Baby Talk

“The only language men ever speak perfectly is the one they learn in babyhood, when no one can teach them anything!”
-Maria Montessori

❝Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.❞
‒Oliver Wendell Holmes

I teach preschool. There are many reasons why I have fallen in love with this age group; one of those is the simple fact that they can talk! Now, every once in a while you will get a really young 2.9 er who is a bit difficult to understand, or a child who experiences language delays or speech impairments, but for the most part  you can understand them and they can understand you. I have spent time in infant and toddler rooms, in the church nursery, with nieces and nephews or friends kids. I have seen hitting and kicking and screaming and tantruming , spitting and shoving and throwing and just about any not-so-positive behavior that you could think of. However, it was not all these negative things that scared me most about having my own child. It was language. Toddlers are so, so, so hard to understand! I imagined I would never be able to understand my child since I had such a difficult time understanding the variety of toddlers that I had come into contact with over the years. They babble and point, don’t articulate or pronounce. Baby talk was scary.

I am here to say that my fear has been erased. Lo and behold, I can understand my kid! It’s really a pretty big phenomenon. I’m not sure many other people can understand her, but I can! If I stop and think about it, it is really quite a miraculous thing. Obviously, children learn language from somewhere; usually their parents or caregivers. Through interaction with the important people in their life, children learn to talk. Language is really an amazing thing in an of itself. The process by which children learn it still is not fully understood. And yet, they learn. In my opinion it is the interaction between the child and the caregiver that provides the basis for mutual understanding. Hence, because I talk to her I can understand all the things that Ellie says. I know the context in which her language occurs, so it is easier for me to decipher her ‘baby talk’. Whenever I put Ellie in her carseat I say something like “pop” or “click” every time I snap one of her clips into the belt. Well, when my husband was putting her in her carseat to go to church on Sunday right on cue with the buckling Ellie says “pppppop”. My husband looked at me like “what is she saying?” He doesn’t engage in this little interaction as often as I do, so he didn’t really know the full extent of the context behind it. So I explained it to him… Yes, I think it’s true, interaction leads to understanding. That and the fact that children pick up whatever you say.

This is quite amazing and fulfilling. I was trying to write down all the words that Ellie says in her baby book (which I am NOT so good at keeping up with). Well, she says so many words that I couldn’t fit them all on one page. That girl really talks a lot. But then again, I do too. I am constantly talking, so it should not surprise me that she does too. It is so important to talk to children; if they don’t hear language they won’t learn it. I mean, Ellie already can identify and say “stars” (she says it more like ‘tars) in the right context. She blurts out “tars” in the middle of church when she seems them on the overhead, she finds a star shaped puzzle piece and proudly identifies it, she begs mumma and daddy to draw “tars” when she is coloring, she proclaims that there are stars on my pajama pants, and point up to the sky and softly says “tars”. And where did she learn all this? From her parents. It might seem like you are a crazy person, but if you identify and talk about whatever you see and come in contact with children will learn. They will learn language and concepts, and when they see how excited you are that they know what “‘tars” are they will have the confidence to keep learning and adding to their vocabulary. The lesson here: keep talking; even if it makes you feel like a crazy person.

Conversely, the fact that children pick up language from you is not always amazing and fulfilling. It is kind of a double edged sword by which you learn more about yourself than you  might want to.  Apparently I have a nasty little habit of quickly expressing my frustration with things. This became evident to me when Ellie began “ughhhhhh”ing when she was trying to pull a sock off of her foot. I stopped to think about where she might have picked this up from, I mean, it couldn’t have been me right? I only teach her good things….haha, I wish! Nope, upon deeper reflection it occurred to me that she learned it from….well, me of course. Yep, I am the culprit of her quickly expressing her frustration by sighing. Just the other day when I couldn’t get the plastic wrap unstuck it was me saying “ughhhhh” just like Ellie. Or should I say, she was saying it just like me? Yes, children learn language and expression from those they spend the most time with. Sometimes they help you to take a closer look at yourself and examine your behaviors more closely than you would prefer. Now, instead of “uggghhh” ing I try to express my frustration in a more positive way; “oh no, the plastic wrap is stuck again, what can we do to get it unstuck.” And there I am talking like a crazy person again. But at least Ellie isn’t learning to express frustration negatively anymore. The little adventures of life. The little lessons.

I am just glad that my fears were not realized and that I can understand my own child. I still can’t understand other people’s children; but, no offense,  that is not what is important to me. Thank God for the amazing phenomenon that allows parents to understand what their children are saying. Baby talk really isn’t as scary as I thought it would be. Even though it may sound and look like babbling and pointing to an outside observer, it sounds like beautiful and intelligent words to me. So call me crazy, but I am going to keep on talking wherever I g;, cuz my little girl is learning, and that is all that matters.

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