One Child’s Language: at 20 months

Reading is now the rage with Rachel. In one short week, she has nearly memorized Theodore LeSieg’s The Eye Book, one of the “Bright and Early Books for Beginning Beginners,” with a Cat-in-the-Hat trademark. Not that she can actually say all the words, but she knows what to expect from each page and can fill in at least the last word for every line. Of course, a person has to be familiar with her language and the situation in which she is using it to appreciate it because her articulation of consonants still has a long way to go. However, the vowels and the intonation are there. For example “airplanes in the sky” comes out as dayday die. Her other favorite books include Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever, with its zillion little pictures to name, and Hand, Hand, Finger, Thumb, which features rhythmical text and monkeys drumming on drums. So she drums on an empty oatmeal box, not quite keeping beat with the text. She especially likes the line “Dum ditty, dum ditty, whack, whack, whack.”

She devised another game for herself involving books this week. From a big chair in our living room, she found out she could reach a stack of pocket books on a high shelf. Her routine is to pull one book off the stack, name the colors on its cover, open it up and “read” the numbers 1-5, lose it and put it down beside her, and then reach for the next one. Sometimes, she will try to put the books back on the shelf, too.

Her vocabulary and the speech sounds she uses change daily. We never know what words she considers manageable enough to try out. Once she tries something, she looks for ways to practice it over and over. She often talks quietly to herself saying things like: Daddy wey, Mama dey (Daddy’s away, Mama’s staying); Daydo ow, Daddy rey, Mama bdu (Rachel’s [toothbrush is] yellow, Daddy’s is red, Mama’s is blue). Her favorite topics of conversation are the color and size of objects and comments on who (mostly her) is doing what.

She loves to be asked silly questions like “Does Rachel have a tail?” and sometimes starts the silly game herself. For example, she will point to her rabbit’s tail asking us to name it, then point to herself and ask uh?, so we get the hint and ask the question. Language seems to be on her mind all the time; she even talks in her sleep. Her dad caught a glimpse of her attempt to communicate recently. As we left our apartment one evening, we met the family next door. They have a two-year old daughter. Rachel was standing face-to-face with the little girl and knew she was in a situation that called for some kind of linguistic interaction. She thought quickly, pointed to her shirt, and said bdu (blue)!

Of course, we are glad that books and language are important to Rachel now, but we are also glad to see her working on physical strength and dexterity. Her climbing has become more routine and confident. She will climb onto a box or chair and proclaim doe-day, which seems to mean something like “look at me.” She has been observing older children who can jump and hop for some time; now she is beginning to see what she must do to make a jump happen, though she can’t quite execute one yet. She likes to stretch and hang from the rings at the park.

We see signs of the stubbornness that accompanies the “twos.” Rachel uses no fairly frequently and often repeats Mama, no! Daddy, no! for no apparent reason. She repeats that latter often enough and reflexively enough that she sometimes gets tongue-tied. When she catches herself saying Mama no! to Daddy, she might try again with Dama no! or Madi mo! We think that we often find positive ways of encouraging her to do or not to do things, but of course, we don’t always succeed, and she gets input from other sources, too. She deliberately tests her limits: Yesterday, I let her throw paper wads and balls and clothes but drew the line at books. She tried it a couple of times but didn’t protest when I put the books out of reach. This morning she tried again, but when I put the books up again, she seemed to say, “Just checking.”

UPDATE: This child is now a 24-year-old teacher in the Boston Public Schools.

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1 Comment

Filed under education, family, language

One response to “One Child’s Language: at 20 months

  1. Pingback: One Child’s Language: Compilation « Far Outliers

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