Seeing someone's mouth movements can influence what your brain processes a word to be (see McGurk effect), and hearing someone talk can also help you develop your pronunciation for that language.

However, are there any studies showing if watching someone speak can also help you develop your pronunciation for the language, possibly due to the McGurk effect?


3 Answers 3


Speech is produced by the passage of air through the phonatory organs. You can refer to these Wikipedia articles about phonatory process (production of speech) and the phonatory organs.

Here is an article by a linguist "Pronunciation is a physical exercise" giving advice to people learning a foreign language, ending with:

The conclusion is that you need to know how to position your lips, teeth and tongue, and how to control your breath while saying a sound.

See also his other more technical articles: Speech and the Respiratory System, The Speech Organs and Airstream, Sound (Related to Speech). He also answered a question on EL about the pronunciation of the English "th".

So, obviously yes, watching someone speak is essential when learning the sounds of a foreign language. When dealing with beginners language teachers often ask their students to watch their facial movements (placement of lips, tongue, etc.) as they produce a sound, and this is important when the sounds of L2 do not exist in L1.

Filming can also be used to correct pronunciation. Here you'll find a research paper: Articulatory Training on Facial Movements Using the Webcam Pronunciation Mirror: A Pilot Study reporting on "a pilot research experiment to determine whether incorporating video and auditory feedback of the learners’ own productions into pronunciation lessons would serve as a viable mode of instruction that effectively enhances pronunciation of these sounds."
On the website of the university of Iowa they have a tutorial associating diagram, description, sound and video, to help pronounce the sounds of American English, Spanish and German. The website is not updated but you can download the app on a smartphone.


"How to Greatly Improve Your English Pronunciation in 8 Steps" recommends watching other people's lip movement (on the TV or in person) and then comparing that to your own lip movement in a mirror to improve your pronunciation.


I would suggest that both the McGurk effect and learning how to better pronounce a language by watching someone's lips arise from the same cause, not one from the other. Spoken language arises in the mind but must be performed through complex sequences of breath control and voice shaping muscle movements. Furthermore, nobody speaks in such a way that every other person can comprehend them; for example, in loud dance hall environments, it becomes difficult to understand someone from the sound alone. But any sound is being produced by physical movement, so we can get a grasp on the goal utterance by observing earlier in the phonological chain, the observable movements themselves. Furthermore, it is understandable, through such experiments as reveal the McGurk effect, that the observation of the speech movements does indeed comprise a significant portion of the mechanism for speech understanding. A ballpark figure might be: 70% of speech understanding is audio, 15% from observation of the speech production, and the remainder from context and body language. These figures will of course vary from many various factors, relative to the mode of communication (telephone, face-to-face, etc.), speaker, listener, environment, and topic of conversation. To observe the manner of pronunciation would thus lend itself to performing in a similar manner oneself.

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