A new friend who is expecting her forth explained to me one of her rationals for having more than two kids. It goes something like this: If you just have two, it’s too easy to fall into categorizing your kids good/bad, generous/selfish, gregarious/quiet, etc. She claims that with three or more, it ends up being more of a merry-go-round in terms of who is acting up which leads to less labeling.
It’s an interesting concept and I loath to admit that I find myself doing exactly this. Among the dichotomies, they are divvied up as verbally gifted and the late-speaker. Some of you may have read my timeline post on the early days of P’s language emergence; it’s called: when self-doubt creeps in. The title is quite the giveaway. There were times I wondered if she was ever going to speak. If felt like forever and this is due, I am sure in part, to the fact that her two best buddies were seriously early and prolific talkers. They were singing full songs before P could put two words together.
I spent a lot of time seesawing between believing–and explaining to everyone who raised an eyebrow–that some kids are just late talkers irrespective of the number of languages spoken at home, and entertaining the fact that maybe it was the three languages but that I should hold tight as she would eventually catch up.
I’d read that children in multilingual households were often a bit slower to speak with more limited vocabularies but they usually caught up and surpassed their little monolingual mates. Hurrah By the age of 2-3….err wait my kid only has about 80 words and that’s including water in French, English, Spanish and ASL. If you cut it down to just meaning, she had about 20 words. I’d also read that there was no difference in the development timelines and heard stories of children–actually my little cousin was one of these–who speak on time, well and in all of their languages. My best friend had often repeated that she knew a tri-lingual (Japanese, French & English) family whose first daughter had no speech issues while her little brother was an extremely late talker for whom they sought expert advice.
All this to say that from the time that C was 10 weeks old, I could already spot the difference. As a baby she vocalized a lot just as all those annoying parenting books said she would. P never did. She watched everything attentively but overall, she was, with the exception of crying, a very quiet baby. She was definitely a prolific smiler but laughter took forever to happen. For a while, I was worried that I was the least funny parent on the planet. All my ‘new-mothers’ group friends were posting cute YouTube videos of their babies chuckling and gurgling and all I could get at best was a gummy smile. Sometimes it was if she was laughing silently.
C did end up quieting down a bit and I figured I had another slow talker on my hands. Her babbling was done rather quietly. Some first words came – the usual for babies these days: Mama, Papa, iPad, Milk but nothing out of the ordinary and not at an accelerated rate. These were said loudly and confidently but the rest of her babble was more of a mumble.
Then out of the blue, around 18 months, when she was using a handful of words and signs but not much else, she started speaking in sentences. And by sentences, I don’t mean
“Give milk me” or “me want biscuit”
but things like
“I want to sit there” and “no, I don’t want that”
The first couple of times I told my husband I was clearly hallucinating as I could have sworn that C was speaking in grammatically correct sentences. She was still in her barely audible phase so I was certain I was mishearing. But then in happened when he was there. And we both looked at each other and then I knew, it wasn’t just wishful thinking.
Claude also spoke more readily in the various languages though here I attribute this in part to me making a much bigger effort at sticking to French and that she started attending a bilingual French/English program, something we were not able to provide for P at the same age. She also had that vocab explosion most kids have where they repeat every single word or phrase they hear.
And at the age where P finally put “hi” and “mama” together, C was giving us full renditions of twinkle twinkle little star and her absolute favorite, the alphabet.
Everything in due course. Children develop at different speeds but they all get there eventually. C sang at 2, P didn’t sing til around 3.5. In this age of league tables and measurements and researching everything to death, when we bathe in an environment rife with hyper-parenting, drowning in endless streams of activities there to amuse our children but more often to assuage our fear of not doing everything possible to give our children the best start in life, it is very difficult to take a laid back attitude and just let kids be kids. But it is critical for our kids wellbeing and more importantly perhaps our own that we take a step back, slow down and let them develop at their individual pace.
My girls were night and day when it came to their language development but now, I sit here, sweetly serenaded by the pair and realize I need not have worried so much.
This post was written for the October Bilingual Carnival, hosted this month by Bilingual Babes.