Newly published research from the University of Chicago has found an added benefit of using hand gestures: they help children develop their language, learning and cognitive skills. The research -- published online in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B -- was conducted by Dr. Susan Goldin-Meadow and her colleagues to see how gestures impact language learning in deaf children and in hearing children.

“Children who can hear use gesture along with speech to communicate as they acquire spoken language, “Goldin-Meadow said in a university release. “Those gesture-plus-word combinations precede and predict the acquisition of word combinations that convey the same notions. The findings make it clear that children have an understanding of these notions before they are able to express them in speech.”

Dr. Goldin-Meadow's previous research found that young children whose parents gesticulate have a larger vocabulary. As such, the researcher recommend that parents use their hands to communicate, whether it be to shake their head or use their arms. This time around; however, Dr. Goldin-Meadow also looked at deaf children and found that they, too, used to gestures while using American Sign Language.

Most interestingly, Dr. Goldin-Meadow's lab also evaluated children in Nicaragua who did not learn a spoken language and did not learn conventional sign language. These children created their own gesture systems -- called homesign -- in order to communicate. While homesign is not a language on its own, it has many common properties with natural languages.

"Homesign offers insight into the linguistic properties that are at the core of human language -- the properties are not only those that children can invent on their own, but they are also properties that conventional sign languages are likely to have contained at the earliest stages of their creation," writes Dr. Goldin-Meadow on her website. "To explore this prediction, we are studying homesign in Nicaragua, where a new sign language has been evolving since the late 1970s. Our goal is to determine which aspects of Nicaraguan Sign Language are already present in homesign and which need other factors (e.g., a community of users, fresh generations of signers) to appear."