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Why listening to a toddler learn to talk should blow your mind

Why listening to a toddler learn to talk should blow your mind

I’ve been thinking about how amazing language is lately.

Language is what makes us human. Sure, other animals can communicate, but not like we can. Humans can take a word (like ‘cat’) which sounds nothing like the noise a cat makes when you say it, and looks nothing like a cat when you write it, but which we all know refers the furry animal star of 90% of YouTube videos. It’s a pretty remarkable trick.

The fact that I can sit here, typing somewhat abstract thoughts about the very nature of communication, kind of blows my mind. Even Donald Trump, who pretty much just vomits grandiose claims every times he opens his stupid orange mouth, is doing something pretty miraculous when he speaks.

The reason I’ve become so interested in language recently is that at 20 months, the Popple is well into the toddler language-acquisition phase. After months of ‘dada’ on repeat, she can now correctly identify dozens of different objects, name about a third of the letters in the alphabet and count to 10. She can even say a few short sentences, including “Dada is silly”, “Bother that cat” (from the book ‘Mog the Forgetful Cat’, directed at our cat Milo when he’s being an a-hole) and “Mommy eats pan” (Pan being the Spanish word for bread. Yes, Mommy does have a thing for carbs. Thanks for noticing, Popple.).

I love how she uses a mixture of American and British English with the odd smattering of Spanish, a nod to our international household. I love how when can’t pronounce something, she figures out how to make it work. A ‘banana’ is a ‘nana’ and ‘butterfly’ is simply a ‘fly’. I love how hard she laughs when she tries a new word or phrase and says it correctly. Her newfound ability to express herself is such a source of joy for her – and for me. I make a living writing stuff, after all. I was an English major in college. Words are kind of my jam.

I’m impressed by how far her language has progressed in the past few months, but I can’t help but be staggered by how far she still has to go. How is she ever going to get from “Dada is silly” to “My father can be somewhat ridiculous at times, displaying a preference for the sort of fart jokes that amuse pre-pubescent boys”? How do any of us ever get there?

Somehow, most of us manage to progress from just naming objects to discussing how we feel about them. We figure out how to use language to talk about things that happened in the past and things that we hope might happen in the future. Every day, we express complex, conceptual thoughts like it’s nothing, when actually it’s the biggest something that there is. We were all babies once, babbling dadadadada at everything that we saw, and now look at us, arguing about how good La La Land really was, debating the finer points of Brexit and crafting brilliant anti-Trump protest slogans.

Image by Mark Dixon via the Creative Commons license

We are a pretty awesome species.

My Petit Canard
3 Little Buttons
Two Tiny Hands

16 thoughts on “Why listening to a toddler learn to talk should blow your mind”

  • I have marvelled at this too! My daughter has just turned two so I’ve been watching similar language developments. A few weeks ago I was dumbfounded at bedtime when I realised I had been conversing with my daughter the entire day. Sure she wasn’t speaking flawless English but, aside from when she was shrieking and crying, I knew what she was talking about. Her unrelenting streams of consciousness are becoming proper sentences. It’s so exciting! #MarvMondays

  • Listening to their language develop has always amazed me. My son was really quick to talk (and hasn’t stopped since!), whereas my daughter has been much slower (probably can’t get a word in edgeways ?). This last month or two though she has suddenly come on leaps and bounds. She has started to give you a big long description of things that have just happened and although only every tenth sound is an actual word she looks so serious and conveys so much with her facial expressions and nods of the head and hand gestures it melts my heart every single time.

  • It is amazing. My son is almost 3, and he’s fairly advanced with his speech – even so he still stumbles over words or puts letters in the wrong order. Like he calls our Living Room, the Iv-Ling Room. Although last night, as we finished dinner, he looked at me and his dad and said “Can we go and sit down in the iv-ling room now… sorry, I mean LIV-ING room. Please?” #dreamteam

  • It really is fascinating. You would A Level Language, it is really fascinating and you analyse baby language etc. Before you know it she will be voicing her views on Trump!

  • It’s dawning on me that my baby girl is actually very nearly a toddler herself. Where did my baby go! Anyway, I have been contemplating all sorts of things like this too. Human beings are just amazing, aren’t they! #DreamTeam

  • Yes! The language-development stage is one of my favourites. We finally get to find out their likes and dislikes and their opinions. It’s fascinating. And, as you say, mind-blowing how it’s accomplished! #DreamTeam

  • I have spent the last 4 years willing my two to talk, and yes, OK, there are times when I kind of wish that they’d perhaps be a little bit quieter now, or maybe just stop shouting “Muuuummmmmyyyyy!!” on a loop, but you are absolutely right. Once they start to communicate with us they become tiny people in their own right and their world opens up no end. It’s incredible to watch. x

  • It’s bloody amazing isn’t it! Every day I’m surprised by what he knows. We chuck a bit of baby sign language into the mix too which I also think is Amazing! When he sees a giraffe walk by (yes all the time ?) he can tell me all about it!! ‪Thank you for linking up to the #familyfunlinky‬

  • Great observations – it is AMAZING isn’t it?! The twins are at very different stages with one having a full on conversation and the other linking 3 or 4 words together in her own style – I’m not concerned at the difference – just in awe of it ? Xx #familyfunlinky xx

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