Min duktiga pojke

12 November 2012

Baby Brother is turning out to be some kind of linguistic genius and it is just amazing and delightful to watch.

He could say twenty words already at twelve months old, and now, at fourteen months, is making two-word sentences (e.g. “nana num num”, meaning “bananas are yummy”) and picking up at least one new word a day at the rapid pace I remember from Little Girl when she was closer to two years old (today’s was “ah dah” or “all done”; he’d already said “fada” for the Swedish for this, or “färdig”.). You only have to say a word or phrase a couple of times before he tries it out himself if it prompts something exciting (e.g. “jump” for jumping into the pool last week, was rendered as “juh! juh!” pretty fast).

Bilingual children are expected to take a little longer in their speech development, but the two languages are not slowing Baby Brother down one bit. About a quarter of his words are in Swedish, and some of them (e.g. “bah” for “ball/boll” and “buh” for “book/bok“) could go either way. He can respond to simple requests, like “Can you get the ball?” spoken in either language, and knows what animals and cars say in both, even when they differ (e.g. Swedish chickens say “kah kah” instead of “buh buh”) and he’ll let you know which one depending on which language you asked the question in. I speak about 95% English to him; when he speaks Swedish to me I usually echo in English, but I do most often say the Swedish for “thank you” to him as I want it ingrained (“tack“, or as Baby Brother says, “tah tah”). His father speaks probably 90% Swedish, his sister both, and everybody else, apart from English-speaking friends, just Swedish.

What’s especially fascinating is that the words he says most frequently in public places are Swedish (e.g. lampa* for lamp and titta for look). I imagine he says “titta” instead of “look” because “titta” is easier to say in terms of when children learn to acquire different sounds, and it’s well-known that small bilingual children often pick the easier word. But it also seems like he is accustomed to using Swedish when we are out and about, because that’s when his mommy breaks it out and that’s the language to which people respond best. When he uses baby English people are much less likely to understand and respond than baby Swedish because they are just not as used to hearing it, so as a result he gets much more positive reinforcement with Swedish.

Otherwise he doesn’t totally distinguish between languages and went through a period where he conflated “bye bye” with “hej då” and told everyone a cheerful, “bye då!”

It’s so adorable to hear his little baby voice and so convenient that he can respond to questions like, “Would you like some water?” with a vigorous shake of the head or a tiny, enthusiastic, “yeah!” I had been doing baby sign language with him but have mostly stopped as he is so capable and willing to express himself in words already.

In a possibly-related development, Baby Brother is totally obsessed with books, which is great, since we have hundreds. He pleads, “buh, buh!” before naptime and bedtime and throughout the day, and comments on what he sees in a mixture of languages. A book about a little boy and his dog fighting over a cookie elicits exclamations such as, “Ma!” (Max, the boy), “bulle!” (for the cookie, which he believes is a cinnamon bun), “woof woof!” (for the dog). It’s just the sweetest, cutest thing!

* “Lampa” is a common first word for Swedish babies, which I guess reflects the cultural importance of lighting in a country with long, dark winters; I never in my life remember discussing lamps with Little Girl when she was small, but Baby Brother has had an endless number of people point out lamps to him, so now he thinks they must be a pretty big damn deal and mentions them constantly.

4 Responses to “Min duktiga pojke”

  1. Carrie Says:

    What a wonderful post! I never, ever have pointed out a lamp to my children, but lampa was also one of their first words. As well as titta. It’s funny how this bilingual thing works.

  2. a Says:

    It must be fascinating to watch him learning two languages at once! A lot less anxiety than with Little Girl, and so lots more fun…

  3. liv Says:

    Very interesting, and he seem wonderful!

    I haven’t noticed if it’s different in other places, but in my experience, here in Sweden, babies tend to be drawn to the light, they always look at lamps and light so it becomes kind of natural that you teach them the word lamp. However, babies seem to be tiny vampires when it comes to the sun, crying and making weird faces if they get a ray of sun! ;)

  4. Melissa Says:

    That’s so wonderful that his language is coming along so well. So interesting about the lamps. Didn’t you say when people get together, hardly any lights are on? Since it’s so dark, that part never made sense to me!

    He is absolutely beautiful, by the way. :)


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