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Bilingual children’s gesture use

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Previous studies have shown that bilinguals use more manual gestures than monolinguals (Pika et al., 2006; Nicoladis et al., 2009), suggesting that gestures may facilitate lexical retrieval or may reduce the cognitive load on working memory during speech production. In this study, we tested the generalizability of these findings by comparing the use of gestures in three groups of children (English monolinguals, Mandarin Chinese-English bilinguals, and French-English bilinguals) between 7 and 10 years of age as they retold two short stories about a cartoon. The bilingual children were asked to retell narratives in both languages. The results showed that the French-English bilinguals used significantly more gestures than the Chinese-English bilinguals. With respect to gesture rates accompanying speech in English, the monolinguals did not differ from either bilingual group. The bilingual children’s use of gestures was generally not correlated with our measures of working memory (narrative length and speech rate). These results suggest that culture may be a more important determiner of gesture rate than bilingualism and/or working memory capacity.
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Keywords: bilinguals; gesture use; lexical access; representational gestures; speech production

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2011-01-01

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