Wednesday, October 3, 2007

A Different Language

Driving home yesterday I realized that I speak another language.
Now, of course, many of us do speak a language ( or two) other than our native tongue, but let me explain.
In this case, I mean that I speak toddlerese.

Serenity, having just turned two, is turning the infantile grunts and gestures and one-word commands into actual (well, kind of) words and vocabulary. All fine and good.

Most of her words are not even similar to real words yet, thereby leaving us baffled half the time as to what she is trying to say. A certain chain of syllables means ' big truck' and ' my cup of juice', but the real whole words do not yet fully exist.

It is truly fascinating, development of one's language, and the more I thought about it I recognized that we moms actually do, even if for a brief time, speak a different language during the vocabulary development of our toddlers. We must learn to recognize the chain of syllables that mean a certain word but sounds nothing like the word we know, and commit it to memory in association with it's meaning so we can more rapidly recognize it the next time we hear it. This does not mean that we don't say the word correctly often so as to help our toddlers learn the correct pronunciation. Here I must add that pronouncing a word correctly to a cranky, hungry, out-of-sorts toddler IS NOT a good idea so knowing what they are trying to say is VERY important.

In addition, we must learn to REPEAT everything that our little ones say so they know we are listening, thereby teaching them the art of conversation, which differs from communication vastly. To me it became apparent that right now, with Serenity learning to really talk, my mind feels the same way it felt (exasperated and overwhelmed) when I was living in Germany and trying to translate every word and phrase until I became familiar with the language.

Immediately following birth, infants watch the movement of people's mouths, listen to the rythym of the speech surrounding them, and begin to recognize voices. As chidren grow into toddlerhood, they are learning to communicate their wants and desires through gestures and very basic imitations of the speech they have been listening to for a year. Some children catch on very quickly and can speak full sentences very early, others take the two to three years to fully enunciate correctly most words in their daily language.
I realized, sitting at the traffic light (I am surprised at this point that I remembered to drive as I was so caught up in pondering this ) that as each of my children has reached this point in development, I remember learning to recognize these "new words" and constantly translating their meaning to other people who couldn't understand my child.

Of course, I had this epiphany while Serenity was in the back seat screaming "cee bu"..translated "city bus"...this is by far one of the easier phrases to decipher. One of the harder ones as of yet was "wa toma tay pee"...directly transalated "watch Thomas the Train please?"

So, as time moves on and my toddler becomes a pre-schooler, her speech will graduate to new levels in development, none as hard as this initial explosion into communication.
Well, maybe until she becomes a teenager anyway, and I don't even want to talk about what communication will be like during that period of time!


niobe said...

So true. And toddlers often make up their own words, which seem to have no relation whatsoever to the real words.

I know a little boy who used to scream "bik! bik! bik!" becoming more and more frustrated when his parents didn't bring him the "bik" he was so clearly asking for. It (not surprisingly) took the parents quite a while to figure out that by "bik" he meant "grapes."

Magpie said...

I love watching my child put things together.

Though last night, when I told her she couldn't say "dammit", she asked "can I say shammit?"

slouching mom said...

I love watching kids learn language. It's really fascinating, and it must be so tough for them, especially learning English, one of the harder, odder languages. The human brain is an amazing thing.

blooming desertpea said...

toddlers really show us how a language is learnt - I found it very fascinating to follow the progress and pondering why some combinations of letters are easier to say than others ...

painted maypole said...

i miss some of those toddler words!

mitzh said...

I love this stage so much, when people ask me what did she say and I will translate it to them. It's like my daughter and I share a secret language, that only the two of us will know and truly understand.

Amy York said...

I miss this phase!
So cute... :)

Amy York said...

P.S. I can't find your email address to send your interview questions! Do you mind sending me a quick email at Thanks darlin!

Christine said...

i always marveled at my children when they reached this stage. their language development and vocabulary grew exponentially every day.