Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Interactionist Theory

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Interactionist Theory

The social-interactionist theory in child language acquisition recognises both our genetic predisposition for learning language (like the Nativist Theory) and the importance of our social environment in developing language (like the Behavioral Theory). So, you could see the interactionist theory as a compromise between the two! It also emphasises the importance of interaction with other people in acquiring and developing language skills.

Interactionist Theory

The theory was first suggested by Jerome Bruner in 1983 who believed that, although children do have an innate ability to learn language, they also require plenty of direct contact and interaction with others to achieve full language fluency. This means that they can't learn to speak just by watching TV or listening to conversations; they have to fully engage with others and understand the contexts in which language is used.

Caregivers tend to provide the linguistic support that helps a child learn to speak. They correct mistakes, simplify their own speech and build the scaffolding that helps a child to develop language. This support from caregivers can also be referred to as the 'Language Acquisition Support System' (LASS).

The interactionist approach looks at both social and biological perspectives to explain how children develop language. It moves away from Noam Chomsky's Nativist Theory which failed to recognise the importance of the social environment in language acquisition.

The interactionist theory also suggests that:

  • Children learn language as they have the desire to communicate with the world around them (i.e., it is a communication tool to do things like interact with others, ask for food, and demand attention!)
  • Language develops depending on social interactions. This includes the people with whom a child may interact and the overall experience of the interaction.
  • The social environment a child grows up in greatly affects how well and how quickly they develop their language skills.

Interactionist theory mother and child reading interaction StudySmarter Language develops through social interaction with caregivers - Pixabay

Interactionist Theory meaning

Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) first laid the foundations for the interactionist point of view when he developed the sociocultural theory of language development. Vygotsky suggested that children acquire their cultural values and beliefs through interacting and collaborating with more knowledgeable people in their community (conveniently called the 'more knowledgeable other'). He also emphasised the importance of the cultural and social context in language learning, arguing that social learning often comes before language development. In other words, we pay a lot of attention to the world, the culture, and the people around us!

Interactionist Theory example

Think about how different cultures have different cultural norms that affect the language they use, e.g., Brits may have a better understanding of sarcasm, which is common in the British language. Vygotsky argued that these social understandings are learned through social interaction, especially with caregivers in early development.

Vygotsky developed key concepts such as:

  • Cultural-specific tools - these are 'tools' specific to a certain culture. This includes technical tools such as books and media as well as psychological tools such as language, signs, and symbols.
  • Private speech - this is basically talking out loud to yourself, for example, if a child is trying to figure out a maths question they may talk themselves through it. After this stage, children's private speech will become internalised monologues (i.e., the inner speech in your own head) - although we all do talk to ourselves sometimes!
  • The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) - This is the zone of potential development in which a child can develop skills that require the support of a more knowledgeable teacher. This teacher can provide scaffolding, encouraging the child and helping them to master skills and gain more knowledge.

Interactionist Theory Zone of Proximal Development StudySmarterThe Zone of Proximal Development is the zone in which children can develop with support

Characteristics of Interactionist Theory

Let's have a look at some of the key concepts within the interactionist theory such as scaffolding, the Language Acquisition Support System, and Child-Directed Speech.

What is scaffolding?

Bruner used the concept of 'scaffolding' to explain the role of caregivers in child language development. He first developed the idea from Vygotsky's theory of proximal development which emphasised that children need a more knowledgeable other to develop their knowledge and skills.

Think of scaffolding on a building - it is there to support the building whilst the bricks and windows are being put into place before it is then gradually removed once the building is finished and stable.

Bruner argued that caregivers provide the same kind of support for children. They provide support (referred to as the 'Language Acquisition Support System' (LASS) and this is gradually removed as the child learns and develops by themselves.

What is the Language Acquisition Support System (LASS)?

LASS is a term used to describe the support from caregivers/parents/teachers in a child's early language development. They provide active support in social interactions such as:

  • Adjusting language to suit the child. This is sometimes referred to as 'motherese', 'caregiver speech', 'baby talk', or 'Child-Directed Speech (CDS)'.
  • Collaborative learning such as joint reading. This can involve an adult looking at picture books with a child and pointing out key vocabulary, for example, by saying 'this is a banana' as they point to a picture of a banana.
  • Encouraging the child and providing feedback through interactions. For example, the adult may smile when the child talks and say 'yes, good, that's a banana!'
  • Providing examples for the child to imitate. This includes using certain vocabulary in certain social situations, for example, by encouraging the child to 'say hi!' or 'say thank you!'
  • Games such as 'peek-a-boo' that practice the turn-taking that is necessary for interactions

Bruner developed the concept of the LASS in response to Noam Chomsky's Language Acquisition Device (LAD). Both concepts of the LASS and LAD argue that we are born with an innate ability to acquire language, however, the LASS takes this one step further, arguing that we also require interaction with others to learn.

What is Child-Directed Speech (CDS)

Child-directed speech (CDS for short) refers to the way in which caregivers and adults typically speak to children. It is thought to enhance communication between child and caregiver by helping the child to identify sounds, syllables, and words in sentences. The slow and melodic speech is also thought to hold the attention of toddlers.

What are examples of Child-Directed Speech?

  • Simplified language - generally, adults will use straightforward language when talking to children so that they are more easily understood, e.g., by using a more limited vocabulary and grammatically simplified sentences.
  • Repetitive questioning - e.g., 'what is it? what's this?'
  • Repetitive language - e.g., 'it's a cat. Look, it's a cat'
  • Slowed speech
  • Higher and more melodic pitch - i.e., by making their voice go up and down
  • More frequent and longer pauses

Evidence for Interactionist Theory

The interactionist theory is supported by some studies that emphasise the importance of interaction in language learning. This includes the following:

  • A study by Carpenter, Nagell, Tomasello, Butterworth, and Moore (1998) showed the importance of parent-child social interaction when learning to speak. They studied factors such as joint attentional engagement (e.g., reading a book together), gaze and point following, gestures, and understanding/producing language. The results showed a correlation between parent-child social interactions (e.g., joint attention) and language skills, suggesting that interaction is important in a child's development of language.
  • The importance of joint attention in language learning is also shown in Kuhl's (2003) study. Joint attention helped children to recognise speech boundaries (i.e., where one word ends and another begins).
  • The Genie Case Study about Genie the 'feral' child' (1970) shows how a lack of interaction in early life negatively affects language learning. Genie was kept locked in a room and deprived of contact for her first 13 years of life. This early stage is believed to be the critical period of language acquisition (i.e., the key timeframe in which a child acquires language). When she was discovered, Genie lacked basic language skills, however, she had a strong desire to communicate. Over the next few years, although she did learn to acquire plenty of new words, she never managed to apply grammatical rules and speak language fluently. Genie's lack of language skills and failure to acquire fluent language can therefore support the idea that interaction with a caregiver is vital in language acquisition.

Limitations of Interactionist Theory

There are some limitations to the interactionist theory:

  • Researchers such as Elinor Ochs and Bambi B. Schieffelin have suggested that the data collected from studies supporting the Interactionist theory are actually over-representative of middle-class, white, western families. This means that the data may not be as applicable to parent-child interactions in other classes or cultures who may speak to their children differently but still acquire fluent speech.
  • It has been noted that children from cultures where Child-Directed Speech isn't used as frequently (e.g., Papua New Guinea) still develop fluent language and pass through the same stages when acquiring language. This suggests that Child-Directed Speech isn't essential in language acquisition.

Interactionist Theory - Key takeaways

  • The interactionist theory emphasises the importance of interaction and social environment in acquiring language, whilst also recognising that language is innate.
  • It suggests that children develop language as they have a desire to communicate with the world.
  • The theory was first suggested by Jerome Bruner in 1983 and derives from Vygotsky's socio-cultural theory which emphasises the importance of culture and social context in language learning. This includes support from a more knowledgeable other.
  • The sociocultural theory highlights the importance of social-pragmatic cues (e.g., body language, tone of voice) that are taught to a child alongside language in relation to the context of a situation.
  • Scaffolding, first inspired by Vygotsky's 'Zone of Proximal Development', refers to the assistance provided by a more knowledgeable caregiver that helps a child to develop their language.
  • Bruner refers to the support of caregivers as the Language Acquisition Support System (LASS). They provide support in interactions such as adjusting or simplifying their language and providing feedback.
  • Studies such as Carpenter et al. (1998) and Kuhl (2003) support the importance of interaction in language learning.
  • A limitation of the theory is that some linguists believe the data supporting the theory is over-representative of middle class, Western families.
  • Carpenter, M., Nagell, K., & Tomasello, M. 'Social cognition, joint attention, and communicative competence from 9 to 15 months of age.' Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 1998, pp. 63, 143.
  • Kuhl, PK, Tsao, FM, and Liu, HM. 'Foreign-language experience in infancy: effects of short-term exposure and social interaction on phonetic learning.' Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 2003.
  • Senghas, RJ, Senghas, A., Pyers, JE. 'The emergence of Nicaraguan Sign Language: Questions of development, acquisition, and evolution.' In Parker, ST, Langer, J., and Milbrath, C. (eds.), Biology and Knowledge Revisited: From Neurogenesis to Psychogenesis, London, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005, pp. 287-306.

Frequently Asked Questions about Interactionist Theory

The social interactionist theory in child language acquisition recognises both our genetic predisposition for learning language as well as the importance of our social environment in developing language. It also emphasises the importance of interaction with caregivers.

The Interactionist Theory was first suggested by Jerome Bruner in 1983.

Different cultures have different cultural norms that affect the language they use, e.g., Brits may have a better understanding of sarcasm, which is common in the British language. Vygotsky argued that these social understandings are learned through social interaction, especially with caregivers in early development.

Symbolic interactionism suggests that people attach meaning to elements of their environments. An example of this is a drawing of a heart being symbolic of love. 


Society is a construction of all of these meanings which people communicate through generations.

There are 4 main theories of language learning. These are:

  • Interactionist Theory
  • Nativist Theory
  • Behavioural Theory
  • Cognitive Theory

Final Interactionist Theory Quiz

Question

The interactionist theory in child language acquisition recognises both our _______________ for learning language and the importance of our __________________ in developing language.

Show answer

Answer

The interactionist theory in child language acquisition recognises both our genetic predisposition for learning language and the importance of our social environment in developing language.

Show question

Question

Who first developed the Interactionist theory in 1983?

Show answer

Answer

The theory was first developed by Jerome Bruner in 1983.

Show question

Question

The Interactionist theory emphasises the importance of ____________ with other people in acquiring and developing language skills.

Show answer

Answer

Interaction/direct contact

Show question

Question

Which of the following do caregivers provide?

  1. Scaffolding
  2. Language Acquisition Device (LAD)
  3. Language Acquisition Support System (LASS)

Show answer

Answer

1 and 3. Caregivers provide scaffolding (1) for children (i.e., support for the child’s language development). This support can also be referred to as the LASS (3).

Show question

Question

True or false: Bruner believes that language develops because children are made to speak by their caregivers.


Show answer

Answer

False - Bruner believes that language develops as children have a desire to communicate with the world around them. Language is seen as a communication tool to aid this social interaction.

Show question

Question

Who first laid the foundations for the Interactionist theory?

Show answer

Answer

Lev Vygotsky first laid the foundations for the Interactionist theory with his social-cultural theory of language development. The Interactionist theory was then developed from this by Bruner.

Show question

Question

What did Vygotsky suggest in his sociocultural theory?


Show answer

Answer

Vygotsky suggested that children acquire their cultural values and beliefs through interacting and collaborating with a more knowledgeable other (i.e. other, older people) in their community. He also emphasised the importance of cultural and social context in language learning.

Show question

Question

What is the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)?


Show answer

Answer

The ZPD is the point at which a child's knowledge or skills are at the limit/ highest level that they can achieve without a more knowledgeable teacher. The teacher can then provide scaffolding, supporting the child and helping them gain more knowledge.

Show question

Question

Give two examples of social-pragmatic cues.


Show answer

Answer

Social-pragmatic cues include cues like facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, the direction of gaze, etc.

Show question

Question

True or False: Children observe adult communication and the context of language before they use language themselves. 


Show answer

Answer

True! It is thought that children begin to learn the contexts that language exists within even before they learn to speak themselves. 

Show question

Question

What idea did Bruner develop from Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development?


Show answer

Answer

Bruner developed the idea of Scaffolding which refers to the support given by caregivers whilst the child is still learning language.

Show question

Question

What is the name of the support system provided by caregivers?

Show answer

Answer

Caregivers provide a language acquisition support system (LASS). They provide active support in social interaction by adjusting their language, playing games, etc.

Show question

Question

Give two examples of support that caregivers provide as part of the LASS.


Show answer

Answer

Caregivers/parents/teachers often adjust their language (child-directed speech), engage in collaborative learning, encourage the child, provide examples for the child to imitate, and play games that practice interaction.

Show question

Question

Give two examples of Child-Directed Speech.

Show answer

Answer

Examples of Child-Directed Speech include simplified language, repetitive questioning, repetitive language, slowed speech, and a higher, more melodic pitch.

Show question

Question

True or False: Kuhl’s 2003 study on the importance of joint attention in language learning supports the Interactionist theory.

Show answer

Answer

True! It was shown that joint attention helped children to recognise speech boundaries (i.e., where one word ends and another begins).

Show question

Question

A limitation of the Interactionist theory is that the data collected from studies is  ________________.

Show answer

Answer

Researchers such as Ochs and Schieffelin have suggested that the data collected from studies supporting the Interactionist theory is over-representative of middle-class, white, Western families.

Show question

Question

What is the LASS?

Show answer

Answer

The Language Acquisition Support System. This is simply the process whereby more knowledgeable individuals provide care and support to children as they learn to read, write, and speak a language. 

Show question

Question

What is child-directed speech?

Show answer

Answer

The way caregivers and adults typically speak to young children. 

Show question

Question

Name some features of child-directed speech.

Show answer

Answer

  • Simplified language
  • Repetitive questioning
  • Slowed speech
  • Frequent pauses
  •  A higher or more melodic pitch

Show question

Question

Which of the following is an example of scaffolding?

Show answer

Answer

Providing sentence structures.

Show question

Question

Which of the following are strengths of Bruner's Social Interaction Theory?

Show answer

Answer

Recognises the importance of social interaction and culture in language learning, which other theorists such as Chomsky failed to acknowledge.

Show question

Question

Which one of Bruner's three modes describes the stage of cognitive development where new information is stored in the mind as images?

Show answer

Answer

The iconic mode.

Show question

Question

Which one of Bruner's three modes describes the learning development stage where learning is based on doing things?

Show answer

Answer

The enactive mode.

Show question

Question

What is the key principle of a spiral curriculum?

Show answer

Answer

Learners should return to the same topic multiple times.

Show question

Question

True or false, Bruner is considered a constructivist theorist?

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Social interactionist theory emphasises the importance of social environment and what else?


Show answer

Answer

Interactions with others.

Show question

Question

Bruner believed children require plenty of direct contact and interaction with others to achieve full language fluency. True or false?

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

According to the Interactionist Theory, children can learn to speak just by watching TV or listening to conversations. True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False, they have to fully engage with others and understand the contexts in which language is used.

Show question

Question

The interactionist theory suggests that:

Show answer

Answer

Children learn language as they have the desire to communicate with the world around them.

Show question

Question

Which of the following are examples of the LASS?

Show answer

Answer

Adjusting language to suit the child

Show question

Question

Which one of Bruner's three modes describes the learning development stage where information, including language, is stored in the form of symbols and code?

Show answer

Answer

The symbolic mode

Show question

Question

Bruner is best known for his contributions to cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, educational psychology, and language acquisition and development. True or false?


Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Chomsky's Nativist theory believes that language learning is innate; however, it recognises the important role that social environment and interactions with others play in language development True or false?

Show answer

Answer

False! This is true of the Social Interactionist Theory, not the Nativist Theory.

Show question

Question

Bruner's theory is also a development of Lev Vygotsky's ___________ theory.

Show answer

Answer

Social-cultural

Show question

Question

_________ is when more knowledgeable individuals, such as caregivers and teachers, support children as they learn a language, then slowly remove that support as their learning develops. 

Show answer

Answer

Scaffolding

Show question

Question

Which if the following are examples of support from the LASS?

Show answer

Answer

Pointing to objects and images when teaching vocabulary 

Show question

Question

Which of the following are examples of Child-Directed Speech?

Show answer

Answer

Repetitive questioning

Show question

Question

Put the following modes in order:

  • Iconic mode
  • Symbolic mode
  • Enactive mode

Show answer

Answer

  1. Enactive mode (0-18 months)
  2. Iconic mode (1 to 6 years old)
  3. Symbolic mode (7 years onwards)

Show question

Question

What term is used for the teaching technique that places emphasis on children figuring things out for themselves?

(It encourages children to ask questions, solve problems, and make their own conclusions, enabling them to construct their own meanings and understanding of the world.)

Show answer

Answer

Discovery learning

Show question

Question

Which of the following are weaknesses of Bruner's theory?

Show answer

Answer

Cannot be directly observed as it is mainly theoretical and cognitive development is happening inside the brain.

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Interactionist Theory quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.