The other day, as The Toddler carefully (& oh so inexplicably) arranged her tea set in front of the stair gate in the hallway, Silly Mummy called to her from the living room, ‘How’re you doing, The Toddler?’ Her little voice replied, ‘I’m okay, thanks, Mummy.’ This may be the most grown up thing Silly Mummy has heard her say, and highlights just how far her language has developed in a few short months.
The Toddler is now 25 months old. Though she said a few words before, the vast majority of her spoken vocabulary has been acquired since she was around 18 months old. In just 7 months she has learnt hundreds of words, sentence structure, questions, answers, names, sounds, time frames, contrasting words, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, negatives. The list goes on. This just goes to show the difference between acquiring a language as a toddler and acquiring one at a later stage. After 7 months of learning to speak English, The Toddler knows a multitude of words, she can discuss her activities, ask questions, answer questions, give descriptions and be funny. By contrast, after 5 years of being a straight A French student, Silly Mummy can probably find out where the bank is. Silly Mummy’s best chance of being funny in French would be walking in the wrong direction having misunderstood where the bank is. (It is now clear that Silly Mummy is utterly pathetic, and The Toddler should be writing this blog about Silly Mummy’s attempts to communicate!)
Not so long ago, we would show The Toddler animals, tell her their names, ask her if she knew what they were. She knew a few. ‘Duck’, mostly. Ducks are very important. The other day, she held up a Lego sheep: ‘Ooh, baa! Sheep. Baa. Look, Mummy: baa. Sheep. Like in farm. Where farm?’ She looked for her toy farm, ‘There it is!’
The Toddler has learnt possession. ‘Mine’, obviously. They ALL know ‘mine’. But ‘socks’, ‘din din’, ‘tea’, ‘play toy’ have become ‘The Toddler’s socks’, ‘Daddy’s din din’, ‘Mummy’s tea’, ‘The Baby’s play toy.’ In fact, ‘The Toddler’s socks’ are now often ‘my socks’.
The Toddler’s first question word was ‘where’. She remains a big fan of ‘where’, due to its close connections to hide and seek and peekaboo. ‘Who’ (‘Who is THIS?’) is vital to conducting any Toddler Inquisition, and The Toddler, as we know, enjoys a good inquisition. (http://risforhoppit.uk/who-is-this/) The Toddler’s current firm favourite question is: ‘What’s that?’. The vague pointing in a general direction that usually accompanies this question can cause the conversation to go on for some time, whilst every object in the area is pointed out and named, only to be met with, ‘No. What’s THAT?’ Silly Mummy’s favourite question is the inimitable: ‘What noisy is that sound?’ We have yet to get to the infamous ‘why’, but we see it on the horizon, marching ever nearer with undeserved confidence.
Silly Mummy is interested to see that The Toddler is not learning by repetition alone. This is clear from the evolution of her ‘where’ questions. Initially, if anything was missing or hidden, she would say, ‘Where gone?’ Now, she usually says, ‘Where is it gone?’ This is not repetition. We know from the error in it. We say, ‘Where has it gone?’ The Toddler is not parroting our words, or she would also say, ‘Where has it gone?’ Rather, she has learnt that more goes into the structure of the sentence than ‘where gone’. She is not yet clear about how to choose or conjugate a verb. She makes the assumption that, because you would say ‘where is it’, the appropriate word for her sentence should be ‘is’. Clearly, The Toddler learns individual words by copying and repetition, but she is working out how to use them by more than mere parroting of our language. She is collecting information, drawing conclusions, making her own decisions. It is amazing to Silly Mummy that, faced with what must be an overwhelming volume of new data, The Toddler is able to process and use it so competently. Of course, the look of glee on her face when she realises she has used the right words, and communicated successfully, demonstrates what motivates her.
The Toddler likes to use all the words she knows conveying a specific meaning at once. When she wants something to continue, she does not just say ‘more’ or ‘again’, she says ‘more again’. Nappies that don’t need changing are ‘clean dry’. The brilliant ‘what noisy is that sound’ neatly demonstrates both The Toddler’s love of synonyms, and her construction of sentences she has not copied from adults. Again, the sentence is not quite right, but the logic she has used is clear.
A particularly sweet aspect of The Toddler’s developing language has been her emulation of things she hears Silly Mummy say to The Baby. The Toddler has heard Silly Mummy call to the crying baby, ‘Coming, The Baby!’ Whenever The Toddler is in a different room to The Baby and hears her cry she now yells, ‘Coming, The Baby!’ She repeats Silly Mummy’s warnings to The Baby, sometimes days after originally given: ‘No, The Baby. Don’t. The Baby can’t eat.’ In the interest of balance, she is also careful to copy Silly Mummy’s praise of The Baby: ‘Good Girl, The Baby!’ When The Toddler first began using ‘and’, The Baby was her most frequent ‘and’ item. She was very emphatic about it: ‘Mummy, Daddy AND The Baby.’
The Toddler has recently started to use comparisons, qualifications, time frames and relative locations. She tries to fit her cup in a holder that is too small and declares that the cup is ‘bigger’. Silly Mummy tells her it is not lunch time yet, and she responds, ‘No – later.’ She sees cakes in the background on the TV and says, ‘Cakes! Look! Cakes – at the back!’
Still, for all this remarkable progress, what strikes Silly Mummy the most are these new little grown up responses (‘I’m okay, thanks, Mummy.’). This is mostly because these phrases represent The Toddler moving away from using only the words absolutely vital to convey her meaning. It is partly, undeniably, because they are funny. The Toddler asks where The Baby’s toys are. Silly Mummy reminds her we have not got them out yet as we have been out all day. The Toddler replies, ‘Ok. Fine.’ The Toddler drops something and says, ‘Oh dear me.’ The Toddler asks Silly Mummy to get something. Silly Mummy queries, ‘This?’ The Toddler responds, ‘Yes, please. Sure.’ Silly Mummy giggles. The Toddler smiles indulgently: Silly Mummy is easily amused.