How gesture helps children learn language

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Children gesture before they begin to speak and continue gesturing throughout the language learning process. This chapter focuses on those gestures, and explores the role they play in language learning. We find that children’s early gestures not only precede, but also predict, the onset of a number of linguistic milestones–nouns, nominal constituents, simple and complex sentences. Gesturing may thus play a causal role in language learning, and could do so in two ways: (1) Gesturing gives children the opportunity to practice expressing ideas in a preverbal form. (2) A child’s gestures offer parents and other communication partners insight into the child’s linguistic level, thus giving the partners the opportunity to provide input tailored to that level.


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