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Sustained multiturn conversational episodes (Beiting et al., 2022)

online resource
posted on 2022-08-15, 20:38 authored by Molly Beiting, Rebecca M. Alper, Rufan Luo, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between interaction quality and child language ability. We focused on one promising interaction quality indicator—the rate of multiturn conversational episodes. We also explored whether the relationship between rate of single conversational turns and language ability changed when the child’s nonverbal behaviors were considered in addition to verbal conversational turns. To limit the potential of socioeconomic status as a confounder, participants included only families living in underresourced households.

Method: Secondary analyses were conducted using baseline data (N = 41 dyads enrolled, N = 27 analyzed) from a longitudinal study. All families were living in low-income households (i.e., below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level) and 12 were English–Spanish bilingual (15 English-only). Mothers and their children (13 to 27 months) participated in video-recorded play and reading interactions at home. Trained observers transcribed and coded the child’s and caregiver’s verbal and nonverbal behaviors. Linear regression models examined the relationship between the number of conversational turns and child language ability. 

Results: Child language ability was significantly and positively associated with the number of verbal–nonverbal single turns and multiturn conversational episodes, but not single verbal-only turns.

Conclusions: For children still acquiring language, it is important to account for nonverbal contributions to conversation. Child language ability was significantly and positively associated only with the conversational turn variables that included the child’s nonverbal behaviors. Further investigation is needed to understand whether number of turns within conversational episodes is a better indicator of interaction quality than sheer number of conversational turns. Implications for caregiver-implemented interventions are discussed.

Supplemental Material S1. Individual data related to language and literacy background of caregiver and child, by child language group. 

Supplemental Material S2. Regression model output when child language is treated as a continuous variable

Supplemental Material S3. Interaction coding manual.

Beiting, M., Alper, R. M., Luo, R., & Hirsh-Pasek, K. (2022). Keep the ball rolling: Sustained multiturn conversational episodes are associated with child language ability. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. Advance online publication.


This research was supported by grants from the William Penn Foundation and Bezos Family Foundation, which included salary and research support (Alper, Luo, and Hirsh- Pasek). The data analyzed for this study were collected as part of research supported by the William Penn Foundation (45-15; Hirsh-Pasek, PI) and Bezos Family Foundation (Hirsh-Pasek, PI).