Milking it with milkshake – wot so funee?

It’s started: Andrew now knows exactly how to cause us embarrassment when out and about by people watching and saying what he sees. He has the observational and vocabulary skills to speak his mind, but lacks the social skills to know what is acceptable. So on our day trip to Birmingham this week, we had a few close encounters with the general public. First of all on the train, there was the person asleep by the window as Andrew went and sat on Granny’s lap on the neighbouring aisle seat: “That one’s asleep!”. Not anymore if you shout that at them. Then there was the girl eating her lunch across the aisle: “That girl’s got a sandwich!” Luckily this passenger thought his observation was rather cute and laughed it off. And then there was the man with the Mohican hair in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery tea room: “That’s funny hair!” Well that’s what we were all thinking but only a toddler would air his views with such volume and openness.

One of the best bits about going to Birmingham (from Coventry) on the train, if you’re a plane-mad 3 year old that is, is the view of the airport runway and terminals on the way. On the way there, he spotted that big tower that controls the air traffic and exclaimed excitedly: “Look, it’s the remote control tower!” I find this interesting linguistically – he’s obviously heard us say remote control as well as just control for the thing you zap channels with on the TV, and I presume he’s also applied this to the tower that he’s heard us call the control tower. On the way back from our day trip, I spotted the airport first (go me!)…

Me: Look Andrew, there’s a plane over there, at the airport.

Andrew: Ooooh, it might be Fireflash! 

Yet another Thunderbirds reference, this is our world at the moment.

In last week’s wot so funee? post, I shared lots of foodie funees. This week there were fewer, and here’s the first and probably funniest… To set the scene, we were having a bit of rough and tumble play, which usually involves me getting down on the floor and getting sat/trampled on by the boys. At one point I stuck my leg out and Andrew sat on it like he does with Daddy or male grandparents sometimes, expecting me to lift him up and down as if he were riding a horse. I can’t actually manage that these days with his weight, but he accepted a compromise – me chanting the rhyme ‘ride a cock horse’ instead. So I recited the rhyme all the way up to the last line, and thought I’d pause to see if Andrew could say the key word. Here’s how it turned out…

Me: …with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, she shall have……

Andrew: PASTA!

Me: [giggling] erm, I don’t think she will have pasta, can you remember the word that comes here in the rhyme?… she shall have……

Andrew: PIZZA!

Me: [laughing] I don’t think it’s any kind of food actually

Andrew: err raisins?

Me: Still food

Andrew: errr….curry?

Me: nevermind. It’s MUSIC, she shall have MUSIC wherever she goes!

Andrew: Aaaahhh

We’ve all had various symptoms of a cold this past week or so, including a sore, froggy throat for Andrew. He’s generally not one to let a bit of illness get him down, but one afternoon after his nap he was very groggy. So Granny suggested that he might like a special chocolate milkshake to help his poorly throat, which of course he downed in no time. But then he caught on, and even when he was clearly feeling better, he tried to milk it (pun intended) and get more chocolatey drinks by pulling a sad face and insisting that he was poorly. This came to a head one evening just after bath, which is always supervised by Daddy.

Andrew: Can I have a milkshake please Daddy? I’m poorly [sad face :(]

Daddy: I’m not sure that you’re really that poorly anymore Andrew. Shall we ask Mummy to see if she thinks it’s a good idea.

Andrew: OK!….[walks to top of stairs and shouts down to the kitchen]….Mummy! Can I have a milkshake please?….[walks back to bathroom]….Mummy says I can have a milkshake!

Daddy: Really?!

Andrew: Yes!

What Andrew failed to realise is that Daddy knew I was in our bedroom feeding Joel. Got to give him points for being clever enough to try and play us off against each other like that. But it didn’t win him any milkshakes this time.

For a just turned 3 year old, Andrew is quite adept at letters of the alphabet, and enjoys reading letters on anything and breaking down words into sounds. He’ll quite often come out with the phrase ‘A for Apple’ or whatever it is that he’s referring to – “B for Ball”, “J for Jumper”, “M for Mummy”….even “CH for cheese” (recognising that ‘ch’ is a sound that’s made up of 2 letters) and the classic “T for ‘tato”. Had to laugh at that one, but I know it’s normal – he’s picking up the stressed syllable as that’s what most English words start with, just a shame that potato doesn’t.

In a previous wot so funee post I described how Andrew likes to make up adjectives to stick on the end of the phrase ‘it’s a bit…’. This week’s offerings on this front include the following. When referring to Daddy’s new coat that we bought him one day as a belated birthday present (he said he wanted to think about exactly what type he wanted for his new job and commute), Andrew said: “It’s a bit coaty….and it’s a bit cosy!” That’s very true. When referring to a mini table football ball with the classic hexagon pattern, Andrew said: “It’s got blacky bits and whitey bits.” Or you could just say it’s got black bits and white bits, could you not?

To end with, I have something that’s rather cute as well as funny. One of his latest phrases, as I wrote last week, is “I like you, Mummy/Daddy/Grandad/Granny etc.” This week he came out with a beautiful one: “I like you Joel, you’re my best friend!” Awwww 🙂

Wot So Funee?

Trilingual adventures with three mice (not blind) – one mouse, une souris, eine Maus

Last week was an exciting time for me (and Andrew, though perhaps he didn’t feel it as much as me!) because my (no longer) baby suddenly started to show me that he recognised some words. That’s not to say he didn’t recognise them before; it’s hard to know exactly how much babies perceive from speech before they can physically respond to show they know what you’re talking about. It can be done though, in ‘lab’ conditions – experiments with babies have been designed, by getting them to turn their head to stimuli like speech sounds, or to suck on a dummy which is hooked up to computers that work out how fast they’re sucking and how their speed changes with the introduction and exit of stimuli. From these kinds of experiments, researchers have been able to figure out some of the earliest abilities to hear speech, even at just one or two days old. For example, we know that newborns recognise and prefer their mum’s voice to another similar female voice (de Casper 1980), and recognise and prefer listening to their ambient (to-be-native) language from others that are rhythmically different (Mehler et al. 1988, Nazzi et al. 1998). They’re not understanding specific words and their meanings at this age, of course, but rather the overall rhythm and intonation of the speech. They were hearing this for quite a while in the womb you see. This kind of research sounds fascinating to me, but hard work – it must take them ages to collect enough data whilst working with babies! Just think about all the times they’d need to stop for feeds/naps/nappy changes/just wanting to be with mum etc. Respect to those researchers, I say!

This little diversion into infant language recognition research (apart from showing you how cool it is) was to make the point that just because Andrew can’t speak recognisable words at the moment, it doesn’t mean he can’t understand anything. Last week was when this understanding was finally clear for me to see. We were sitting reading some Usborne Touchy-Feely ‘That’s not my…’ books. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading these, firstly let me highly recommend them. They’re brilliant for reading with babies and toddlers, as there are ‘touchy-feely’ patches of fabric or other materials for them to explore with their fingers. Secondly, let me tell you that they all have a little mouse on each page, blending in with the pictures (for example, he has a snorkel in one of the Penguin scenes…!) This means you can ask your toddler ‘Where is the mouse?’ each time they turn a page, and it gives a consistent point of reference for them to learn. This is exactly what I’d been doing with Andrew for a while, and pointing to the mouse myself. Last week was the first time that he consistently pointed to the mouse on each page himself! It was a proud moment 🙂

Us reading 'That's not my penguin...' - an Usborne touchy-feely book

Even more so because I’d been doing this with him in three languages, and he not only pointed at the mouse, but also la souris and die Maus on each page. As I studied French and German for my BA, Masters and PhD, I’d always said that I would introduce these languages alongside English to my kids. During the research I did for my Masters dissertation, which was about adult bilinguals living in Switzerland, I learnt that it is easier for young kids to learn multiple languages than it is for adults once a native language is well and truly acquired. Some people do learn other languages to a near-native standard in adulthood, but this is less common than kids who pick up more than one language in childhood and speak them to native standard (for their age at every point).

Andrew pointing to the mouse (in a snorkel) on the bottom left of the left-hand page

As we live in the UK, and Tom only speaks English, of course Andrew is going to get much more exposure to English than he will to French and German. Whenever the two of us are home alone, I speak some French, some German and some English to him. When we’re playing with something, for example the ball, I will say to him things like ‘That’s a ball’, ‘The ball is blue’, ‘Where’s the ball?’, ‘Can you throw me the ball?’ in one of the three languages. I usually concentrate on one language for each period of time that we’re playing, but I do mix them up a bit too. For example, if we’re sitting looking at an animal book, I’ll say the word for the animal in the three languages whilst we’re on that page, and then the same for the animal on the next page.

Andrew's right hand was pointing to the mouse on the penguin's back, but he moved too fast and our camera shutter speed couldn't cope!

Does this confuse him, you might wonder? Well our adult brains might think it’s confusing, as they have been shaped and molded into what they are today over several years; they’ve become set in their ways. The baby and toddler brain, however, is still being shaped and molded into what it will be one day. It has no concept that there is ‘ONE’ language or ‘TWO’ languages or any other specific number of these things we call ‘languages’, but rather it’s hearing all these sounds coming out of people’s mouths, and trying to figure out what it all means; for all it knows there could be a gazillion languages that it has to figure out. Why should a toy have one particular name and not three? That’s a monolingual adult way of thinking, which has been cemented into the brain over years of only knowing one word for that toy.

Listening to some French nursery rhymes on the stereo

Will Andrew be trilingual? Maybe, maybe not – it partly depends what you mean by trilingual (perfect native speech in three languages is one extreme of a continuum of multilingualism). I do not personally claim to be native in 3 languages, so he’ll only be getting native-like input in one, and fluent input in the other two. My main aim is to give him an awareness that there is more than one of these things called languages out there in the world. By the time he gets to school, I hope he will have a more open outlook on languages than the view I was often confronted with at school – ‘Why do you want to study languages when everyone else speaks English?’ (actual comment by my GCSE Maths teacher who wanted me to take his A-level). Yes lots of people in the world speak English, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make an effort to learn other languages too, and shape my brain differently from many native English speakers. In fact from a global perspective, bilingualism is more normal than you might think. There are more bi- and multi-linguals in the world than monolinguals, and many of these will have learnt two or more languages in childhood (another thing I learnt during my Masters research from a book called The Bilingualism Reader).

Most importantly in this language development adventure of Andrew is that I’m making it as fun as possible, as with all areas of development that I can play a part in. He loves singing, clapping and dancing to songs and rhymes, so I bought a CD of French nursery rhymes and kids songs, and we’re about to be given a German one by some friends, though I’ve been using YouTube in the meantime. Just like he can listen to English rhymes and songs at the various music and play groups we go to, he can hear other languages blasting out of the stereo at home. We were also given a bilingual French-English toy piano that plays tunes and talks about colours and shapes when you press the keys. He loves playing with that, especially now he’s really into pressing any button he can lay his fingers on! Another option I have is reading books in French and German to him, which we bought on Amazon, were given, or borrow from the library, for example Monsieur Bavard (Mr Chatterbox from The Mr Men and Little Miss range) and Die Kleine Raupe Nimmersatt (The Very Hungry Caterpillar). His attention span is still quite limited, so at the moment it’s more effective to just read his simple English board books with things like numbers, animals, shapes, toys etc. to him in French and German. My translation skills are good enough for that!

Dancing to some French nursery rhymes, but suddenly spotted the camera and got interested in that

Is anyone out there raising their kids bilingually? Do you find other parents generally view it positively or negatively? I haven’t had much discussion either way with others yet. Apart from with our friends who are Swiss and German living in the UK, so their child (a bit older than Andrew) is in full swing with acquiring three languages: Swiss German and German at home (believe me, they are different languages) and English at nursery and playgroups. We meet each week to speak English and German with our kids. It’s great fun all round, and needless to say we’re all very positive about mixing and matching our languages 🙂