Spontaneously moving your hands to illustrate a point can help boost a child’s language development, researchers say. Gesture-plus-word combinations can make it easier for children to the development of hand movements in a child what certain words and phrases mean – even during sign language. The findings back up previous research which found gesticulating helps youngsters develop their language, learning and cognitive skills. Study says it helps kids develop their language, learning and cognitive skills.
In 2009, Dr Goldin-Meadow and her team found that boys and girls whose parents gesticulate a lot have bigger vocabularies when they start school. Advocating that parents start talking with their hands, the researchers said that simple gestures from nodding and shaking of the head to indicate yes and no, to flapping of the arms to indicate flying, could make all the difference. The US researchers studied the actions and gestures used by 50 toddlers and their parents as they played together. The researchers said simple gestures such as pointing prompted parents to introduce children to new words. Writing in the journal Science, they said: ‘For example, in response to a child’s point at a doll, a mother might say “yes, that’s a doll”, thus providing a word for the object that is the focus of the child’s attention. The connection could also be more direct, with gestures allowing children to use their hands practice meanings of words they have difficulty in pronouncing. Encouraging parents and children to talk with their hands could prove to be a cheap and easy way of boosting youngsters’ word power and better preparing them for school.
Talk to your children more, gesture more,’ said co-researcher Dr Meredith Rowe. The new study, by Dr Susan Goldin-Meadow, from the University of Chicago, examined how gesturing contributes to language learning in hearing and in deaf children. She concluded that gesture is a flexible way of communicating, one that can work with language to communicate or, if necessary, can itself become language. Children who can hear use gesture along with speech to communicate as they acquire spoken language, ‘ Dr Goldin-Meadow said.
Those gesture-plus-word combinations precede and predict the acquisition of word combinations that convey the same notions. The findings make it clear that children have an understanding of these notions before they are able to express them in speech. In addition to children who learned spoken languages, Dr Goldin-Meadow studied children who learned sign language from their parents. She found that they too use gestures as they use American Sign Language. These gestures predict learning, just like the gestures that accompany speech.
Finally, Dr Goldin-Meadow looked at deaf children whose hearing losses prevented them from learning spoken language, and whose hearing parents had not presented them with conventional sign language. These children use homemade gesture systems, called homesign, to communicate. Homesign shares properties in common with natural languages but is not a full-blown language, perhaps because the children lack ‘a community of communication partners,’ Dr Goldin-Meadow writes. Nevertheless, homesign can be the ‘first step toward an established sign language. In Nicaragua, individual gesture systems blossomed into a more complex, shared system when homesigners were brought together for the first time. These findings provide insight into gesture’s contribution to learning.
Gesture plays a role in learning for signers even though sign itself is based around gestures. As a result, gesture cannot aid learners simply by providing a second language. Rather, gesture adds imagery to the categorical distinctions that form the core of both spoken and sign languages. Dr Goldin-Meadow concludes that gesture can be the basis for a self-made language, assuming linguistic forms and functions when other vehicles are not available.
But when a conventional spoken or sign language is present, gesture works along with language, helping to promote learning. The study will be published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society . The comments below have not been moderated. We are no longer accepting comments on this article.
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