Adapt to your interaction partner

Learning words is only the first step in language acquisition. After being able to express basic observations, thoughts and wishes, the next step is to become a competent conversationalist. One has to know when to speak, why to speak and how to speak with different partners. Intercultural children have fewer words and grammatical skills at their disposal compared to their monolingual peers. This leads to greater challenges in expressing the message linguistically and may lead to the need to supplement it with non-linguistic means. In addition, bilinguals are more likely to face misunderstandings because they may choose a language that their interaction partner does not speak or because they can only express certain units in one language.

In this research project I am investigating: How do intercultural children’s pragmatic skills develop? What means do young children choose to express their intentions? How and when do they adapt these means to a challenging interaction partner? Are the means and adaptation strategies specific to one of the languages they are learning or conditioned by their experiences of difficult communication?

The children’s assumed experience with communication failure affects their repair behavior after a misunderstanding.  Bilinguals learning two different languages are more likely to repair the misunderstanding compared with both monolingual children and bilingual children learning two dialects of one language.

Wermelinger, Gampe, & Daum (2017)

Journal of Experimental Child Psychology

While monolinguals and bilinguals are equally helpful and informative, bilingual children adapted their level of ostension selectively between two interaction partners who had different ideas about how to solve a puzzleThese findings point to the greater skills of bilinguals to adapt their communication accordingly.

Gampe, Wermelinger, & Daum (2019)

Child Development

Bilingual pre‐schoolers produce more intelligible iconic gestures than their monolingual peers. We believe bilinguals’ heightened sensitivity to their interaction partner supports their ability to produce intelligible gestures.

Wermelinger, Gampe, Helbling, & Daum (2020)

Developmental Science

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Wermelinger, S., Gampe, A., Helbling, N., & Daum, M. M. (2020). Do you understand what I want to tell you? Early sensitivity in bilinguals’ iconic gesture perception and production. Developmental Science, 23(5), e12943.  https://doi.org/10.1111/desc.12943

Gampe, A., Wermelinger, S., & Daum, M. M. (2019). Bilingual children adapt to the needs of their communication partners, monolinguals do not.  Child Development, 90(1), 98–107.  https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.13190

Wermelinger, S., Gampe, A., & Daum, M. M. (2017). Bilingual toddlers have advanced abilities to repair communication failure.  Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 155, 84–94.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2016.11.005