Children being brought up in a multilingual environment face specific challenges when it comes to language learning. Being exposed to an input of increased diversity and complexity, they might generally pay more attention in learning tasks involving language, whereas their need to monitor their interlocutor’s linguistic ability (which language(s) can they speak, do they understand code-switching, etc.) may lead them to be particularly sensitive to speaker’s characteristics and cues (Yow and Markman, 2016; Fan et al., 2015). On the other hand, multilingually exposed children learning to be productive in their languages have to quickly acquire a significant number of words in order to be able to communicate efficiently in each of their languages, a task they do not take twice as much time as monolinguals to achieve (Hoff et al., 2012). This is particularly impressive given they are unable to rely as much as monolinguals on certain word learning principles such as mutual exclusivity (Byers-Heinlein and Werker, 2009).
Our goal is to investigate word learning using pragmatics (inferences about speakers’ communicative intentions) in monolingual (English speaking) and bilingual (English and additional language) children. Our participants are aged 3-6 years old and are recruited in schools and nurseries around Cambridge and London.
Given the increasing salience of autism diagnoses and English as an Additional Language (EAL) in UK primary schools, the interaction between autism and bilingualism poses a unique challenge to researchers, families and schools. Extant qualitative literature suggests that school environments are often anxiety-inducing spaces for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and for those with EAL, yet no research to date investigates the symbiosis of the two experiences in the school setting. While existing studies focus on parental attitudes and language choices for this population, very little research currently gives a voice to the children themselves, despite the paradigm shift in autism research towards elucidating the lived experience of those on the spectrum (Pellicano et al., 2014). Research outlining first-person perspectives of EAL pupils is equally inchoate (Anderson et al., 2016).
The purpose of this phenomenological study is thus to illuminate the school experiences of EAL children on the autistic spectrum. Data will be collected through semi-structured interviews with teachers, teaching assistants, parents and, most crucially, the children themselves, and analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA). This presentation will provide an overview of the rationale and methodology of this multi-informant research, along with preliminary findings from its pilot study.