Hand gestures during speech lighten the speaker's cognitive load, provide lexical access, augment the precision of memory, and identify when a speaker is ready to learn a new skill (Abner, Cooperrider, Goldin-Meadow, 2015). Much of the research that has discovered these purposes of gesture have focused on gestures produced during speech in the speaker's first language. Many researchers use these findings to argue for the same cognitive benefits of gesture in the second language, though only little research of gesture and second language speech has been done. The present study sought to fill the gap between first and second language research on gesture production by investigating the differences between the gesticulation produced by bilinguals in their first and second languages as well as discover their perceptions of those gestures. Native English speakers bilingual in Spanish and native Spanish speakers bilingual in English were interviewed in both languages and their gestures were counted and compared between their first and second languages. Results showed that even though native Spanish speaker's gestured significantly more than native English speakers, all participants significantly increased their gesture production from their first to their second language. Task type also played an important part in this increase, wherein gestures increased only in descriptive and narrative tasks, but not in conversational role plays. Gestures also seemed to increase due to a heightened cognitive load within the tasks more so than due to increased anxiety levels, agreeing with previous research done in first language contexts. Participants also tended to base perceptions of gesture use on native cultural attitudes towards gesture, causing inconclusive results on speaker awareness of their co-speech gesture in either their native or second language. Some limitations suggest that this study be repeated with modifications, such as evaluating participant proficiency before interviewing and matching all participants to a specific range of time immersed in the foreign culture.



College and Department

Humanities; Spanish and Portuguese



Date Submitted


Document Type





awareness, cognitive load, cultural attitudes, gesture, L1, L2, lexical access, second language acquisition