Date of Award

Fall 12-18-2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Seyda Ozcaliskan

Second Advisor

Amy Lederberg

Third Advisor

Rose Sevcik

Fourth Advisor

Elizabeth Tighe


Monolingual children with better spatial language skills at school entry are more likely to succeed in school and pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. Importantly, the amount of parent spatial talk, particularly when accompanied by gesture, serves as a strong predictor of monolingual children’s spatial language abilities at school entry. However, relatively less is known about the effect of nonverbal spatial input on bilingual children’s language development and whether nonverbal spatial input could play a causal role in facilitating children’s spatial vocabularies in speech. In this study, we observed whether spatial language input with or without gesture plays a causal role in children’s spatial language acquisition both in immediate and extended discourse contexts. Sixty 4-to 5-year-old children (30 bilinguals , 30 monolinguals) were randomly assigned to receive instruction on 3D shape labels with or without gesture, preceded and followed by parent-child play with toys designed to elicit spatial language. The results showed that gesture input boosted monolingual and bilingual children’s production, but not comprehension, of the target shape terms. However, this effect did not promote spatial talk in the more extended context of parent-child play. Overall, the study shows that instruction with gesture leads to better learning of new spatial words compared to instruction without gesture in both bilingual and monolingual children.


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