Preschoolers can repair communication breakdowns

A study published in the January 2007 issue of the Journal of Child Language examined two and three-year-old bilingual children’s ability to clarify their communication. The children played with an experimenter who used only one language (English or French) during the play session. Each time a child used the other language, the experimenter asked them to clarify. The experimenter also made requests for clarification when communication breakdowns occurred for other reasons, (e.g. the child spoke too softly, etc.). Both the two- and three-year-olds were capable of switching languages to match that of their experimenter so they could be understood. They used other strategies when attempting to repair other kinds of communication breakdowns. Moreover, they switched languages in response to non-specific requests, such as when the examiner asked, “What?” in response to something they said.

The results indicate that even two-and-a-half year-old bilingual children are capable of identifying their language choice as a cause of communication breakdowns, and that they can differentiate language from other kinds of communication breakdowns.

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