Speech Development: Keep Calm, Your Toddler Will Talk

Children learning to talk

Keep calm, you kid will talk.

I know it doesn’t feel that way. I know when faced with your kid’s precocious eighteen-month-old friend who is already stringing sentences together and using words with more syllables than you can manage after another-sleep deprived night, you will feel like you have failed.

This happens to all parents mono or multilingual, though those trying to raise multilingual kids are often actually subtly –or not so subtly– accused of bringing this on themselves. (Which, for the record, is supported by zero research. But who needs research these days?)

The nasty voices that never seem to go away will be haranguing you:

It’s your fault, you shouldn’t have gone back to work.

You should have spent more time describing every small detail like: watch mommy unscrew the cap on the tube of Preparation H – that’s hemorrhoid cream. Now squeeze the tube and apply a small amount to your index finger. See my index finger? And then gently rub…I’ll leave you wondering whether it’s for sagging eyes or sagging innards.

I shouldn’t have stuck her in front of Baby Einstein when I was showering, cooking, walking the dog –yes walking the dog but I assure you she was well strapped in.

You suck as a parent.

Did you really believe you could bring up a multilingual kid? It’s your fault, forget all the studies that say a kid will just develop speech when they are ready and listen to the uptight mother at the Pediatrician’s office who simply ‘knows’ your kid is still stuck on mama and bye-bye because you speak another language to her.

You should have read more, talked more, jumped up and down in a hoop while juggling pacifiers…

You are just innately stupid as you have long suspected and now that is manifesting itself in your offspring.

I am hoping your voices aren’t nearly as vitriolic as mine. I spent hours perusing websites, buying books on encouraging speech, learning sign language, and of course keeping a positive face in front of all of those wondering why my kid still barely uttered a few words.

And then it happened. She started talking. The floodgates opened and I sat, immersed in the tidal wave of words, elated –for about 48 hours before the  very awful thought crept into my mind”

My God, when is she ever going to stop? She is the Duracell bunny. She just keeps talking and talking and talking and talking and talking…

Careful what you wish for.

Keep calm, your kid will talk. And then they will never shut the f*%$ up.

This post was written for October’s Raising Multilingual Children Carnival, hosted by Discovering the World Through My Son’s Eyes. It will be going live Monday October 28th. Please check out all the wonderful submissions. Of course, had I been organized and realized this month had a specific topic, you’d also find my post there. Of course, you won’t.  Welcome to my world.

New research says “baby signing classes ‘fail to boost toddlers’ language skills”

From an interesting article in the Telegraph. Any thoughts?

Personally, I’d never read that baby signing would boost language skills, just aid in earlier communication since babies’ hand coördination develops earlier than physiology for word-formation.  For me, it was a great bridge as we didn’t know what language our little P or C would start using for their first words.

I’d love to hear about other people’s experience.

 

Night and Day, and the Alphabet

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.

Minotaurs and Merlions: P’s Very Un-Darwinian Language Evolution.

Pea’s evolving language never ceases to amaze and amuse me.  I know kids brains are supposed to be all pliable and sponge-like with an incredible capability to sort and slot all sorts of information but there are times when I feel even I am pushing the limits.

My poor child was subjected to a number of waves of different dominant languages from English to Spanish to French, back to English with quite a bit of Mandarin in the last few months. Lately, her exposure to Spanish has fallen to a record low.

How I would portray P’s Spanish since moving to Singapore

Given P’s linguistic history, it’s no wonder her languages are a bit all over the place. Even following OPOL for the most part, the variation in exposures has fluctuated so much. I find it interesting that the words that seem to be sticking in French are verbs and she has fought again and again the use of french pronouns. I’m curious if that is a pattern in kids who mix. I expected nouns to be the first words to change since you don’t need to conjugate them. I’ve definitely noticed her avoid articles like Le and La, replacing them in stead with The.

Some of her linguistic concoctions:

Fading like a Dodo bird
She systematically used the Spanish word for with i.e. con. I loved hearing her say ‘i go con you’  and long to hear her speak con me that way.

Rising in numbers like Singaporean mozzies after a rainstorm

You plie it

‘You fold it’ AKA my toddler ordering me to clean up after myself. I blame her OCD father

 I mélange it

‘I stir it’ AKA my control freak toddler ordering me away from her yogurt and honey.

 I don’t want baby Claude to dérange me

‘I don’t want baby Claude to bother me’ AKA ‘I need you to both stay seated next to me while I colour, paint, play, etc and simultaneously take baby Claude away to another room. I don’t care if they haven’t figured out cloning. You are omnipotent so make it happen.’

My sirene goes under the water

‘My mermaid goes under the water’  Yes well she’s half fish so she would wouldn’t she. And now if only you would go under the water; I’ve spent a freaking fortune on those swimming lessons.

Finally my favorite category – the bilingual hybrid.
Please meet Tiny. Tiny is P’s Perroque. (half Parrot half Peroquet)

Sometimes, she really amazes me. Just when I’ve given up on the idea that she will act as my interpreter when we visit my lovely Mexican Mother-in-Law, she’ll point out a random object like a crane and say “that’s grua in Español”.

My heart soars!

So like any good parent, I offer her some gateau. “No Maman, I want cake! That’s pastel in Español”.

Two steps forward, one step back. Even sponges reach saturation point. I trust someday these languages will work together.