Learning Second Language concepts through embodiment: the case of “se”

Research output: Unpublished conference presentation (presented paper, abstract, poster)Conference presentation (not published in journal/proceeding/book)Academic researchpeer-review


This talk explores how the teaching of ‘se’ in the Spanish L2 classroom could be enhanced by integrating gestures with the acquisition of ‘se’. Language learners often err when using pronouns (Yoshioka & Kellerman, 2006) and prefer to use a full lexical noun phrase than a pronoun (Carroll & Lambert, 2003). In Spanish, one such pronoun is ‘se’, which has over ten different functions, including that of third person reflexive pronoun (see Sánchez-López, 2002 for a review). The complexity of ‘se’, in addition to inherent difficulties with referents, goes a long way to explain the reluctance of learners of Spanish as a second language (L2) to employ ‘se’ (one of the most common words in Spanish, according to Davies (2002)) and the many mistakes associated with its use. We wanted to ascertain whether understanding the function of co-occurring gestures would improve students’ understanding of ‘se’.
This study is based on the qualitative analysis of narrations by twenty native Spanish speakers. In their narrations, we found both necessary and unnecessary ‘se’ with and without gestures. The functions of ‘se’ were categorized according to Maldonado’s (2008) framework and the gestural analysis followed that used in McNeill’s lab (McNeill 2015). Knowledge is externalised but also created through gestures, thus making them “cognitive actions” (Streeck, 2009, p. 171). As the processing of information can often be physically obvious in hand gestures (LeBaron & Streeck, 2000) we studied the gestures of native speakers matching them with the function of the marker. The pragmatic meaning of these was then explicitly taught to a group of ten Spanish L2 learners, with an A2 level, over one semester and then tested.
Our study was based on the premise that if cognition develops from the experience of the body’s physical senses within specific biological, psychological and cultural contexts (Shapiro, 2010), a cognitive based approach to teaching ‘se’ to L2 learners should improve students’ understanding of its various functions. Overall, we can confirm that students’ understanding of some of the functions of ‘se’ improved after training, although there was not a marked improvement in production.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusNot published / presented only - Jun 2021
EventXIV International Conference on General Linguistics - Seville, Spain
Duration: 28 Jun 202130 Jun 2021


ConferenceXIV International Conference on General Linguistics
Internet address


Dive into the research topics of 'Learning Second Language concepts through embodiment: the case of “se”'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this