Bilingual baby babbling

This is the first of what will definitely be many posts on bébé’s language skills. He’s moved on from the “making noise” stage and there is some serious bilingual baby babbling happening. The past few weeks especially seem to have been very interesting (though maybe I’ve just been paying more attention?).

With most of his progress in reaching various milestones (sitting up, crawling, walking), I’m always surprised at how gradual it really is. I think when you don’t spend a lot of time around babies, you imagine these things as big jumps that happen overnight. And while sometimes it can be like that (just today, he stacked 4 blocks by himself, after weeks of simply watching me do it), for many things it’s much slower. I thought walking would be all of a sudden, he just stands up and off he goes! Maybe there are some babies who do it like that, but ours took his time, holding onto furniture, then holding our hands, then pushing up from downward dog (babies are the ultimate yoga masters!) into standing, then alternating walking and crawling, and finally, walking and standing consistently. And there was no real definitive “first steps” hallmark moment. There was the first time I saw him do it, the first time his father saw him, the first time his mamie saw him, etc.

For the moment, language is more gradual than I expected. I think it’s my parents’ fault, telling me about my first word. They said I walked around a family dinner with a book saying “buh buh buh” and then finally “book! book! book!” So I had this idea that bébé would just go from making sounds to making fully-formed words.

That’s not really what he’s doing, but what is actually happening is pretty cool. It’s a mixture of sounds and gestures and syllables. It’s more about communication than words. So when people ask if he’s speaking yet, I say “sort of” because it’s speech that only parents would recognize as such!

Some of his “words” include:

  • “Mo”: food/more. This is kind of my “fault” because I did a little sign language with him starting with solid foods, to see if that would help him tell us what he wanted. The only one I did consistently was “more” and I’m pretty sure he thinks it just means “food.” So I’ve been trying to respond with things like “more milk? more applesauce?” to show him the difference.
  • “Gah”: gâteau. There is very little doubt about this one! His mamie is a typical grandparent and gives him quite a few treats while he’s with her twice a week.
  • “Shah”: cat! He uses the “sh” sound more frequently than the “ka” for cat, and I’m not sure why, since I’m pretty sure he hears us say it in English more. However, he also really likes “The very hungry caterpillar” and he tends to use “ka” for the book, so I know he can make the sound.
  • “Nah”: thank you? I am less sure about this one, but when he asks for a “gah” and I give it to him, he says “nah”, so I have to assume his mamie is also teaching him good manners!
  • “Aga”: again. I first noticed him saying this after singing “The itsy bitsy spider” which ends with the word “again.” Now he says it for books, songs and toys too, helped along by me asking him “again?” usually in an exasperated tone, as he never wants something “aga” only once, usually about five times.
  • “Mmmm”: delicious! This is another one his mamie taught him. It’s not so much a word as the sound along with rubbing his belly. Seriously the cutest thing ever. I would say this helps us figure out what foods he likes, but he doesn’t do it for every food he eats, and when he doesn’t like something, he just spits it out, lol.
  • “Sa”: pretty sure this is for the French nursery rhyme “Savez vous planter les choux,” since he also points his finger down and taps at the same time.

As is typical for this age, he understands more than he can say, and if we ask him to get certain books, he can. His mamie taught him to open and close his mouth like a fish when she asks “Comment il fait le poisson?” and he won’t do it if I ask in English (What does the fish do?). So it seems like he’s already associating certain languages with certain people/situations. We don’t do one parent/one language, but rather a “home” language (English) and a “community” language (French). This will obviously switch when we move to the States, so it’s more a “minority language at home” method, and so far it seems to be working for our family. He makes both Englishy and Frenchy sounds, likes and remembers nursery rhymes in both languages, and doesn’t seem phased when either is spoken to him. The bits of German and Italian he’s getting is another story . . .

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