Assessing the Impact of Gesture Instruction on Hearing Adult University Students Learning American Sign Language as a Foreign Language

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Tanner, Josee-Anna




American Sign Language (ASL) is a popular language of study for post-secondary students. For many of these students, the classroom is the only face-to-face contact they have with the language, fluent signers, and the signing community. Current teaching approaches instruct students in the widely accepted signs documented in dictionaries, but in real-world social settings signers also draw on meaningful gestures. Consequently, students may encounter sign language outside of the classroom that is different from the prescribed uses demonstrated and practiced in class. In this qualitative study, classroom research is combined with an exploratory research design and a mixed-methods approach to quantitizing data. Gesture is positioned as a key part of the early learning process for beginner, hearing adult university ASL students. The study was informed by theories of gesture (Kendon, 2004), noticing (Schmidt, 1990, 2001; Swain, 1985, 1993), comprehensible input (Krashen, 1981, 1985), comprehensible output (Swain, 1995; Skehan, 1998) and interaction (Long, 1980; 1996). The study investigated whether direct, explicit instruction on gesture: 1) increased the number of communicative gestures produced by students; and 2) resulted in students who could better articulate the uses, functions, and placements of gesture in ASL. During a 12-week course, two existing ASL classes at the same level and taught by the same teacher were assigned to either an explicit or implicit instruction condition and assessed for comparability in their pre-existing gesture use in ASL. Whereas the explicit instruction group received, at fixed intervals, a sequence of five videos that focused on the uses of gesture in ASL, the implicit instruction group received a sequence of five videos that reviewed course content. Total intervention time was 30 minutes for each group. Findings suggest that students who were given explicit instruction about gesture in ASL have a deeper understanding of the role that gesture plays in sign language and use significantly more gestures in their own signed discourse, potentially enhancing their ability to communicate effectively in ASL. Implications and future directions for research are discussed.


Languages - Modern
Education - Higher




Carleton University

Thesis Degree Name: 

Doctor of Philosophy: 

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Thesis Degree Discipline: 

Applied Linguistics and Discourse Studies

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Theses and Dissertations

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