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Bilingual language development at 18 months

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Our one-and-a-half year old Monkey is talking! A lot!

His language skills are developing and changing so quickly that I have to write this now, or by next week he might be speaking in full sentences before I ever got to write about the first time he put two words together.

At sixteen months he already had a couple dozen words in Spanish and English and was starting to pick up new ones with increasing ease. But now, it's hard to keep track, and is starting to seem kind of silly, as the list gets longer and longer. I've included it below, but, of course, you have to imagine it all with the huge cuteness factor that word lists don't really transmit so well.

Aside from his mushrooming vocabulary though, there's lots more to say about how he is becoming a bilingual little talker.**

He has started saying some things in both Spanish and English. Like 'all done!' and '¡ya está!'

Before, he had some words in English, and others in Spanish. Agua and cheese, for example. He now has a whole bunch of words that he knows in both languages. In most cases, he started saying the Spanish one first, and then started using the English one later.

- turtle / tortuga
- shoe / zapato
- noom (moon) / luna 
- bum-bum / cola, culo
- bad / malo 
- booby / teta
- horsey / caballo
- more / más
- bye-bye / chau
- hand / mano 
- pee-pee / pis

So far, he doesn't seem to distinguish between who speaks to him in Spanish and who speaks to him in English. I think he says whichever version of the word that he heard most recently, but will then switch to the other if we do.

He is starting to go to daycare in the mornings now (an entire saga I will eventually write about, complete with turtles, electrical hazards, AWOL teachers, trying to convince school directors that our 1.5-year-old is actually a 2-year-old in disguise (without coming across as obnoxious and ridiculous, of course), and a whole whack of parental indecision and waffling).

Anyways, now that his mornings will be infused with Spanish songs and rhymes and stories (we would hope), I will have to be sure to step up the English here at home. I read somewhere that kids need at least 25% of their time to be in direct communication in a given language in order to be able to use the language themselves, form their own sentences, and so on. I don't really love the idea of calculating our time together in percentages, much less measuring our "stimulating, language-exposure, language-learning time", but it is something to worry about keep in mind.

He is excellent at imitating sounds and copying words. Like 'calculator', 'chiquitito', 'Papi's sleeping' and fairly convincing actual birdcalls. I don't include them as part of his vocabulary until he uses them all on his own, but it is really quite impressive.

He seems to have a special ear for 'bad' words. Including, especially, 'bad', but also 'culo' (ass) and 'boludo' (general insult, or 'man' - as in 'no way, man' - depending on the context).

This should be no surprise, I guess, given the extensive use of profanities in Argentinian Spanish. When I say extensive, I mean really, really extensive. And no attempts to limit their use around kids. Not even the really nasty ones. And so kids swear too.

He seems to say 'boludo' for the laugh factor he gets from his brother. For weeks, we weren't really sure if that's what he was saying or not, but now it's undeniable.

He usually says 'bum-bum' or the Spanish equivalent, 'cola', but 'culo' is also lurking there in his vocabulary.

'Bad' is, for me, the worst of the bunch. He says it in Spanish too - 'malo'. Thanks big brother. (He also already knows what candies and lollipops are. You just can't be as wholesome with the younger siblings. The older ones will be sure to foil all attempts.)

We don't use the word 'bad' in this house (we're not the only ones), and we were not pleased at all when the Monster brought it home when he was three and a half. The Monkey is just 18 months and already applies it exactly as his brother's friends intended it: he yells it at us when he has to share or wants to play with the cell phone or isn't allowed to hit me on the head with a wooden train. Not cool.

He clusters concepts into one word, and then starts to learn to distinguish them with new words. This is fascinating to watch.

He first said 'se cortó' to remark that the power had gone out, which is the correct use of the term. He then started to apply it to a whole cluster of 'endings': lights going off, fans stopping, an apple falling, a story ending, a paper tearing, a toy breaking. He has since learned 'off' for the light when it isn't related to a power outage, but for all the others he still relies on 'se cortó'.

He started saying 'ach' as an invented word to mean 'open this'. Its use then extended to 'take out' this toy from the container, 'take off' this shirt, 'turn on' the computer, etc. He has since learned 'open' for doors and containers, but uses 'ach' for all the others.

He uses the term 'maté' not only to name all of our maté-related paraphernalia (kettle, thermos, yerba, bombilla and the maté itself), but also to say 'food', 'hungry', 'eat'. He is sticking with this term and doesn't want to use any others.

He is starting to string two words together. I try to differentiate between two words that express one concept - like 'good night' and 'all done' - and the real connecting of two different words to communicate additional information. So far, we have:

- quiero agua (I want water)
- es mío (it's mine)

Here is the big list of his vocabulary so far. It's grown quite a lot since the first list, two months ago.

silla (chair)
apple (used for all fruit)
all done, ya está
quiero agua (I want water)
more, más
pan (bread)

yo (me)
mío (mine)
dame (give it to me)
bad, malo
boludo (general insult, or not, depending on context - see above)

+ the mother and daughter pair of our closest family friends

horsey, caballo
'pider, araña
turtle, tortuga
pio-pio (bird)
pato (duck)

bum-bum, cola, culo
pito (penis)
pee pee, pis
shoes, zapatos
hand, mano

acá (here)
allá (there)
se cortó (see above)
yay, wow
luz (light)
sucio (dirty)
noom (moon), luna
good night

**I will write more, eventually, about our "approach" to bilingualism, but basically, I am the kids' only source of English, along with lots of books, and web-camming with family and friends back in Canada. I always speak to them in English (with a few exceptions in public), but I speak to Macondo Papa in Spanish.

1 comment:

Katie said...

How remarkable it must be to witness your son's language development in both Spanish and English! It sounds as though he's making great strides. :)

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