Lauren Clucas: “Investigating the effects of gesture on early word learning”

In Students by General Account

Word learning is among the most important tasks for infants as they learn to communicate. Early vocabulary is linked to future outcomes, such as literacy and school-aged success, and infants who struggle with word learning sometimes go on to have development language disorder.  Therefore, understanding what facilitates word learning is vital, from both an individual and social standpoint. Fortunately, gesture is an avenue we can use to investigate this, as parental gesture use aids infants’ language learning later in development, and my Masters research demonstrated that gestures have specific influences on word learning in infancy. Therefore, we know that gesture facilitates word learning, however, the mechanisms for this are unknown. Understanding how gesture is aiding word learning could have beneficial impacts, as it could offer suggestions for interventions to help children struggling with their development of this skill. This would be particularly advantageous as infants gesture before they can speak, making it possible to identify those at risk earlier and intervene at an earlier stage. Therefore, the aim of my PhD is to investigate how gesture aids word learning, by studying infants’ attention towards gestures alongside their word learning. This will involve using eye-tracking to offer a more in-depth understanding of why gesture is an important tool to bootstrap infant language development.