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UBC Theses and Dissertations

ESL preschoolers' interpretation of nonverbal communication Helmer, Sylvia


Studies indicate that children acquire both verbal and nonverbal acuity at a very early age. Since it is also agreed that the nonverbal forms of communication children learn are culture-specific the acquisition of nonverbal gestures by second language learners is of considerable interest. A study by Kumin and Lazar(l974) indicates that first language speakers as young as three have considerable ability in encoding and decoding the group of gestures known as emblems. The present study extends their findings by comparing the decoding of gestures by native English speakers (age 3-5) with non-native speakers. Thirty-six emblems and illustrators, two forms of commonly used gestures, were decoded by forty children, twenty native speakers and twenty ESL speakers. The gestures chosen .were screened by a panel of ten practicing ESL teachers who considered them to be typical of classroom interaction. The videotape of the gestures was validated by 62 native speakers before being administered to the children. Analysis of variance results indicate there is a main effect for age as well as a very strong effect for ethnicity (native speakers vs ESL). A Spearman's rho rank correlation on the sequence of acquisition of the gestures raises the interesting possibility that there may be a developmental pattern such as is found in the verbal domain.

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