive load and so they hypothesis that gesturing increases cognitive capacity. 
…being forced not to gesture hurts memory, that is, that the observed effect is due not to the beneficial effects of gesture, but to the deleterious effects of the constraining instructions.  Asking speakers not to gesture is, in effect, asking them to do yet another task, which could add to their cognitive load… gesturing must be playing some sort of role in cognitive processing—which is the core of the argument we are making…

Children who solved the math problems correctly remembered the same proportion of words as children who solved them incorrectly.  Moreover, gesturing improved memory to the same extent in the two groups.  Thus, superior performance on the memory task was not a consequence of producing the correct answers on the math task—what mattered was whether speakers gestured while production their answers (p. 521)

Their research is significant because they point out a relationship between self-generated gesture and memory.  One of purposes of their study is to explain how students store memory.  Thus, categorization of gesture would be pertinent. Researchers of aphasia point out that pointing, cue articulation, and visualization processes did not significantly enhance naming skills in these individuals, though they report the superiority of iconic gesture as a facilitator of object naming in aphasia (Rose and Douglas, 2001.)  In addition, Mayberry and Nicoladis also reported the difference between iconic gesture and pointing as in my earlier statement.  It seems that gesture is related to memory.  Exploration about gesture with American Sign Language (ASL) and sign language will be presented in the following section to examine language development and memory in L2..

XI-2-3. Speech and Memory with American Sign Language (ASL)

The novelty of the enhancement of language ability with gesture started with hearing children whose parents were hearing impaired.  Several studies now indicate that there is improvement in language development for hearing children of deaf parents when American Sign Language (ASL), which generated by Gallaudit, is used alongside with English.  .Orlansky and Bonvillian (1985) conducted an 18-month longitudinal investigation of concurrent ASL and English acquisition by 13 hearing children of hearing impaired parents.  The children acquired both languages at an earlier age and at a larger rate than hearing children whose language development was normal.  In addition, no evidence of any problem with code switching was found.  This study confirms earlier research by Prinz and Prinz (1981) concerning synchronous linguistic development in ASL and spoken English.  The longitudinal study of a hearing daughter of a deaf mother by Prinz and Prinz found that enhancement of language development occurred with the child when ASL and English were used.  These findings indicate that learning languages in two different modalities does not hinder children’s semantic and syntactical development; rather it appears greatly enhance of language development.  Daniels (1993) found in a study conducted with fourteen hearing children whose parents were hearing impaired.  The children learned ASL as preschoolers.  With ASL and English, they learned the sign more quickly than the spoken English.  This study also shows that the bimodal, bilingual children achieved higher than average scores on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT), and indicates that ALS has a strong influence on a hearing child’s acquisition of English.  It seems to me that children’s growth of vocabulary with the use of ASL and spoken English show the evidence of memory effectiveness by ASL.  Daniels conducts further longitudinal study to verify this in 1994.  Studies by Hoemann (1978) and Hoemann and Koening (1990) offer another explanation for the stronger memory base produced by the use of ALS and English.  The results support the view of Kolers (1963) that different languages have catabolically coded in separate memory stores.  Another crucial point of Daniels’ 1993 study is that learning a language in two different modes does not hinder semantic development; rather it appears to enhance language growth.  Goodwyn, Acredolo and Brown (2000) also provide strong proof that symbolic gesturing does not inhibit verbal development and may even support it. 

My Japanese teaching experience in FL setting confirms their claim.  My Japanese language students did not have neither an uncomfortable nor lingering feeling on using non-verbal communication to learn Japanese.  Rather they had a revelation about new and exciting ways to learn about the difficult language for English speakers as in my earlier discussion.  They were full of enthusiasm about the different language.

These studies pioneered the importance for gesture studies.  However, the researchers of ASL did not describe that the children imitated, created self-generated gesture, or what kinds of gesture they used.  Categorization of ASL would be necessary for studies, which examine hearing learners language development in L1 and L2.

Daniel examined the power of gesture for memory in 1996.

IX-2-4. Longitudinal Study for Sign Language with Speech

Learning two different coding systems does not interfere with students’ language ability; it rather contributes to students’ language development.  Why does non-verbal communication have a big impact on students’ speech improvement?  Daniels (1996) investigated a longitudinal study.  Her research examined the outcome of the use of sign language in young hearing children’s language development, after one year of absence from sign language instruction.   Those children had been taught English with the sign language prior to instruction in the absence of the sign language.  In other words, first English had been taught to them with the sign language during their first year of sign language instruction at pre-kindergarten.  Then English was taught to them without the sign language at kindergarten.   The study tested and tracked a class from their first week of school as pre-kindergarten students over a two-year period that ends with the last week of their kindergarten year.  The results indicated that the statistically significant vocabulary gains made in their prekindergarten year sustained throughout their kindergarten year and remained with them.  There was no memory decay over time; rather there were dramatic increase in the students’ vocabulary retention.  This means that the improvement occurred during the time of the sign language instruction.  Crucially, the students’ vocabulary increase was persistent in the absence of any further sign language instruction

Based on Gallaudet’s theory, a founder of ASL, language would be acquired more appropriately by hearing children through a combination of sign language and oral English so that knowledge gained in this manner would be retained longer, Daniels conducted the study.  She asserted (1996) that:

The combination of signals created the probability of a multiple imprint on the learner’s memory…Accordingly, the sign language the children learned would have been stored in a memory store separate from the store of their native English, and so provides two sources for search and recall, establishing a psycholinguistic rationale for Gallaudet’s belief that sign would aid language retention (p.204-205.)


However, Daniels did not clarify if the two separate language memory stores account for the sign students’ sustained accelerated scores on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, though she observed that there had not been memory decay over time, which is a powerful indicator of the value of sign language instruction for early childhood education (p. 206-207.)

It seems to me that gesture is involved in memory; however, memory in L1 and L2 is stored in different memory systems.  Verbal working memory plays a significant role in language comprehension and problem solving. The prefrontal cortex has been suggested as a critical area in working memory. Different areas of the brain engaged in native and second languages have been demonstrated, little is known about the dissociation of verbal working memory associated with native and second languages (Jae-Jin Kim 2002). 

X. Limitation of my study


My research is about co-verbal, non-object related, finger and hand action imitation (CNFHAI); however research in L1 and L2 regarding CNFHAI has not been presented.  Some research about co-verbal, object-related gesture imitation in L1 was conducted in the past as in my earlier statement.

Neuroscientists have been researching finger and hand action imitation with object related and non-object related action; however they have not made a connection between action and speech in human yet so that my literature review does not include those of CNFHAI in L1 and L2 at this moment.  My research is very new area. Thus, there is limitation of citing literature review for my study.


Literature review on neuroscience studies, which describe gesture imitation with objects related and in the absence of objects, aphasiology and apraxia studies which related to gesture and gesture imitation, will be presented later, if necessary.


Illustration 1

Higgs and Clifford Hypothesis


































Illustration 2

































Illustration 3

Teaching Language in Context (p, 28)











































References will be provided upon request.