We have blast off! Toddler speech development

In the past couple of months my blog posts have been quite focused on pregnancy and baking. As I glance across to my sidebar whilst typing, I’m reminded that there are other categories that I like to write about. One of these is linguistics, and within the past month, just before Joel was born and since the birth, we’ve seen something that definitely fits into that category – Andrew’s speech development has suddenly hit blast off! He’s gone from saying just a few words to coming out with several new ones a day, and copying some of the words out of what we say with pretty amazing accuracy. I really need to watch what I say now, including those moments when it’s all going wrong and a potentially naughty word slips off my tongue before I know it.

In fact it’s not just us that he copies. The other day we were at a clinic to get discharged from midwife care for Joel. Andrew wasn’t the only toddler there, and at one point another little boy’s mum shouted across to him as he was messing with someone else’s car seat: “Riley, I’m watching you!” Andrew proceeded to say very loudly “Watch you!”, as I went a rather interesting shade of red and thought to myself: here beginneth years of embarrassment with toddler/child (deliberate) slips of the tongue. But hey, that’s part and parcel of having kids, and I’m sure I’ll be just as embarrassing for him one day.

Counting and naming colours whilst stacking pots - Daddy is explaining that we're currently missing number 9 of 10, a green pot, and we have no idea where it is!

Two things that he’s very into at the moment are numbers and colours. The best way to get him to demonstrate his abilities is with his set of 10 stacking pots. He happily counts the pots as he stacks them, sometimes getting carried away and counting faster than he can stack! Eight is often the number he slows down for and struggles with, though I’m not quite sure why – to me this combination of sounds doesn’t seem particularly harder than other numbers; maybe it’s the fact it starts with a vowel (? – only thing I can think of now). English is no problem for him now, and he’s even starting to say some of the French and German numbers; he can count to 10 in French, just about, though German is a bit slower to come as he only consistently says a few of those numbers (I have no idea why German should be slower than French). Another way he likes to practise counting is with the book Animal Airways – I’d definitely recommend this, it’s great! With each turn of the page, another group of animals is added, starting at one and ending up at 10.

Going back to the stacking pots, Andrew likes telling us the colours as he stacks them high. At first he started off with just the primary colours (red, blue, yellow) and green, and now he’s expanded to others including purple, orange, pink, black, white, grey etc. He’s now started putting a colour with a noun to describe objects, for example he’ll say “red car” or “blue cup” or “green tree”. To me this really makes him sound grown up!

There are other instances where he strings 2 or more words together, not just an adjective and noun pair like the colour examples. Since Tom has gone back to work after paternity leave last week, Andrew has said “Dada work” every morning when he’s gone. He’s figuring out possessives and says things like “Mama’s car” (I love the fact that he calls it my car!) and “Dada’s drink”; he’s starting to say mine and yours, but I think he gets them mixed up a lot, saying yours when he means mine and vice versa. The nicest example of word strings recently has been the phrase “Pop up and down” that he’s been saying a lot since last weekend. The story is that his paternal grandad, who he calls Pop, came to visit, and the place where we said goodbye to him when he had to catch the train back was at the lift, which Andrew calls an “up and down”, in John Lewis. So ever since, Andrew has kept saying “Pop up and down” to remind us that this is the last place he saw Pop before he left! We’ve even started to hear what is technically a full sentence: he says “It’s a [insert object name, e.g. ball]” when he’s naming some objects for us. This is probably one of the easiest sentences in English to start off with.

Until recently he didn’t say his own name, or so I thought, but it suddenly dawned on me one day that he was saying it, just not in a phonetically very accurate way! His version is something more like “A-tar” than “An-drew”. He’s learned his brother’s name very quickly, though the “J” sound is hard to say, so it sounds like “Dole”. In general, however, his pronunciation is getting more similar to adult speakers’ for the easier sounds. I was interested to hear him say “glasses” with a long “a” sound – he must have picked that up from Granny/Grandad or friends who say it like that, as both Tom and I say it with a short “a” sound, a northern rather than southern “a”.

A great action shot of the top pot falling off the stack. (The white thing in the foreground is the back of Joel's head!)

His first words were all one syllable long, and his first 2-syllable word was “flower” quite a while ago. Recently I’ve noticed many more 2-syllable words, including his name of course. Other examples include “Grandma” and “orange”. So far he’s not said any longer words, unless you count “up-and-down” as one word, which it apparently is in his mind. I find it interesting that all the 2-syllable words he says have stress on the first syllable – most English 2-syllable words have first-syllable stress – but he says “tar” for “guitar” which has second-syllable stress (it was originally from French), even when I repeat “guitar” back to him several times and ask him if he can say it, it’s still “tar” for him, so he’s basically only saying the stressed syllable.

Most words that he says are English, although he understands a lot more in French and German than he can produce. I can tell this from how he responds by pointing and talking back in English when I ask him things in French/German. Two words that he uses a lot are, however, “Baum” (German for tree) and “pap-pap” (French “papillion” for butterfly) instead of the English words. I’m guessing the “b” of Baum is easier for him than the “tr” of tree, and perhaps the song “vole, vole, vole papillion” that’s on our French CD can explain that preference?

I think that’s all I have to say about Andrew’s language for now, but I can imagine that it will continue to develop quickly over the coming months and there will be lots more to say pretty soon. I’m finding it fascinating to witness first hand the incredible journey that is a child going from gurgling baby to fully fledged chatterbox (he is my son, after all 🙂 )