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Learning Her Native Language

I'm so fascinated with how my daughter is learning language. As a person who loves languages and words, seeing how a child's language develops first hand is really eye opening to me. I remember when I lived in Italy and spoke italian almost fluently, I was get so mad at myself when I mixed up pronouns or tenses. But watching my child go through those same things, I'm realizing that it is a natural part of learning any language.

We don't expect children to get even their native language correct from the get go. We know that they will say some words wrong, misuse phrases, mix up pronouns and verb tenses, and generally not understand some things that we usually take for granted. We generally aren't unreasonable in our expectations of children. We correct them or let it go when they don't say things right. It takes years and years and YEARS for them to learn their native language fluently, with higher and higher levels of vocabularly and grammar rules and goodness knows what else!

We tell them to "use their words" when they are frustrated/mad/sad, and it's up to us to teach them those words. Teaching them the words for their emotions, their needs and their wants not only helps us understand them and cuts down on their tantrums, but it also allows them to begin to understand their emotions, needs and wants. If you have a "spirited" child like I do, the book Raising Your Spirited Child has really helped me come up with phrases and ways to say things that I am teaching my daughter so that she will understand herself and be able to help other people understand her.

Recently, we've been working on helping her learn how to go to sleep by herself. It's a long process (no Baby Sleep Boot Camp for this child!), and I will post about my methods soon. Part of my strategy is teaching her the words she needs to know to understand what is going on and what she needs to learn. In the last few nights, I've heard her tell me the following:
-I'm having trouble going to sleep.
-It's hard [to go to sleep].
-I'm going to lay down and try to sleep. (I'm still working on lay versus lie with her)
-I just need to cuddle a little in your lap. (She gets back in bed after I cuddle with her a little.)
-I'm ready for you to go now. (She wasn't, but it was still good to hear the words.)

I believe it is because I'm teaching her the words that truly reflect what's going on that I'm hearing less of the follow at bedtime:
-There's a shark in the anchor (pointed to the cords of the window). It's going to eat me!
-I'm scared to lay down.
-Nooooo! Lay down with me!
-Go away! (and a second later) Don't leave!

And apparently, I'm also teaching her how to say some things simply because I say them all the time. These include:
-Hey--as in, "Hey, everybody!", "Hey, that's not right!", and "Hey! Hey! Hey!" (to get attention).
-Cannot--as in, "No, you cannot do that." I'd heard Londo say to her, "Embrace the use of the contraction," and I couldn't figure out why she was always using cannot instead of can't. Until I heard myself tell her, "No, you cannot do that!" one day. Aha!
-Actually--as in, "Actually, it does fit you." Actually, I have realized I use this word a ton. Actually, it's really cute when she says it, too. Actually, I have no plans to stop saying it.
-Oh my gosh--as in, "Oh my gosh! Those are so cute!" which she said about the clothes I picked out for her this morning, even though she "actually" didn't want to wear the shirt I had picked out. She has always loved to make the surprised face and sound, and now she's added oh my gosh.

But some cute phrases she has either picked up somewhere else or developed on her own. My favorite one lately is:
-By my own. As in, she came up with that one by her own. Not on her own or by herself. She wants to do things by her own. And I love it!

All my observations about how her speech and language develops is making me want to re-learn italian or maybe even another language too. I think I will feel less inhibited about speaking now that I realize that making mistakes and not speaking perfectly is a natural part of learning a language. And maybe I'll come up with some cute little phrases in italian all by my own!


Jac. said…
This is a great post!

I love watching the language development too. Sometimes it's a little painful or embarrassing, when you hear exactly how you sound coming out of your child's mouth. Often, if I ask DS a question, he'll say "Ah.... sure!", which I never realised is exactly how I respond to things. Now I am hyper-aware of it.

Watching him slap his knee and say "Oh Lordy!" when he's laughing like he's a 90 year old man was hysterically funny. I still don't know where he got that from.

We have been working on giving him the words to describe his emotions, and I've noticed that it has REALLY helped cut down the tempers. At 2.5, he's quite comfortable with saying "I'm angry/upset/frustrated/sad/having a hard time". I actually started this after reading "Raising Cain", (about raising boys). My husband thought it was ridiculous, but is impressed now. It's pretty cool when you can see a tantrum on the horizon, and then he stops and says "I'm very angry!"
paola said…
Noah used 'botheration' today. That one comes directly from the Fat Controller's mouth. Zoe prefers 'bugger!' That one's mine. They both use 'yikes', another one from Thomas. I love the swear words. I'm not responsible for the badies though, seeing I don't swear a lot but 'bloody hell', which the 3 year old uses, is one of mine. Noah occasionally comes out with some in Italian, and everyone denies being responsible for them. However, I can definitely hear my MILs voice behind the great majority of them.

Oh and Grammar Goddess, lay/lie?? I think you meant 'I'm going to LIE down..', rather than lay down. 'Lay' is transitive meaning it takes an object. You always 'lay' SOMETHING/ONE down. 'Lie' is intransitive. It doesn't ever take an object.
caramama said…
@Jac - I've also become hyper-aware of certain things I say or the way I say them. It's amazing what an accurate mirror these kids can be for us. LOVE the "Oh, Lordy!" And I am also really amazed and encouraged by how the words can really stop a tantrum in its tracks!

@paola - I think "botheration" is hysterical! I need to watch more Thomas. I'm with you on the lie vs. lay. It DRIVE ME CRAZY when she says it wrong (you'll notice, I only wrote lay when I was quoting her). I've tried to correct her a few times, but she doesn't get it, and it's not worth fighting about at bedtime. I'm hoping she'll pick it up eventually. I actually didn't start getting it correct (95% of the time) until about 3 years ago when my mom kept correcting me and I finally forced myself to learn it. So I'll cut her some slack... for now... ;-)
Geeks in Rome said…
I love the options you've given to help your child explain why she can't go to sleep. What a great idea. and for lots of scenarios.

This language thing is fun. For "me too" my daughter says "anche me" pronounced mee as in English me.

One Italian word you should use at home is "boh"!! It's such an awesome word that just seems to mean so much more than plain "I don't know"

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