Monday, July 11, 2016

On the Homefront: Speaking the Right Language

Before we get into the topic du jour, I'd like to thank you all for your patience with me the past couple days. As written on this site, it was my birthday on Friday, so this bi-weekly piece is appearing a few days later than usual. We'll be back on schedule for July 23 and will remain so for the foreseeable future. At least, I hope so.

Now, let's dive right in, shall we?
My primary language is English. I took a few years of Spanish in high school, plus a year of Latin. In college I took a year of Hebrew, and another year of Spanish.
But no amount of linguistic training can prepare parents for that time during their children's lives when they are learning to talk.
By necessity, we become bilingual in our native tongue and some combination of what we know and gibberish.
Any parent I am fairly certain has experienced this to some degree. The first words, be they words like no, mama, dada, more, or go, leave us with fun stories to tell because sometimes they are said at the wrong time.
Plus, you never really know when your child is listening, and they pick up on everything. Certain four-letter words that aren't able to be printed here have probably been repeated by many children of readers of this column, and likely at the most inopportune and embarrassing times. It's happened to my wife and I. But I won't get into those here.
Instead, I'll talk about how listening and comprehension skills ramp up in parents when a child is learning to speak.
Our youngest turned 2 in May. She's working out the bugs of her language but is also making leaps and bounds with it every day. She knows her body parts, knows the names of all four of our cats and can point to each one individually, and if you show her a box with cookies on it, she will immediately act like she is your best friend.
Show up with ice cream? "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! Dis! Dis! (Insert more happy sounds here)!"
So it has become a daily ritual to determine what our little girl is trying to say. Like her siblings before her, we're convinced that when she does put it all together she'll be speaking in full sentences, not a few random words.
To this point, we have picked up on some favorite phrases. In this example, the word "go" is a phrase. Rayna will say it playing with a toy car ("Go! Go! Goooo!"). She will say it when someone leaves the house, with her hands to her sides upside-down in a "Huh?" type of gesture ("Go? Go? Go?"). And she'll say it when she is leaving the house ("Go. Go. Goooo!"). Every time the word is used differently, and it's up to us to determine what she means.
There are other words that come out when it's time to leave. Most frequently we have heard "socks" and "shez." Like any diva, our little girl has several pair of shoes - I'm sorry; several pair of "shez" - to choose from, and she will pick a pair out and try to put it on to make sure we know she's game for a road trip, no matter how short.
Most recently we've started potty training. The most success we've had is getting her to sit on a training seat. But that's about it.
However, in the morning and frequently during the day we ask her if she has to go and she runs to the seat happily, saying, "Pah-ee! Pah-ee! Pah-ee!" Baby steps I guess.
The bottom line, I think, is that every child is different. But, they all have cute learning-to-talk stories in common. My wife and I laugh whenever we talk about some of our son's first words, such as pumpkin. Or a "pookoo" as he called it. Driving around our neighborhood with him one of his first Halloweens was a treat, since from behind us we heard non-stop observations. "A pookoo! A pookoo! More pookoo! OH! A BIG Pookoo!"
Our older daughter, as into Disney princesses and fairies as any little girl, had a bit of an issue with some names. Eventually that passed. Again, though, my wife and I have the memory of "Vidiwada" instead of "Vidia" (a fast-flying fairy who is friends with Tinkerbell) and Princess "Tootintana" instead of Tiana (from The Princess and the Frog). I also remember vividly her rather descriptive terms about her brother, and some guys who once cut me off while I was driving.
I'm sure there are plethora of fun stories yet to be written about our youngest's developing speech, and I may share a few here.
They have to be good, though. They can't be as our son, at the age of three, once described an unlit residential street at Christmastime. I'd taken him out for a drive to look at lights in mid-December, and after the first two homes on a street, none of the rest were decorated. From behind me, the following was said:
"This is terrible."
I promise to do my best in sparing you anything deemed as such.
Howie Balaban is a stay-at-home dad. These are his adventures.