Why visual cues are important for listening comprehension

Contributor: Noelani Napoleon | Reviewer: Ann Choe | Date: 2022-03-28

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com


Nonverbal communication has shown to be beneficial in verbal communication, aiding listeners in comprehending the spoken message and assisting the speaker in conveying their message. This study investigated the effects of facial and gesture cues on adult second language (L2) English learners at high and low proficiency levels. The researchers focused on assessing the contribution of visual cues to listening comprehension and surveyed the participants’ perception of visual cues in aiding skill and communication development. They hypothesized that the group exposed to both facial and gestural cues will show better listening comprehension and that students at both proficiency levels will show positive attitudes towards visual cues.

Research Method

The researchers chose a video-recorded lecture titled “Ceramics for Beginners” and developed a multiple-choice listening task and questionnaire to measure the students’ listening comprehension and perception of visual cues. The lecture topic was chosen to avoid the influence of students’ background knowledge. Forty-two L2 English learners were randomly assigned to one of the three stimulus conditions: AV-gesture-face, AV-face, and A-only (the abbreviation “AV” refers to the presence of audio and video to the condition, while “gesture-face” or “face” refers to the inclusion of gesture and facial cues within the video). After the groups watched or listened to the lecture, they were given the listening task to test their comprehension of the lecture. Following the listening task, they were given the questionnaire. The AV-gesture-face and the AV-face groups were given additional questions about their perceptions of the visual cues in the lecture, while the A-only group was asked if they thought their comprehension could have improved by seeing the lecturer.


The results supported both hypotheses, showing that more visual information available to the learners improved their comprehension and that the learners had a strong preference for visual cues in their L2 comprehension. Particularly, the high proficiency learners benefited more from the AV-face stimulus condition while the low proficiency learners benefited more from the AV-gesture-face stimulus condition.

Practical Implications/Significance

The researchers suggested further investigations into the role of visual cues in L2 listening comprehension, such as exploring the effects of a speaker’s visual cues within other topics, the influence of cultural and linguistic experience on the information value of the visual components of speech, or visual cues that show potential for facilitating L2 comprehension to raise learners’ awareness of them.

Original Article: Sueyoshi, A. & Hardison, D. M. (2005). The role of gestures and facial cues in second language listening comprehension. Language Learning, 55(4), 661–699. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0023-8333.2005.00320.x

Cite this summary: 
Napoleon, N. (2022). Why visual cues are important for listening comprehension. Multiʻōlelo Summary of Sueyoshi and Hardison (2005) in Language Learning. Retrieved from https://multiolelo.com/?p=1870

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