Peer Group Interactions in Multilingual Educational Settings: Co-Constructing Social Order and Norms for Language Use

Article excerpt


The present study explores peer group interactions in early multilingual educational settings, specifically focusing on children's language-related episodes. Highlighting the multifaceted work of these interactional practices, it demonstrates in detail how children's corrective actions, targeting, assessing and criticizing of the other's language use were utilized in building the peer group identities and relations, while simultaneously indexing local norms for conduct and language use. Designed as outright disagreements with the prior speaker, corrections highlighted the contrast between the recipient's error and the speaker's remedy and entailed (a) the disagreement with the prior speaker (e.g. linguistic polarity marker 'no'), (b) the explicit identification of the trouble source ('this is not x') and (c) the instruction as to the correct replacement ('this is x'). Similarly, word searches in the peer group were resolved so as to index the asymmetry in knowledge between the peers. In the production of corrections, the children displayed and recognized the relevance of appropriate use of the lingua franca (e.g. Swedish) as part of their situated production of local social order. Language expertise was an issue for negotiations and redefinitions in multilingual peer group's interactions and was one of the factors organizing social relations in multilingual educational settings.


children's peer interactions, conversation analysis, corrections, multilingual educational settings, peer socialization, word searches


Increasing numbers of bilingual and multilingual children are entering early monolingual educa- tional settings. What happens in multilingual peer groups where children from diverse linguistic backgrounds share a lingua franca that is their emerging additional/second language? What lan- guage practices evolve in multilingual peer groups where various languages are available as part of children's everyday interactions and activities? As shown in studies on peer preadolescents and adolescents, multilingual settings are complex interactional and linguistic environments, where peers constitute their own language norms, appropriate and negotiate institutional norms for lan- guage use, orient to and exploit features of multiple language varieties (Madsen, 2008; Rampton, 1995). Attention to interactions in the multilingual peer groups is also motivated because children's language learning extends beyond to teacher--student instructional exchanges. Language learning is inextricably related to the social world of the peer group, constituting part and parcel of chil- dren's ongoing negotiations of social relations (Blum-Kulka, 2005; Goodwin & Kyratzis, 2007, 2012). However, while the linguistic characteristics of peer interactions and their contributions to additional/second-language learning have been discussed to some extent (Fassler, 1998; Philp & Duchesne, 2008), we still know little about children's peer cultures and social interactional pro- cesses in multilingual early childhood contexts (but see Björk-Willén, 2007).

In the present study of peer interactions in two early multilingual educational settings in Sweden, we will examine how children in interactions with their peers deploy a range of corrective actions targeting different aspects of language, utilizing them as methods that enable them to hold one another accountable for their understandings of local norms for language use. We will show how a number of systematic practices -- corrections and word searches -- serve in the moment-to-moment shaping of peer group relations and the local social order.

The present study is informed by interpretive approaches to peer interaction and geared to understand the processes of cultural production and reproduction in childhood from an emic point of view (Blum-Kulka, 2005; Corsaro, 1997; Goodwin & Kyratzis, 2012). It also adopts dynamic interactionally based perspectives on speaker identities in talk-in-interaction (Antaki & Widdicombe, 1998; Benwell & Stokoe, 2006; Bucholtz & Hall, 2005; Kasper, 2004), which treat participants' identities as products of their own actions, as invoked, displayed and oriented to in and through talk. Instead of taking the non-native/native speaker or second-language learner iden- tities as given, these identities need to be made relevant, or oriented to, in talk-in-interaction (Greer, 2007).

In the research on multilingual peer groups thus far, the primary focus has been on language alternation practices among preadolescents and adolescents. Through language alternation in peer play and interactions in institutional settings, children have been shown to invoke bilin- gual, monolingual or multilingual language norms (Cromdal, 2004; Jörgensen, 1998; Lytra, 2007; Slotte-Luttge, 2005), actively appropriating or/and subverting the local institutional norms for monolingual language use (Cekaite & Evaldsson, 2008). In multilingual peer groups, adolescents engage in crossing, that is, they learn and deploy fragments of each oth- er's languages, discuss and question the other's entitlement to use languages that do not belong to them (Rampton, 1995). Young children also display their sensitivity to different language varieties, deploying code-switching and crossing in preschool peer interactions, as well as using them as resources in organizing peer play (Björk-Willén, 2007; Paugh, 2005).

Viewed as a mode of social action, language use is thus not limited to ideational exchanges of messages, but is actively and agentively used to forge -- achieve and renew -- social relations, and to explore and manipulate the social world. The phenomenal and social worlds the children inhabit, 'local and often hybrid identities and forms of social order', are thus constituted by chil- dren as the product of moment-to-moment practices within their peer groups (Goodwin & Kyratzis, 2012).

As noted by Corsaro (1997), social stratification and conflict are two of the central elements of peer culture. Children's peer interactions provide a social space within which they engage in directing, evaluating and criticizing one another's actions and demeanour through unmitigated disagreements, contradictions and corrections (Cromdal, 2004; Goodwin, 1983). In multilingual peer groups, such corrections also involve criticizing and picking on one another's speech, as well as targeting children's entitlement to use languages that do not belong to them (Cekaite & Evaldsson, 2008; Evaldsson & Cekaite, 2010; Kyratzis, 2010; Rampton, 1995). While language is viewed as a means for creating and forging social relations, it is reasonable to suggest that appropriate and competent language use (e.g. language proficiency) may be at stake when enact- ing, claiming or contesting valued peer group identities. Indeed, language form as such can con- stitute a focus of attention for participants. Metalingual function (Jakobson, 1960) can be used to forge social relations through talk.

In multilingual preschool settings, children may engage in language corrections as they enact previously experienced language teaching activities within free play (Björk-Willén & Cromdal, 2009). In a study of young children's correction practices in multilingual Finish kindergartens, Kurhila (2007) has shown that corrections were predominantly constructed in an outright unmodulated manner. Such unmitigated design of peer correction practices differs from adult native/non-native speaker interactions in formal and informal settings (cf. Kurhila, 2007). In adult conversations, other corrections generally have dispreferred status (Jefferson, 1987; Schegloff, 2000, 2007; Scheglof, Jefferson, & Sacks, 1977). Although repair is an appropriate resource for maintaining intersubjectivity, it is a potentially face-threatening, and therefore dis- preferred, activity (for studies on repair organization in language classrooms, see Markee, 2000, p. 164; Seedhouse, 2004; Slotte-Lüttge, 2005). As noted by Jefferson, in the course of correc- tions, activities such as 'instructing', 'accusing', and 'ridiculing' can be carried out simultane- ously, thus 'the business of correcting can be a matter of, not merely putting things to rights, [...] but of specifically addressing lapses in competence and/or conduct' (1987, p. 88). Indeed, cor- rective actions present rich sites for understanding and examining participants' orientations to what constitute deviations from the norms of conduct, locally valued competences and identities. In native/non-native adult encounters, there is evidence to suggest that native speakers avoid initiating exposed corrections, thereby downplaying the asymmetries in linguistic competence (cf. Kurhila, 2006).

We will argue that in our increasingly linguistically diverse communities, there is a need to consider a set of speaker identities that build on the degree of language expertise rather than on the categories of nativeness/non-nativeness and static asymmetry in language skills (cf. Mondada & Pekarek-Doehler, 2004). Rather than predefining children as language learners, we will explore these episodes from a participant-relevant perspective, attending to the local social concerns the children raised in the peer-initiated correction episodes. In the present study, we will demonstrate how children engage in positioning with respect to the valued identities of the peer group, which also includes being able to use the lingua franca properly. It will be shown how correction episodes provide a social site in which children socialize each other into appropriate ways of acting as mem- bers of the peer group, while holding one another accountable for their understanding of local norms of language use. In the very process of producing corrections, as peers assess and evaluate others, they display their knowledge and skills, agentively constituting distinctions in their own local social order.


A number of language-related interactional practices -- corrections and word searches -- in which children displayed their orientation to language used by participants are drawn from a larger set of children's peer group interactions in two different multilingual educational settings. By adopting a conversation analysis (CA), we analyse the turn-by-turn organization of these interactional practices (Sacks, Schegloff, & Jefferson, 1974). The children's practical accomplishment of everyday interac- tion in early educational settings is analysed in detail from a participant-oriented perspective, examin- ing how particular interactional practices are utilized by children as resources for constituting social situations, social relations and identities across sequences of interaction (Goodwin, 2006).


The data were collected in two different early multilingual educational settings (a preschool and an immersion class). Both these settings offered different forms of formal language instruc- tion. The first data set draws on video-recorded data from fieldwork in a multilingual pre- school. The preschool in question featured a multilingual programme, where three languages -- Swedish, English and Spanish -- were spoken daily in a variety of contexts, including instruc- tional group activities as well as free play. In total, 24 children aged 3--5 years participated in the study. The children represent a variety of language backgrounds: beside the three official languages at the preschool, languages such as German, French, Arabic, Suryoyo, Latvian, Tamil and Farsi were spoken in the children's families. Swedish served as the lingua franca at the preschool. Actual exposure to Swedish varied greatly among individual children.

The second data set draws on fieldwork and video recording in a Swedish immersion class- room for refugee and immigrant children aged 7--10 years. Altogether, the class comprised nine children, who were all beginner learners, recently arrived from Iraq, Lebanon, Thailand and Turkey, and were speakers of Arabic, Kurdish and Thai. In the peer group, Swedish and Arabic were used as lingua franca, several Kurdish children using Arabic in their interactions with Arabic peers. In the class, Swedish was the language of instruction, as well as the language being taught. Similar to the situation in the preschool, the children's exposure to Swedish would vary, resulting in substantial variation in the children's proficiency in Swedish.

Language-related episodes in multilingual peer group interactions

As will be demonstrated, children's peer interactions in multilingual educational settings -- the preschool and the elementary class -- included spontaneous comments on co-participants' talk, entailing corrections and negotiations of vocabulary (e.g. lexical choices), pronunciation, language choice, and at times, grammatical features. In the following, we will exemplify the interactional design of the children's language-related episodes, focusing on their corrective actions and the local peer group identities invoked through them.

Correction and opposition in preschool children's interactions

In the present preschool setting, free play activities served as a significant social site for chil- dren's situated production of peer cultures and local social order, including peer group nego- tiations of values and norms regulating one another's conduct and language use. Free play in Swedish preschools refers to a scheduled activity that takes time during certain slots in the daily programme and includes children's activities that take place outside instructional events (Ivarsson, 2003). During these activities, children usually organize their own ways of interact- ing with each other without direct interference from teachers. While developmentally oriented studies view play as a major developmental arena, where children explore social and linguistic concepts and develop a whole range of mental as well as social skills (Garvey, 1984), socio- logical studies conceptualize play as a hotbed for peer group socialization -- a process through which children produce their own social orders and relate these orders to those of society at large (Aronsson & Thorell, 1999; Corsaro, 1997; Schwartzman, 1978). The excerpts to come illustrate how preschool children display and recognize the relevance of appropriate language use, language proficiencies and competencies as part of their situated production of local social order.

Ex. 1 exemplifies the preschool children's spontaneous exchange during a frequent reading play event. As the transcript starts, Kristine is 'reading' a picture book for Ian, while they are sitting on a 'reading' sofa, usually used as such by the preschool teachers. Kristine holds the book so both of them can see it, and she turns the pages.

At the initial phase of the activity, Kristine loudly labels the pictures in the book (line 1), but is unsuc- cessful in recruiting Ian's full attention (line 2). She then deploys a pedagogical prompt, producing a partial turn that clearly solicits the recipient's verbal participation, that is, Ian completing the turn with an adequate picture label (line 3). Although no verbal uptake of this pedagogical prompt is forthcoming, Kristine succeeds in recruiting Ian's gaze, which is now directed at the book (line 4). She then modifies her request, still in character as a teacher/adult, and she explicitly asks for a labelling ('vad är det här?'/'what is this?'). The asymmetric role distribution of pretend play adopted here positions Kristine as a person who can pose known-answer questions (e.g. initiative--response--evaluation sequence) and who can treat, evaluate and assess the student's answer (as representative of his current state of knowledge).

Kristine has been using Swedish for this activity, and Ian, when finally complying and adopting the role of a student, starts off the labelling with a Swedish indefinite article 'en'. He switches, however, to the English label 'fork' instead of 'gaffel' in Swedish. Although it is a lexically adequate labelling, the language choice is inappropriate for a Swedish book reading activity, adopted by Kristine, and she (after a short pause) produces an unmitigated non-verbal disagreement, a negative evaluation of Ian's answer. She shakes her head negatively and produces the correct Swedish label (line 12). Notably, Ian eagerly (latching onto Kristine's turn) corrects his mistake, repeating the label that Kristine has proffered (line 13).

By correcting Ian's lexical choice of 'fork', Kristine both displays her knowledge of Swedish and orients to Swedish as the language norm for the book reading practice. Establishing and maintaining stratified roles in pretend play provide the children with resources for constituting hierarchical rela- tionships among themselves, where the correct labelling in Swedish -- a second language for both children -- constitutes the device for differentiating themselves in terms of (language) knowledge.

The children continue the reading activity, when Ian promptly responds to Kristine's non-verbal labelling initiation, 'en sko'/'a shoe' (lines 14 and 15). In a teacher-like manner, Kristine evaluates and acknowledges Ian's response, nodding twice. Interestingly, even though Ian's answer is correct, Kristine repeats the noun while emphatically elongating the sound 's:ko' (line 16). On a speculative note, one could suggest that this emphatic pronunciation is indexical of Kristine's authoritative posi- tion in the role play and her entitlement to know and teach the correct pronunciation as a person more skilled in the Swedish language. Thus, by evaluating, correcting and modifying Ian's labelling, Kristine generally displays her knowledge of Swedish and orients to Swedish as the language norm for the book reading practice. Teacher-associated interactional resources serve as authoritative dis- plays that simultaneously highlight the normative preference for correct language use.

The following extracts (Ex. 2a and b) present several instances of children's corrections, shaped as outright disagreements. During free play, the children spent a considerable amount of time playing board games or taking part in aesthetic activities such as drawing and colouring while seated around a large table (cf. Fassler, 1998). While participating in such activities, the children would often monitor each other's actions and comment on the work of their peers. In Extract 2a, Inga is occupied with colour- ing a pre-sketched drawing. Gustavo, who is sitting across the table, occasionally observes her work.

Inga points at the drawing with a piece of crayon and announces that one of the figures in the drawing is the mother (line 1). Latching onto her turn, Gustavo disagrees arguing instead that it is a giraffe, designing his turn as a contradiction (the turn-initial marker ' no ') followed by a correc- tion ('it's the giraffe'). Not only does Gustavo display an outright disagreement with the prior speaker's lexical choice, but he also offers a correction, what he considers a proper labelling of the object.

Inga persists with a slightly modified version, choosing not to concede to Gustavo's correc- tion (line 6). She insists that the picture represents a person, for which she uses the English term 'grandma' emphatically pointing at it with her crayon. Inga's labelling can be seen as a catego- rization of the figure on the drawing by means of a relational categorization device (mother/ grandmother). The figure could be both a giraffe and a mother. Gustavo, on the other hand, challenges the identification on the basis of the lexical description. Gustavo repeats his disa- greement in a multi-unit turn, entailing a series of corrections based on the substitution of the labelling in the prior speaker's turn. His disagreement is shaped as an outright statement of fact and instruction, which is upgraded with an epistemic evidential 'faktiskt'/'actually'. The item being corrected and the alternative version of the labelling are juxtaposed in the immediate sequential environment of the multi-unit turn ('de ä giraffen faktiskt de ä inte grandma'/'It's the giraffe actually not grandma'), additionally highlighting that the prior speaker is 'wrong'. We may note in passing that the multilanguageness of Inga's turn is not subject to correction. Rather, Gustavo simply recycles the English term 'grandma' in his objection in line 8.

In any case, Inga does not acknowledge Gustavo's correction, and their exchange is termi- nated. Nevertheless, one of the boys sitting around the table (i.e., an inevitable overhearing audi- ence) spontaneously takes up the labelling 'giraffe', asking 'vad är giraff'/'what's giraffe'. Although no response is forthcoming, this request provides an additional illustration of what can be seen as the peer group's concern with the proper verbal labelling of objects.

In Extract 2b, just a short moment later, some of the children sitting at the table talk about toy dinosaurs, asking who 'owns' them, that is, which children usually play with them.1

Gustavo's answer that the owner of the dinosaur is Simon ('de ä Simons' [siùmons]/'it's Simon's') is overheard by Elvira, who is seated next to him. She instantly disagrees, telling Gustavo that his pronunciation of Simon is wrong (line 2). Similarly to Gustavo in Ex. 2a, Elvira designs her cor- rection as a multi-unit turn: The turn-initial correct pronunciation [sa?mon] is followed by an explicit instruction with regard to the trouble source, clearly stating that the speaker is in the wrong ('de heter inte Simon' [siùmon]/'it's not called Simon'), and a repetitive correction 'det heter Simon' [sa?mon]/'it's called Simon'). Notably, as in Ex. 2a, the girls use a similar packaging of the correc- tion, embedding it within a verbal instruction. Indeed, the correction is not limited to a simple replacement of the trouble source, but is transformed into an instructional exchange that highlights the participants' asymmetry in knowledge, and the speaker's entitlement to produce the correction.

In an overlap, Irma aligns with Elvira's correction, repeating her instruction as to the correct pronunciation 'de heter Simon' [sa?mon]/'it's called Simon' of an English first name (line 3). Similarly to Ex. 1, where Kristine oriented to the Swedish norm for role play activity, the children here orient to the language norm, more specifically, proper pronunciation of English names, as a part of the multilingual environment of the preschool. Moreover, in this example (Ex. 2b) as com- pared to the children's interaction just some moments ago (Ex. 2a), the tables are turned. Gustavo, who was the 'old-timer' in relation to Inga (Extract 2a) (based on his age-related social experience of the preschool), is now the target of correction by Elvira and Irma, who, both being older and having spent more time in the preschool, shoulder the old 'old-timer' position instead2 (Macbeth, 2000). Hierarchy in the peer group changes owing to the local order in situ, which here relates to the children's language knowledge and use, as well as their social experiences.

As the above-mentioned extracts show, when negotiating the 'correct' labelling or pronuncia- tion, the children engaged in a sequence of unmitigated disagreements and corrections of the coparticipant's talk (cf. Kurhila, 2006). The interactional design of the children's spontaneous cor- rections (designed to highlight the contrast between the correct and incorrect items embedded within an instructional format) was utilized as a resource for holding peers accountable for devia- tions from normative conduct and playing out the contrasts in their language use.

Peer group interactions and socialization in an elementary multilingual class

In the elementary multilingual school class, much like in the preschool, peer group interactions served as a site for the children's positionings with respect to appropriate language use, and knowl- edge of specific languages, for instance, Swedish language proficiency. Corrective action in rela- tion to co-participants' use of Swedish or Arabic, which served as lingua franca in the peer group, was at times deployed as a interactional means for negotiating the social positions and local social order of the peer group.3 The multifaceted character of these practices is informative of how these interactional means are utilized as resources in building peer group identities. We will demonstrate how the 'competent' use of Swedish was co-constructed as a local norm of conduct. The examples presented in the following demonstrate in detail how language 'production errors' (Jefferson, 1987) are remedied and how children's 'unflagged' word searches are resolved (cf. Kurhila, 2006) -- that is, how solutions to language problems are elaborated by making relevant particular peer group identities, namely, the identities of competent versus incompetent speakers of Swedish, on the basis of which distinctions in the peer group are made.

The following extract (Ex. 3) shows a peer group conflict emerging in the classroom. Miran is playing with an eraser during a lesson, and Hiwa attempts to talk about his behaviour as untoward or otherwise unsuitable for the classroom.

Hiwa reprimands Miran by reporting his untoward behaviour to the teacher in line 2. The pause combined with the marked elongation of 'på'/'on' both suggest that Hiwa is experiencing lexical trouble (line 2).By averting his gaze from Miran, Hiwa designs his turn so as not to invite Miran to contribute to the ongoing word search (cf. Brouwer, 2003; Goodwin & Goodwin, 1986). Instead, he finishes his utterance with a verbal simplification, a generic term 'den här'/'this one', combined with a non-verbal strategy for defining, that is, a publicly visible display of, a relevant artefact (eraser) (line 4). The design of Hiwa's solitary word search clearly demonstrates that he is deter- mined to find an appropriate word by himself and constitutively indexes his attempt to position himself as a sufficiently competent speaker of Swedish.4

The episode is escalated when Miran instantly retaliates with a return insult, transforming the accusation into a public event of ridiculing marked by a loud voice that highlights Hiwa's failure to find and use a proper word (line 5, cf. Evaldsson & Cekaite, 2010). By resolving the word search, Miran constructs knowing the proper term for eraser as a commonsense standard expecta- tion within the classroom setting. Indeed, the ridiculing effect of Miran's action turns on this very feature: that Hiwa demonstrably lacks some very basic language skill, something that is part of 'what everyone in school can be expected to know'. Building his ridiculing as a multi-unit response through several upgraded elements, he not only displays his own knowledge (the unsolicited reso- lution of the word search), but also explicitly refers to the opponent's inferior state of knowledge and abilities 'kan inte saga suddgummi'/'he can not say eraser', leaving the opponent with nothing more to say. This proves to be an effective putdown, in that Hiwa immediately redirects his atten- tion from the teacher to Miran, and issues a sotto voce competence claim 'jag också kan (suddgummi)'/'I also can (eraser)', demonstrating his concern with upgrading his position in rela- tion to Miran's criticism of his language knowledge.

In the following extract, language knowledge, more specifically appropriate use of Swedish, is invoked as a significant aspect constituting proper participation during a round of peer run Memory. This game was frequently played for vocabulary teaching and learning purposes. While labelling procedures were intended to provide a training ground for the children's lexi- cal skills, they also allowed the children to publicly display their knowledge of Swedish. Spontaneous language-focused exchanges (corrections and joint vocabulary explorations) were utilized as resources to negotiate the social organization and hierarchies of the peer group, enabling the children to construct distinctions in their own social order owing to the children's language use and knowledge.

Fusi picks up a card picturing a lamb and encounters lexical trouble: her intent gazing at Layla throughout the pausing can be seen as an invitation to participate in a word search (to proffer the correct Swedish labelling of the card) (Goodwin & Goodwin, 1986). None of the children proffers a candidate labelling, which leaves it to Fusi to resolve the lexical trouble by herself. Her incorrect labelling, 'ko'/'cow', delivered with try-marking intonation (line 2), serves as a laughable matter for Hiwa (line 3).

Let's explore in more detail the interactional work accomplished by the resolution of this word search. By not proffering Fusi with a labelling, the children can be seen to avoid taking on the role of experts and invoking linguistic asymmetries in the peer group. However, since this competitive labelling game required appropriate language use -- that is, that the children display their lexical skills in Swedish -- the peer group's avoidance to assist Fusi actively contributed to her self-incrim- inating move, that is, incorrect labelling as a public display of her insufficient knowledge.

Fusi then picks a matching card of a lamb and labels it consistently with the first card, 'cow'. Interestingly, whenever the children picked up a matching pair of cards, they would announce the second matching card in a loud celebratory manner. This time, however, the Swedish word for 'cow' is produced sotto voce, which is clearly responsive to Hiwa's treatment of her first labelling as a laughable matter. Hiwa now responds with an unmitigated outright correction combined with more laughter (line 6). An alliance -- two against one -- is formed when Meis aligns with Hiwa with an upgraded correction. The publicity of the correction is partly achieved through the loud volume and emphatic stress, and an instructional meta-comment 'this is not a lamb', which adds to the contrastive organization of the labels 'cow' versus 'lamb' (line 7). Hence, the packaging of Meis' correction/disagreement turn indexes asymmetries in knowledge, allowing in situ local stratifica- tion in the peer group. The correction turn is a multifaceted social tool: In the very process of cor- recting, Meis displays her competencies, as she exposes Fusi's error and contrasts it with her own expertise (see Ex. 2a and b, and Ex. 3 for a similar contrastive structure). Hiwa joins the 'attack' on Fusi by laughingly repeating Fusi's inappropriate labelling (line 8). While in the current competi- tive game situation Fusi's picking of matching cards is a winning move (line 5), which advances her position in the game, it is effectively devaluated by the peer group directing their attention to Fusi's inappropriate verbal design of her play moves.

Upon this, Fusi makes a competence disclaimer 'jag kan inte'/'I cannot', which accounts for her incorrect lexical choice (cf. Ex. 3), indexing her subordinate position in the local social order. While Fusi labels the next card 'ekorre'/'squirrel' correctly (line 10), she runs into lexical trouble when she picks up a card with a picture of a jacket (line 12). Several children react in response to her inappropriate labelling: Hiwa laughs, and Layla, aligning, makes an outright correction ('jacka'/'jacket') prefaced by an opposition marker 'nej'/'no' (line 14). Fusi's repetition accom- plishes affirmatory work with regard to Layla's correction, adopting the identity of a less knowl- edgeable person, someone who is rightly being taught by the more competent members of the multilingual peer group.

Notably, in the immersion class, the language-related episodes (e.g. corrective exchanges and word searches) served as a complex social space for peer socialization: in addition to peer group- generated target language models (e.g. correct lexical labels), they constituted interactional prac- tices for the shaping of peer group relations, allowing the multilingual peer group to agentively play out their hierarchical positionings based on the differences in Swedish language knowledge. Claiming and assigning to others positions as 'more' or 'less' competent speakers of Swedish were significant interactional resources (among others) that the children deployed when negotiating the social order of the peer group.

Concluding discussion

The present study has explored children's interactions in two multilingual educational settings, focusing on peer interactions as a locus for socialization into local norms of conduct and language use. As shown, the preschool and elementary school children engaged in social situations in which they made linguistic aspects of participants' conduct relevant and employed a range of interactional tools -- corrections and word searches -- as an integral part of the ongoing construction of peer group culture and social relations. They displayed and recognized the relevance of appro- priate language use, language proficiencies and competencies as part of their situated production of a local social order, holding one another accountable for appropriate language use.

Indeed, in multilingual settings where most of the children were not native Swedes, the children spontaneously initiated corrective actions, including criticism and evaluation of each other's use of the lingua franca. Looking at corrections and word searches, we found that some of the valued signs of competencies, conduct and identities were related to language knowledge. They provided a set of resources that child peers utilized in building their social worlds and identities (Goodwin & Kyratzis, 2012).

Even at a young age, the children focus on appropriate language use in the flow of talk-in- interaction during their mundane activities. In terms of what they explicitly notice as problematic, children ascribe particular importance to lexical items, picking on peers' inappropriate vocabulary/ lexical choices. These findings corroborate earlier studies demonstrating that grammatical (mor- pho-syntactic) features are less important to successful achievement of intersubjectivity (cf. Cekaite & Aronsson, 2005; Kurhila, 2006; Seedhouse, 2004).

A notable characteristic of these interactional moves was that the children in both settings did not employ interactional means for downgrading the directness of corrections (cf. Kurhila, 2007). On the contrary, repair/corrections were designed as outright disagreements with the prior speaker. The unmitigated design of corrections reveals that children do not downplay asymmetries in knowledge; instead, the unmitigated format allows the agentive highlighting of error, upgrading the asymmetries and stratifications between members of the peer group. By using turn-initial oppo- sition markers such as 'nej'/'no' (Ex. 1, 2 and 4), children indexed their oppositional stance to the prior speaker's turn. Constructing the multi-unit turn, they indicated that the prior speaker is in error, simultaneously claiming the relational identity of the more knowledgeable. With an immedi- ate correction, embedded within an instructional format, the children were able to construe and highlight other participants' asymmetries in knowledge, changing and renegotiating the local social order. Two formats for highlighting such asymmetries entailed (a) disagreement with the prior speaker ('nej'/'no'), (b) identification of the trouble source ('det är inte'/'that is not') and (c) instructional announcement of the remedy ('det är x'/'this is x') (see Ex. 1, 2 and 4). Indeed, social stratification in the peer group was accomplished, among other ways, by means of unmitigated corrections, targeting different aspects of language use: pronunciation, lexical choices and lan- guage choice.

It should be interesting to note that such interactional design of repair practices differs from the institutionalized ways of carrying out the repair (e.g. teacher-initiated repair in language class- rooms). Teachers usually downplay the asymmetries in knowledge by producing a repair initiator and allowing the student to come up with a repair outcome by herself/himself, or by producing embedded corrections (Hosoda, 2006; Seedhouse, 2004). In contrast, in the multilingual peer groups in question, the design of such interactional moves allowed the children to position them- selves as somebody in the 'know', simultaneously highlighting the prior speaker's limited exper- tise. Similarly, participation frameworks invoked in the children's word searches -- the peer group's reluctance to contribute with a candidate item, or their unsolicited 'taking over' the production of the turn final component -- accomplished intricate interactional work, allowing the children to publicly highlight co-participants' deficiencies. Deviance from appropriate language use was agen- tively employed to organize and negotiate the local social order, indexing the hierarchies in the peer group and serving as means for the speaker to differentiate herself/himself from the person who was the target of the correction.

Thus, the social and linguistic identities that children display, claim and/or contest are best described in terms of the degree of expertise rather than in terms of nativeness. Language expertise may be an issue for negotiations and redefinitions in lingua franca multilingual peer group interac- tions, and one of the factors organizing the social relations in multilingual educational settings. Children engage in continuous negotiations with respect to the valued identities of the peer group. These valued identities also include being able to display appropriate/correct use of children's lingua franca.

Detailed examination of interactional practices in peer interactions allowed more in-depth insights into the ways in which the social relations and norms for language behaviour to which children hold each other accountable are co-constructed in multilingual peer groups. However, although we have shown how children act as agents in their own socialization, we argue that chil- dren's socializing actions need to be seen in light of the local educational order, and particularly, the instructional mode bound up expressly with teaching and working on the children's linguistic skills (cf. Björk-Willén, 2007; Björk-Willén & Cromdal, 2009; Cekaite & Aronsson, 2005). Indeed, socialization into appropriate use of second/additional language use is not simply accomplished through teacher-led instructional activities. Rather, this socialization forms part of the activities of the peer group itself.

Finally, we argue, in line with the previous work on interaction analysis, that a detailed analysis enables documentation of the dynamic ways in which peer talk provides a locus for construction and reconstruction of peer cultures as they are inextricably embedded in the local social order of the multilingual institutional settings. Analysis of peer group norms of language use elucidates some of the conditions for participation in multilingual educational settings, providing a fuller understanding of peer group interactions as a major driving force for language learning.


This work is supported by the Swedish Research Council.


We thank Jakob Cromdal and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier draft.


Henceforth, we will use, where relevant, phonetic transcriptions (International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) system) to indicate the pronunciation details.

The preschool was organized in two age-related units: one unit for 1- to 3-year-olds and other unit for 3- to 6-year-olds. Gustavo was a newcomer in the older children's group. Inga attended the group for the younger children.

On children's orientation to the proficient use of Arabic, see Cekaite and Evaldsson (2008).

Notably, at no point during the boys' exchange does the teacher attend to their verbal duelling.



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[Author Affiliation]

Asta Cekaite and Polly Björk-Willén

Linköping University, Sweden

Corresponding author:

Asta Cekaite, Department of Child Studies, Linköping University, 58183 Linköping, Sweden.


About the authors

Asta Cekaite is associate professor at the Department of Child Studies, Linköping University, Sweden. Her research interests include first- and second-language socialization, embodied and affective features of social interaction, and children's interactions in formal and informal (family and peer group) settings. She has pub- lished in Applied Linguistics, Modern Language Journal, Discourse Studies, Text & Talk, Discourse in Society, etc.

Polly Björk-Willén is lecturer in educational practice at the Department of Social and Welfare Studies, Linköping University, Sweden. Her research focuses on social interaction in preschools. Specific practices of interest include children's languaging and computer use, as well as the area of ethnicity and language policy.


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