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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Language Proficiency Impacts the Benefits of Co-Speech Gesture for Narrative Understanding Through a Visual Attention Mechanism


Co-speech gestures can enhance a listener’s understanding of a spoken message, yet children show a greater benefit of gesture than adults (Hostetter, 2011). We explore whether this effect may be driven by language proficiency, and in turn, by differences in how children visually attend to gesture when they are processing narratives in their stronger vs. weaker language. Bilingual children were shown narratives with scripted gesture in their stronger and weaker languages, while their visual attention was monitored. Memory for narratives was then assessed. Our findings suggest language proficiency does affect the degree to which children benefit from co-speech gesture – children showed a greater boost from co-speech gesture when processing narrative in their weaker language. Results also suggest that greater attention to gesture when processing ones’ weaker language may underlie this effect.

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