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Observing iconic gestures enhances word learning in typically developing children and children with specific language impairment*



Research has shown that observing iconic gestures helps typically developing children (TD) and children with specific language impairment (SLI) learn new words. So far, studies mostly compared word learning with and without gestures. The present study investigated word learning under two gesture conditions in children with and without language impairment. Twenty children with SLI (age four), twenty age-matched TD children, and twenty language-matched TD children were taught words that were presented with either iconic or non-iconic gestures. Results showed that children of all groups benefited more successfully from observing iconic gestures for word learning. The iconic gesture advantage was similar across groups. Thus, observing iconic gestures prompts richer encoding and makes word learning more efficient in TD and language impaired children.


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Address for correspondence: Susanne Vogt, University of Applied Sciences Fresenius – Health & Social Affairs, Limburger Str. 2, Idstein 65510, Germany. e-mail:


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This research was supported by a grant from the German professional association of logopaedics (dbl) to the first author. Our gratitude goes to all children, parents, speech and language therapists, and nurseries involved in this study. We thank Professor Katharina Rohlfing for valuable advice and Franziska Hofstetter for research assistance. Our thanks are extended to two anonymous reviewers and the editors for providing very constructive feedback to improve the quality of this paper.



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