Children's comprehension of an unfamiliar speaker accent: a review.
Harte J., Oliveira A., Frizelle P., Gibbon F.
BACKGROUND: The effect of speaker accent on listeners' comprehension has become a key focus of research given the increasing cultural diversity of society and the increased likelihood of an individual encountering a clinician with an unfamiliar accent. AIMS: To review the studies exploring the effect of an unfamiliar accent on language comprehension in typically developing (TD) children and in children with speech and language difficulties. This review provides a methodological analysis of the relevant studies by exploring the challenges facing this field of research and highlighting the current gaps in the literature. METHODS & PROCEDURES: A total of nine studies were identified using a systematic search and organized under studies investigating the effect of speaker accent on language comprehension in (1) TD children and (2) children with speech and/or language difficulties. MAIN CONTRIBUTION: This review synthesizes the evidence that an unfamiliar speaker accent may lead to a breakdown in language comprehension in TD children and in children with speech difficulties. Moreover, it exposes the inconsistencies found in this field of research and highlights the lack of studies investigating the effect of speaker accent in children with language deficits. CONCLUSIONS & IMPLICATIONS: Overall, research points towards a developmental trend in children's ability to comprehend accent-related variations in speech. Vocabulary size, language exposure, exposure to different accents and adequate processing resources (e.g. attention) seem to play a key role in children's ability to understand unfamiliar accents. This review uncovered some inconsistencies in the literature that highlight the methodological issues that must be considered when conducting research in this field. It explores how such issues may be controlled in order to increase the validity and reliability of future research. Key clinical implications are also discussed.