Mr Chatterbox

It’s about time that i wrote another update on Andrew’s language development and shared a few videos that I’ve taken of him talking recently. He’s become quite a little chatterbox; sometimes it seems like he’s never without something to say, either commenting on what’s going on, or recounting a past experience he had, or asking us a question. It’s amazing how he’s gone from just single words and pairs of words to whole strings of several words in the space of just a few months. His word strings are not often what we would think of as grammatically correct sentences, but nevertheless they convey the message he intended more often than not.

The other Mr Chatterbox

His ‘sentences’ mostly sound like orders, for example ‘Daddy eat Shredded Wheat’ or ‘Mummy sit there’, but in many cases what he really means – we can tell from the context – is what we would use the present continuous tense for, so ‘Daddy is eating Shredded Wheat’ or ‘Mummy is sitting there’ for the two examples given here. Sometimes, however, he clearly does mean an order, his favourite being a very clear ‘Andrew do it!’ when we try to do something for him but he’s having none of it and desperately wants to do it himself, or there are a few occasions that he admits defeat and demands that ‘Mummy do it’ 🙂 A particularly interesting case is when he says ‘Mummy/Daddy wake up now’, which usually seems to mean either ‘Mummy/Daddy is awake now’ or ‘Mummy/Daddy just got me out of bed’ – it’s interesting how he doesn’t quite understand, or at least can’t communicate, the difference between the process of waking or getting up and actually being awake.

He does have some short grammatically correct sentences; the most noticeable and regularly uttered ones are ‘What’s that?’ and ‘There it is!’. It’s so cute when he finds what he’s been looking for and excitedly proclaims ‘There it is!’, and he’s very curious and keen to learn what things are, so the question ‘What’s that?’ is very useful to him. We haven’t reached the ‘Why?’ stage yet, but I have a feeling it won’t be too long before he begins to question us using this word all the time! Can’t wait (not)!

Talking of questions, he clearly understands when we are asking a question, I suspect from the intonation, as the pitch rises at the end of the utterance, and if he doesn’t know the answer or doesn’t understand exactly what we asked, he stock answer is ‘Yes’. He’s pretty good at saying please and thank you, but if he’s not said it and we’d like him to, we just have to repeat what he asked for, such as ‘more Shreddies’ with a rising pitch at the end, as if to say ‘what do you say….more Shreddies ‘what’?’ and he appends the word please onto the end. So that’s how I’m guessing he understands when we’re asking a question from the rising intonation. Interestingly, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are the last vestiges of his baby signing – as he says the word he still signs it too.

When he’s asked what something is and we tell him, he has a go at repeating it himself, and he varies in how accurate he is depending on how difficult the word is to say. It’s a bit like having a parrot as he copies what we say! Often he’ll also just repeat something we said without having asked us what it is – that feels even more like we have a resident parrot, and you have to be really careful what you say! He has a tendency to be very cheeky and noisy just as Tom is doing the bedtime routine with him once he’s had mummy milk, and clearly Tom has told him to calm down several times because now he just spontaneously comes out with ‘calm down, calm down’ as they go into his bedroom before Tom has said anything. Often he’ll say things later that he heard somewhere earlier but didn’t say at the time.

The number of words he now knows is too many to count, and increases by the day. It’s incredible to watch this sudden explosion in vocabulary, which now includes nouns, verbs, adjectives and more. He’s particularly into his colours and numbers, and can spend quite a long time counting things and telling us their colours when we read or do other things that we do regularly in daily life. Reading books is one of his favourite activities, especially when it’s with Daddy who can give him undivided attention whilst I’m feeding Joel. We read the most when he’s sat on the potty or toilet after meal times and before bed. He still likes flicking through his board books and looking through the pictures, but he also likes us to read big boys book with paper pages and a real story. I’m sure that all the reading is extremely helpful in his language development.

In a previous blog post about Andrew’s language development, I wrote about ‘overextension’ – a while ago he would say ‘car’ for all four-wheeled vehicles and ‘moo’ for cows, horses and other large furry mammals. His vocab has extended in theses areas, so now he no longer overextends the meaning of ‘car’ and ‘moo’ but differentiates between car, lorry, bus etc. and cow, horse etc. Interestingly he now overextends the meaning of ‘football’ to all balls, even though he used to say ‘ball’ (or ‘buh’) for all balls. He’s obviously learned ‘football’ (no doubt because the neighbours’ children kicked one over into the flats’ communal garden and he’s played with it lots as they don’t seem to be looking for it), and now he thinks that this applies to all balls. Of course we don’t use the word ‘football’ when we talk about different types of balls, so eventually he’ll figure it out, just as he did for vehicles and animals. Even more interesting in his understanding of balls is that he’s started saying ‘tennis football’ for tennis ball; so he’s specifying a certain type of ball (a tennis one) but not quite getting that ‘football’ is also a certain type of ball, a different type from a tennis ball.

Generally his sounds are much more accurate than they were, and it’s quite easy to tell most of the time what he’s saying. There are some occasions though when he says something over and over and we just can’t tell what he’s saying. The recent one that sticks in my mind is ‘bassle’ – he kept saying it over and over, usually before another word but sometimes on its own as I asked him to repeat it so I could try and work out what it was by making suggestions, none of which he said ‘yes’ to, which is what he says when you repeat back to him correctly what he just said. Then a few days later, suddenly the context made me think he meant ‘special’ and when I repeated this back to him, out came a hearty ‘YES!’, as if to say ‘finally Mummy, you’ve got it!’ ‘Bassle’ isn’t a bad attempt at ‘special’ – the consonant cluster ‘sp’ is hard for toddlers, who tend to take a while to get the hang of it, the vowel isn’t far off as they are both produced with the tongue at the front of the mouth but in ‘e’ it’s a bit higher than in ‘a’, and ‘s’ instead of ‘sh’ is another thing that takes a while to get the hang of and I hear this in other words too, for example ‘shops’ sounds more like ‘sops’.

The sound that seems most comical in its inaccuracy is the ‘i’ sound when it precedes an ‘l’ sound as in ‘milk’ or ‘builder’ – both are words he says a lot (the latter when referring to a certain guy called Bob with a yellow hard hat!) For this he says something more like ‘mowk’ or ‘bowder’ with the ‘o’ similar to that in ‘pot’ (anyone want to watch Bob the Boulder?! Sounds like a fascinating programme!) I’m guessing this is fairly common in toddler acquirers of English, though I haven’t specifically read about it, as it makes sense to me when I think about how and where the sounds are produced in the mouth. First, it’s quite common for English speakers, particularly in certain accents like Cockney in London, to ‘vocalise’ ‘l’ sounds after vowels – this means that they say the ‘l’ sound like a vowel which is produced with the tongue at the back and near the top of the mouth, so we hear something like ‘miwk’ instead of ‘milk’. The ‘i’ sound in ‘milk’ is produced with the tongue at the front of the mouth. The ‘o’ vowel that Andrew is saying is ‘assimilating’ to the vocalised ‘l’, which means that during the vowel his tongue is anticipating the position it needs to be in for the vocalised ‘l’ after it, and therefore the vowel is produced at the back of the mouth, hence the ‘mowk’ pronunciation instead of ‘milk’ with the vowel at the front of the mouth.

Although most of what he comes out with is English, I do catch glimpses of the French and German that he clearly understands. The other day he spontaneously started counting in French, and one of his favourite books to read with us is the ‘First Thousand Words in German’ that we were given as a present from some Swiss/German friends – his favourite page is the ‘Küche’ page, which shows a rather messy kitchen with all sorts of things in it to learn the words of, and which he asks to read in German by repeating ‘Küche, Küche’ until we do, even though Tom is reluctant to read it with him. I have to admit that I’ve been less consistent in speaking French and German to him since Joel was born, mainly because I find my mind has so many other things to keep on top of that I simply forget or don’t have the energy to put my thoughts into actions. I did use some of Andrew’s Christmas money to buy some DVDs in French and German though, so he now excitedly watches Feuerwehrman Sam, Bob der Baumeister, Thomas le petit train and Les Teletubbies! He has often been heard shouting back to the screen what he’s hearing in French and German, such as ‘Hilfe!’ and ‘Feuer!’ during Sam, and ‘Bonjour!’ and ‘Gros calin!’ during Teletubbies. I have a video of him reading a German book with Daddy but I’ve realised that he’s sat on the potty naked, as he often does when reading, and I don’t think he’d appreciate this going on youtube when he’s a bit older so I haven’t uploaded it; I’ll try to get a video of his trilingual talking when he’s got some clothes on!

I think that’s just about all I have to say on Andrew’s language for the moment, but I’m sure he will continue to develop at an amazingly fast rate and there will be more to record over the coming weeks and months. It’s so incredible to get an inkling of what’s going on in his mind now that more and more is coming out in the form of speech. It’s fascinating when you can see that he really wants to say something but sometimes it takes him a little while to come up with the words he needs to convey the message, and it’s almost as if you can see his mind working as he formulates and produces the speech. A-MA-ZING!

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