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Thomas and I were talking on Skype to my parents back in the UK the other day when they mentioned something that I had noticed in passing before. Although he doesn’t have many words and he babbles a lot, it sounds as if you know what he is trying to say.
When teaching my English language students, one of the things that often comes up is the importance of intonation. I give them made up statistic of how most of what we communicate is through our intonation rather than the actual words. I say made up because I don’t know if there are any actual real statistics around, but it is very important. I give a few examples of how intonation can change the meaning and most of the time my students are receptive to the importance of intonation when learning English.
This is probably because Portuguese and English intonation patterns are similar. There are obvious differences; the use of the auxiliary in questions allows English to have both rising and falling intonation patterns; when people want to congratulate you on your birthday they sound bored to me because the intonation pattern they use would be more appropriate for a list in English. The differences, though, are noticeable simple because they are so rare.
I think this is also the reason why it sounds as if Thomas is speaking, even though he is just babbling. The intonation and the rhythm of his baby talk are similar to English or Portuguese. If my made up statistic has any relevance at all, this is also what enables him to communicate despite not having many words.
One thing that he seems to be able to communicate perfectly well in this way is his complete and utter disdain for me when I am messing around with him. I often do stupid things to get him to laugh and most of the time it works. If it doesn’t work then I just get a ‘Oh daddy!’ which lets me know how ridiculous I am.
I would love to know if this is just me making things up, or if other people have noticed that their child sounds like he’s talking, even though he isn’t.
A while ago I posted about how Thomas confuses the word ‘no’ with a number of other words. He seems to be confident now in that he knows what ‘no’ means, but he hasn’t said the Portuguese equivalent of ‘não‘ yet. He still calls white vans (or anything that remotely resembles white vans, like ambulances) ‘Noel’ after my brother who has his own white van back in the UK. And at times it still sounds as if he is saying ‘I know’ when I am convinced that he is just producing sounds for the sake of it.
We now have another sound that is causing some confusion: ‘poo’. The first time he learnt this word it was for Winne the Pooh, and usually when he says it it is because he is looking for ‘Pooh’ to play with. Recently, though, he has become aware of his own bodily functions and will sometimes point to his nappy and say ‘poo’. He looks very sheepish when he does this. If I ask him if he has done a poo he shakes his head and tries to turn away from me. Related to this is the Portuguese word ‘pum’ which is a kid’s word for ‘fart’. He thnks it is hilarious when he does a ‘pum’ but is very confused when my wife tells him the word.
And finally there is the word ‘pooh’ used when people smell something really bad. Obviously, one of the times I use this is when I have to change his nappy, which makes sense to him. It doesn’t make sense when I pretend to smell his feet after he has taken his shoes off and I shout ‘poooooh’ and wave my hand in front of my nose.
It must be all very confusing.
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Thomas still only has a few active words in his vocabulary. His passive knowledge is increasingly rapidly and he will often respond to what you say or ask him appropriately. However, I reckon he still only has about 20 words that he uses himself, and most of those are names of people or cartoon characters.
To be honest, there is a part of me that is hoping it stays that way for a while longer yet, and purely for selfish reasons.
Despite only having a few words he doesn’t seem to stop using them. When we are walking down the street he names all of the cars according to who they remind him of. If he sees a grey one it is ‘mamãe’ because mommy drives a grey one. If it is a white one it is my brother, if it is a 4×4 it is ‘vo vó’ for ‘granny’.
When you open the fridge he names all of the drinks according to who usually drinks them. Beer is ‘daddy’ (I was quite impressed with this one) as is full fat Coke. Diet Coke is ‘mamae’ and milk is ‘ma má’ (a phrase used to ask young babies if they want to drink some milk, as in ‘Do you want to ma má’).
He knows who all the shoes belong to, and if he sees some on the floors, picks them up and repeats the name of the owner, over anf over again until you put them away.
And so on. Even when he doesn’t have anything to say, he will either babble the words he knows to himself or just come out with random sounds. He seems to also alter his intonation patterns depending on if he is concentrating on something or is a bit worried about something or is happily drinking his milk. The sound is the same, a sort of /mmmm/ but he changes the direction of the intonation and length of the sound depending on what he is doing.
I am pretty sure at the moment that when he actually starts talking for real he isn’t going to stop. He is going to be a right chatterbox and, between him and his mother, I am not going to get a moment’s peace.
Does anybody have any experiences with a child who babbled a lot and went on to be a chatterbox or does it mean absolutely nothing? Can an infant who babbles go on to become a quite child?
As any good second language learner knows, sometimes you either don’t know or can’t find the word you need in order to communicate what you want. In this case you have to find an alternative way of getting your message across.
Before T was born I was of course aware that babies and infants could do exactly the same thing, only I was under the mistaken impression that their communication strategy was based on crying. When T was very young we quickly learned to interpret the different types of cry that he had; one for a dirty nappy, one for being hungry, one for being scared and so on.
He has also learned different types of communication strategy that I was never aware of. If he wants to watch TV he opens the palm of his left hand draws a circle on it with the index finger of his right hand. If we are going outside he reminds me that he needs a hat by pointing at his head. This is not to be mistaken for telling me has hit his head when he uses the palm of his hand and gently pats the area that he has hit.
He has learnt to point at the thing he is interested in, and even pull me or his mother by the hand towards the thing that he wants. This was recently illustrated when he was hungry and pulled me off the sofa, directed me to the kitchen and pointed at his high chair.
He can nod or shake his head when we ask him questions. He also uses different intonation patterns to show that he is thinking about something, is frustrated or just happy.
When he wants acknowledgement that he has done a good thing, he claps his hands an waits for us to join in or tell him what a clever boy he is.
These different ways of getting the message across are invaluable for him. I think they are even more useful for a kid learning two languages at the same time. I can envisage a context whereby he is in England in the not too distant future trying to ask for something from my parents, but he only knows the Portuguese word. He is going to have to find a way around the communication block if he is to get what hewants.
I would like to know if anybody else hs noticed any other communication strategies that babies and infants use that perhaps I have missed. Please leave a comment if you have.
Thomas has quite an extensive library. My brother went around a lot of charity shops when Thomas was born and bought basically whatever he could find. My mother loves nothing more than buying books for children and I have a few favourites that I have picked up as well.
Most of the books we have are in English because the books in Portuguese just don’t seem to be as good. They are usually translations and so they don’t seem to be able to play with the sounds and the rhythm to the same extent. Most of the books we have found that have been written originally in Portugese are too serious, with long stories and lots of text. Maybe we are missing something, if so I would love to hear some suggestions because both my wife and mother-in-law would love to read more in Portuguese to him.
Until recently we have only been able to use the very basic books for young children. They are usually made of cardboard and have one word at most on each page. The problem with the bigger books was that he didn’t have the concentration span to sit through one and was more interested in ripping the pages apart. In the last 6 weeks, though, this has all changed.
One book that he has really taken to is ‘Father Christmas Needs a Wee‘ by Nicholas Allen. He hasn’t really interacted with any of the wonderful pictures yet, but he often points to it to get me to read it to him.
A book that I picked up the other day for the first time is ‘Little Lost Cowboy‘ by Simon Puttock and Caroline Jayne Church. The story is about a young Coyote that gets lost in the desert. He gets advice from different characters that he encounters about how to find his way home. Each time, of course, something goes wrong and he ends up howling ‘AROOOOO!’. The first time I read it I really howled out loud trying to do a passabe impression of a wolf, and T was enthralled. Every time I did it he would copy me, so that it sounded like to wolves howling together. My wife came home and we ended up howling as a pack.
Since then Thomas has been pointing to the book all the time and howls along with me with a huge grin on his face.
If anybody has any recommendations for books to use with infants I would love to hear them in the comments section. They can be books in either English or Portuguese.
The other day, T learned his most important word. Unfortunately for him it is probably going to lead to a lifetime of disappointments and sacrifices, with only the occasional glimmer of hope that will undoubtedly be cruelly extinguished almost before it has had time to sparkle into life.
The word is ‘Blues’ and is the nickname of my football time: Birmingham City FC. I know I shouldn’t encourage him to support them as it is probably a form of torture or child abuse, but I would be over the moon if he did. If he doesn’t I won’t be too upset, so long as he doesn’t support that lot from the other side of the city.
He started the saying the word when repeating what I had said to him. This morning he pointed to a blue car and said ‘blue’. I am not sure if he was referring to the car or the colour as he hasn’t said it for anything else yet. I am mighty proud, though.
It’s a little bit late, but T seems to have figured out who Father Christmas is. If he sees an image of the big man he says ‘Papai’ which means ‘father’ in Christmas but is also part of ‘papai Noel’ or ‘father Christmas’. He also knows how to say ‘ho ho ho’ whenever he sees him as well.