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Experimental methods in studying child language acquisition



This article reviews the some of the most widely used methods used for studying children's language acquisition including (1) spontaneous/naturalistic, diary, parental report data, (2) production methods (elicited production, repetition/elicited imitation, syntactic priming/weird word order), (3) comprehension methods (act-out, pointing, intermodal preferential looking, looking while listening, conditioned head turn preference procedure, functional neuroimaging) and (4) judgment methods (grammaticality/acceptability judgments, yes-no/truth-value judgments). The review outlines the types of studies and age-groups to which each method is most suited, as well as the advantage and disadvantages of each. We conclude by summarising the particular methodological considerations that apply to each paradigm and to experimental design more generally. These include (1) choosing an age-appropriate task that makes communicative sense (2) motivating children to co-operate, (3) choosing a between-/within-subjects design, (4) the use of novel items (e.g., novel verbs), (5) fillers, (6) blocked, counterbalanced and random presentation, (7) the appropriate number of trials and participants, (8) drop-out rates (9) the importance of control conditions, (10) choosing a sensitive dependent measure (11) classification of responses, and (12) using an appropriate statistical test. WIREs Cogn Sci 2013, 4:149–168. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1215

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Conflict of interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.