22 November, 2011

No more white board

Since our baby started saying his first utterances, I have tried to keep track of the evolution using one of those big white flip-boards in which I write down all the recognisable utterances that he is producing. At the age of 15 months he started saying some monosyllables. He continued adding more and more words in the following months and Papi continued writing on the whiteboard…

Here are some interesting things that I have observed along this process:

-          Repetition phase: I have noticed that there is a repetition phase in baby’s speech development and sooner or later they all go through it. My boy (18months old now) has just started repeating some of the things that he hears, so there is no more room in my whiteboard to keep track of new utterances anymore. He is still in the “2-sylables phase” so he adapts the words he repeats to this pattern. There is another interesting thing I have noticed. After observing my nieces and other same aged babies, I know this sample is not representative enough though and every child is a whole world, but I have come to the conclusion that baby girls usually enter this phase earlier. I don´t know if you readers or any scientific studies support this theory.  

-          Preferences or “I´d rather use that other word, Papi”: My little one has apparently developed some preferences regarding words to use. Here are some examples: “Housecoat” is “BATA” in Spanish. Me in the morning: -“Dani, it´s a little bit chilly out there, we better put our housecoat on”, he goes -“ATTAAAAA!!” (BATA). He clearly understands that I´m talking about his housecoat because I didn´t use any mimic, or point at the object, in fact the housecoat wasn´t even in his room but in one of the clothe-piles around the house (we have to start tiding up more! What a terrible role-model for the baby…). So, it looks like he understands it but clearly prefers one of the utterances. Other example: 4 is “HOOOR!” (F is not in the menu yet) instead of “cuatro” but 8 is “OTCHO!” (OCHO) instead of “eight”. Again he recognises and understands both words for a given concept but says only one.

-          Motivation or “I´ll use whatever it takes to get what I want!!”: He´ll use any available weapon in the armoury when he wants things “soooo bad”. Example: He loves playing with some stamps that we bought him. Some with animals and others with numbers. He loves putting the stamps on the ink and then on the paper. He does it as well on other stuff like the table or the sofa, always saying “no no no… as we tell him, but he does it anyway…”. STAMP is “SELLO” (pronounced like SEYO) in Spanish. Since it´s his favourite thing in the world, he usually goes crazy shouting and pointing around “PAPA! MAMA! ZTAM! YEYO! YEYO! ZTAM! ZTAM!” until he gets them. It´s like “Hey you! Whatever the language you speak, if you can hear me give me my G.D. stamps!!!” So here is a good example of what motivation is capable of.
-          The “easiest path” rule: Once his mouth muscles and brain connections are in place to utter a new recognisable sound, I have detected 2 processes:

1.    He practices and checks up with us if the new concept is correct. He points at something, then gives a try and looks at us expecting a reaction. We normally hear what he is trying, and if it´s Spanish his mum says: “Si, esto es un/una…” and if it´s English I´ll say: “Well done Dani, yes, this is a …” and then the other parent normally says the same concept in the other language so he gets both inputs. If it´s Spanish and I´m the only one there, I say “yes, well done, but Papi says word in English for this”. I don´t say NO because I don´t want him to perceive that Spanish is something wrong. Most of the times he sticks to what he tried in the first place, but in this cases I keep the English response cause I think it makes sense, and it´s in line with the family speech scheme. I guess maybe in the future I´ll have to move to a flexible “I don´t understand you” to prompt English response, we´ll see…
2.    Once he knows he got it right, he automatically stores this information in the “tool box” and then applies them to other similar concepts; Example: He uses “BOH!” for ball, bear and box, and “ZTAH!” for star, stamp, stone although this last one is more like ZTOH! But the difference is very subtle.
He does it also crossing languages: “ANANA!” stands for BANANA (English) and MANZANA (apple in Spanish). Although he is not conscious, he is transferring the knowledge from one language into the other one.

-          “What comes next”: He´s been doing particularly well at songs or games that we play lately, such as figuring out what comes next. Things like dressing up and describing what we are doing:
Me- “We are going to put our pants…” Baby: “OOOONNN!!!”
When we sing a song about the letters of the alphabet and concepts related to letters (A-apple, B-ball, C-cat, D-dog” he anticipates and does the mimic or says the next concept just when we are finishing the previous one. Even if I´m driving and singing and forget what comes next he reminds me where we were. I´m not sure if this has to do with brain flexibility or I´m his dad and naturally think that he is so cute and smart, but I have perceived a great step forward during the last month.

Now that you have read this far, all the way down to the end of this post… What do you think about all this? Have you experienced similar situations with your kids? Do you agree with the theory of baby girls being more precocious? Which are your speech patterns and response strategies at this stage or at any other stage?

21 November, 2011


Hi everyone,

I’ve just decided to start writing this blog about the adventure of raising our baby bilingually. First of all I’d like to apologise in advance to those of you that are native or native-like English speakers. You may find my writing short of plain and far from flawless, since I don’t master the art of English idioms nor phrasal verbs. Don’t be surprised/disappointed if you don’t see many frills in my sentences. As English is not my mother tongue, I’ll respectfully say: C´mon! Give me a rest; I’m trying my best…
Having said that, I think setting the objectives of this blog is a must:
-          It’ll be some short of diary for my son/s: I have always been curious about how my parents´ life was and what they felt or thought when I was born. I have some old pictures, but I consider a blog a much wider experience to document this wonderful time.
-          I’ll directly or indirectly find more resources to expose my baby to.
-          It’ll help me improve my knowledge of English. I know this one sounds quite selfish, but it’s also true. If the best brain workout is trying to speak a language, in my opinion trying to write in that language would be the second best. It also has an indirect impact in the quality of input for the baby.
-          It’ll hopefully help us find more “rare” cases around us. I’ve devoured about a dozen books on the subject and most of the examples are about American immigrants trying to keep their language in the USA, or native speakers passing their language onto their children. Few cases of non-native speakers with no native family support (relatives) have been reported in detail, or I haven’t been able to find them!! The only similar case that I have found is the one of George Saunders (I consider his book as a “must have” in the bookshelf of every parent immersed in this journey). I’ve recently discovered some blogs relating a similar family scheme and language approach, but what we could really use are experiences of other Spanish parents doing the same! I’ve only met 2 of these parents (accidentally) in Spain, and after my thousand questions, I think my interest and curiosity led me to act like an intrusive freak! But it’s just that I don’t have many references to learn from and I feel a bit lost!

Let me say I have the firm intention to consistently write about the evolution of our family speech patterns, share our experiences and throw high quality questions that hopefully lead to interesting debates. And if I don’t get to do this, I’ll just write here once in a while…J Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my blog.