Listening Topic: Communication – Lecture about gestures

A. Read the statements. Then listen to the lecture by a university professor. As you listen, write T for true or F for false for each statement. Compare answers with a partner.

1   We learn to use hand movements by watching other people.

2   Gestures usually match what a person is saying.

3   Gestures help people put thoughts and ideas into speech.

B. Listen to the lecture again. Choose the correct answer to complete each sentence. Listen again if necessary.

 Professor Goldin-Meadow is ____.

      a   the person giving the lecture

      b   a researcher on the subject of gestures

 The lecture is about ____.

      a   well-known gestures such as the “thumbs up” sign

      b   hand and eye movements that we use when we talk

 Blind people make gestures. This shows that ____.

      a   it’s harder for blind people to express themselves

      b   gestures are not learned from watching other people

 The example of the “downstairs” gesture is an example of ____.

      a   a gesture that gives additional information that is not in the words

      b   a gesture that doesn’t match the words

 Goldin-Meadow studied children in order to see ____.

      a   how their hand movements are different from adults’

      b   when their hand movements didn’t match their words

 When people are speaking a foreign language or explaining something complicated, they often ____.

      a   use more gestures

      b   use gestures that don’t match their words



1 F   2 T   3 T


1 b   2 b   3 b   4 a   5 b   6 a


Today I’m going to talk about gesture, and how we use our hands when we talk. Most of what I’m going to say is based on research done by Professor Susan Goldin-Meadow. She’s written about her work in a book called Hearing Gesture: How our hands help us think. It’s on your book list.

Now, Professor Goldin-Meadow has spent a long time studying gestures … and by that I mean the kind of small little hand and eye movements that we use when we talk. We usually don’t even notice how we’re using our hands when we talk. But try talking without hands! Our hands and our eyes and even how we move our bodies, they all help us to communicate.

OK. The first point I’d like to make is that everybody gestures, including even people who have been blind from birth. So even someone who has never seen a gesture will use their hands when they’re speaking. So scientists have concluded that gesturing is not something that we learn from other people. It’s something that we do naturally, and that we’re all born with.

Now gestures usually support what we’re saying. For example, I might say, “I’m going upstairs” and I might point upwards with my hands at the same time. And when we talk to each other we’re paying attention to gestures as well, even though we don’t normally realize it. Actually, sometimes the gestures give us extra information. For example, if I say to you something like, “Professor Clark is in her office,” and I point “down” as I say it, you will automatically understand: “She’s in her office, and her office is downstairs.” In fact you will probably think that I said, “She’s downstairs,” where I never actually said that! I just said it with my hands. But you saw the gesture, so you think you heard it.

So usually there’s a correspondence, or a … a match … between the gestures a person makes and what they say in words. The words and the hand movements go together. But sometimes, people use a gesture that doesn’t match their words. That’s called a “mismatch” and that’s very interesting, because it can show you when someone doesn’t understand. Professor Goldin-Meadow worked with children trying to do mathematical problems, and she asked them to explain how they worked out the answer … and she watched their hands. She noticed that sometimes the hand movements would be different from what the child was saying. And she figured that that indicated where the child was confused. It can tell you a lot about what’s going on in their heads.

Professor Goldin-Meadow believes that we actually use our hands to help us think, and to help us put things into words. I’m sure you’ve noticed that people use more gestures when they have difficulty with language. For example, when they’re speaking a foreign language, or when they’re explaining something complicated, or when they’re describing a painting, or something like that. So it seems that gestures are an important step between thinking and speaking … like a kind of bridge between ideas and words.

So let’s summarize what I’ve said so far. Firstly, everybody makes gestures – it seems to be an ability that we’re born with. Second, gestures usually correspond to language – the gestures go with what a person is saying. When gestures don’t match the language, that can indicate that someone is still working out a concept. And finally, it seems that people usually use gestures to help them think. OK, any questions so far?

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