Have you scratched your head wondering how babies and toddlers interact so well with each other even though they may be from different cultural and language backgrounds? They seem to understand each other perfectly well even though you have no idea what they just said.
How indeed did they interact with each other? Was it the subtle cues, encrypted body language, or encoded pheromones they emit and which scientists have yet to discover?
Have you also wondered how babies and toddlers come up with bizarre pronunciation of words? Try as you may, the child still says a word the same strange, but cute, way. While some words are more decipherable to us, adults, others sound totally different to how they should.
For example, according to my son, Noah:
Water is “wa-wa”
Rice is “riisch”
Bulldozer is “bu-wa-wa”
Roller is “waa-waa”
Apple is “app-a”
Breast-feed is “boo-ta”
Biscuit is “bi-bi”
Excavator is “a-da-da-da”
Yoghurt is “yo-yo”
Up is “up”
Down is “up”
Like many kids his age (21 month old), Noah understands more than he is able to verbally express himself. Thankfully, he is able to follow instructions fairly well. Our issue is that he understands very well what we tell him to do, however, he does the exact opposite instead! For example, when he’s in a cheeky mood during meal times, he would grab a handful of rice hanging by the edge of his high chair and look straight at us smirking. As we approach him gingerly and ask him to place the rice on his plate (with the promise of bi-bi), Noah would release his grasp and drop the food onto the floor. And laugh hysterically!
I think it is fascinating how kids learn, and how as parents, we are inadvertent role models for their receptive and expressive language development. My wife and I spend at least 45 minutes a day reading numerous books to Noah – not that we want to (trust me, after the 7th time in a row reading the same book, you’d feel like crying into a pillow!), but Noah would chase and pester us with his choice of books to read!
We also try our best to converse with Noah in a respectful manner, and explain gently why and how things are. Noah understands us most of the time, and it is only when he throws a tantrum and nothing we say would soothe him that we remember he is just a toddler still. While his language comprehension and expression are developing well, his maturity is also developing, although at a slightly slower rate.
Vocabulary, grammar, past and present tense, numbers, letters, words, multiplication tables…..there seems so much for a kid to learn!
Did each of us actually learn all that as a child??
But what an exciting time it is though, to be a child. When almost every experience is your first, and your curiosity is endlessly piqued, being put to sleep at night must be akin to us adults waking up prematurely from a beautiful dream. A dream where anything and everything is possible, and even travelling to Pluto is not off-limits (even though it is technically no longer classified as a planet).
Children also have a beautiful, untainted innocence and a complete absence of prejudice. They do not judge someone by how they look or speak, by the colour of their skin or by the clothes they wear.
As I chase my chuckling, streaker Noah across the living room (he wouldn’t let me put his nappy on after a bath), I can’t help feel but privileged to be part of this little man’s life. As his dad, I have the unique and wonderful opportunity to teach, nurture, guide and impart my (albeit limited) knowledge and wisdom to him. While he’s still got so much to learn, I want to be with him every step of the way.
Even when he cheekily (and repeatedly) asks for my boo-ta, and grins his lop-sided smile.
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