Interaction in a bilingual nursery school: Repetition as a way of exploring the language

Anna Breitkopf

Helsinki University, Finland


In the time of globalization, the number of families bringing up their children bilingually steadily increases. Supporting child bilingualism and biculturalism is no longer considered to be only a domain of parents – it also becomes an issue of the society and its institutions (Rehbein/Griesshaber 1996). One of the means of supporting early bilingualism and biculturalism at the institutional level is early bilingual education. Bilingual nursery schools, using the well-established approach “One person – one language”, aim to submit sufficient input in two languages in order to develop high competence in both languages spoken by children.

In many cases, young bilingual children have unequal competence in the languages spoken. Usually, one of the languages tends to develop to a dominant one due to the unbalanced input, for example, in the family (Yip/Matthews 2006). Such unequal state can be easily observed during the every-day interaction in a bilingual nursery school through the language choice, compensatory strategies, interferences and learner varieties of children.

Learner varieties can be explained both through the language dominance and through some special features of the language system (Kupisch 2007). However, not all learner varieties produced by bilingual children result from the cross-linguistic influence. In some cases, they might arise from the context of interaction. As pointed out in Tomasello’s work (2003), child’s tendency towards imitation or mimicry plays important role in language acquisition. This tendency to imitation can be carried out as immediate repetitions or as production of unanalyzed chunks heard some time before.

In this paper, I would argue that in some cases learner varieties produced by bilingual children are not necessarily due to the language dominance or to the influence of the language system but can be explained through repetition of certain syntactic patterns occurring in child-child or child-adult interaction. The data analyzed are audio and video recordings of the every-day interaction in a bilingual German-Russian nursery school in Germany.


Kupisch, T. 2007: Determiners in bilingual German-Italian children: what they tell us about the relation between language influence and language dominance. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 10 (1), 57-78

Rehbein, J. / Griesshaber, W. 1996: L2-Erwerb versus L1-Erwerb: Methodologische Aspekte ihrer Erforschung. Ehlich, Konrad (ed.): Kindliche Sprachentwicklung. Konzepte und Empirie. Opladen: Westdt. Verlag, 67-119

Tomasello, M. 2003: Constructing a language: a usage-based theory of language acquisition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Yip, V. / S. Matthews, S. 2006. Assessing language dominance in bilingual acquisition: a case for mean length utterance differentials. Language Assessment Quarterly 3(2), 97–116

Session: Paper session
Interaction 2
Friday, April 4, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 08