Gestures – such as pointing or waving – go hand in hand with a child’s first words, and twins lag behind unmarried children in producing and using these gestures, according to two studies by psychology researchers from Georgia State University.
Twins produce fewer gestures and gestures for fewer objects than other children, said lead researcher Seyda Ozcaliskan, associate professor in the Department of Psychology. Language use lags behind for twins as well, and language – but not gestures – is also affected by gender, with girls outperforming boys, Ozcaliskan said.
“The implications are fascinating,” said Ozcaliskan. “It shows that gesture and talk go hand in hand in the early development of twins. When one lags behind, so does the other.”
Research has found that a delay in gesture can reliably predict a delay in speech. At the same time, many gestures suggest that the word is on the way. Parents can help speed up their child’s language acquisition by naming the objects they gesture to.
The delay in gestures in twins may be due to less parental input, Ozcaliskan said, because parents of unmarried children used a greater amount and more variety of gestures than parents of twins. Parents caring for twins are likely, said Ozcaliskan, to engage in shorter conversations with their children, including making fewer gestures, as their attention is divided and their work doubled.
The studies were carried out by Ozcaliskan and his doctoral students in psychology Ebru Pinar and Sumeyra Ozturk, with his collaborator Dr Nihan Ketrez in Istanbul. The article Parental Speech and Gesture Input to Girls versus Boys in Singletons and Twins was published in the Journal of non-verbal behavior and the effect of gender and dyad composition on speech and gesture development in unmarried and twin children has been published in the Journal of Child Language. Both studies analyzed video data from Turkish families and included three groups of fraternal twins – male, female, and mixed-sex twins, as well as two groups of unmarried boys and girls, along with their parents.
Ozcaliskan said she became curious about the gesture because it had not yet been studied in twins, while language acquisition had been extensively researched.
“We have known for a long time that the early vocabulary of children shows gender differences,” said Ozcaliskan, “boys with smaller vocabulary than girls their age”.
Girls aged 2 to 3 also produce longer and more complex sentences than boys. Twins are initially at a disadvantage when it comes to language, using fewer words than their singleton peers and forming full sentences later than singletons. Boys lag the furthest behind, with girl-to-girl twins developing larger vocabulary and more complex sentences than boy-to-boy twins of comparable age.
Most of the time, these offsets are within the normal range of differences and there is no cause for concern. Almost all children will make up for it around the age of three and a half.
But what about the gesture?
“There was almost nothing in the research on gestures between twins in any language,” Ozcaliskan said.
Infants begin to use pointing around 10 months, a few months before producing their first words. In other words, they refer to a dog a few months before uttering the word “dog”. The gesture helps them convey what they cannot yet communicate in speech and paves the way for children’s first words.
Although the delay in gestures and language in twins may be primarily due to reduced parental contribution, Ozcaliskan said twins sometimes develop their own communication systems, even their own “twin language,” which delays acquisition. language. “Maybe it also delays the use of gestures,” she said.
In most cases, a delay in the gesture can mean a delay in the next linguistic step.
“However, in the event that you see the delay in gesture continuing for a long time, it can be a marker of a potential developmental or language delay,” said Ozcaliskan. On the flip side, if a child doesn’t speak much at an early age, but uses gesture frequently, a parent can be reassured that “the language is on the way,” she says.
The more a parent engages with a child, using both speech and gesture, the better the child’s acquisition of both. Gesture and speech together form a tightly integrated system in a child’s development, and a child’s first gestures often precede his first attempts at speaking.
For parents who are intrigued by these connections, Ozcaliskan suggested naming objects when kids point to them, as in: Yes it’s a bottle, do you want your bottle? The denomination helps children learn new words earlier. Parents can also make it a point to make gestures to objects themselves during the appointment.
“The gesture is a very powerful tool,” said Ozcaliskan. “Pay attention to your child’s gestures, then provide verbal descriptions to help them develop their language.”