Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Children: Learning Their Language

Have you ever watched the interaction between a parent and children under the age of 2?

On a number of occasions, I have been in the presence of young children and watched or listened as they babble away, as if they are having a conversation. In the early stages, their parents often respond with things like “oh really?” or “ya” to indicate to the child that they are listening. When the child reaches the next stage, they start to pick up actual words and put them into their conversations. When they use words such as “yes” or “no” I would find that it was generally very clear, but when they start learning more words, I found it difficult to understand. Actually, it still sounded like babbling to me, but then I would hear the parent respond with something like “Oh you’re hungry” or “Is this the toy you were looking for?” and the child would be satisfied. I would look on feeling both impressed and a bit guilty for being the only one who didn’t understand. I felt particularly bad when the child was speaking directly to ME and the parent would then “translate” the request, making it sound so simple.

I have finally learned that it’s like a whole other language and unless you have already learned that child’s particular language, you are not going to understand. Not the type you will learn in a book, but the kind you learn by immersing yourself into it, aka being that child’s parent or working with them every day. The youngest one I look after was at that stage when I first began working with them. She knew a few words, but I found it difficult to understand. I was told it’s important to talk to them at that age because that’s how to learn new words. It felt a bit strange, talking away to a child who wasn’t really responding. So I would just talk about what I was doing…”okay, let’s put on your sweater, now your shoes...first the left foot…and the now the right foot…” Slowly, she started to add new words by repeating something that her mom or I had just said.  For instance, if I said, “would you like some pancakes?” She would respond with “ya” or “pancake”. When I’ve only said 5 words, it’s pretty easy to understand or guess at what she’s just said. Now, having previously heard her say these words, I understand when she says them to me again later because I am familiar with how it sounds when she says it. And now, she is at the stage where she tries to repeat the majority of the words I say. So in the few short months that I’ve known her, her vocabulary has grown and I am able to understand. So, here we are, I’ve finally learned the “language” and looking after young children isn’t so difficult after all.

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