Language at 16 months

Language and speech is one of the most exciting areas of child development to me. If you know me at all, that comes as no surprise. Well, life is barreling ahead and so is that little language department in Ayo’s cranium. So, here is my chance to stop the freight train and write down some fun observations. Fun, that is, for the language geek inside all of us. Errr, okay…inside of me!

Three things to bear in mind when reading this post: First, I am no speech language pathologist, just a multilingual mama who enjoys watching this area of the brain develop. Second, if I had more time, I would improve the accuracy of the sounds below by transcribing them into IPA (phonetics). But for now, as the sounds are not that complex, and the kid is due to wake from his nap, I will simply use the roman alphabet, which stand for standard English sounds. Third, I think that speech milestone “norms” are kind of stupid. That bell curve of so-called normalcy encompasses such a broad spectrum. One devastated mother told me at the playground this week that her two year old doesn’t speak at all! Well, my “typical” toddler doesn’t hear the same things all day as the neighbor’s “typical” toddler. Mine has a different personality, maybe a different gender and even different interests. I told her with a smile: “Guess what – mine doesn’t stand yet!” Take my comparisons here with “average” difficult sounds or the “average” monolingual with a huge grain of sea salt. We’ve used the One Person One Language (OPOL) model (father: English, mother: French) for 16 months now. The linguistic make-up of our home is not “the norm”. And, as we know, all children are different.

For now, here are my basic observations of Ayo’s language progress at 16 months of age.

These past two months TM and I have been blown away by the number of things Ayo is capable of understanding, without having singled objects or verbs out. Little ears are listening and it is fascinating! At this point, he has a solid grasp of basic commands (drink water! shake the rattle!…), basic questions (can you find the tomato? what does the doggy say?…) and basic nouns (cup, water, papa, bath…) in both English and French. At this point, his French comprehension is slightly predominant. I’m of course able to put more time into munchkin’s learning than his father is. But if the predominance is only slight, it is in part due to the availability of English all around us as well as the luxury of papa interacting during many mealtimes throughout the day. A huge benefit to him working from home!
Predominance looks like Ayo knowing where his head is in French, but not English or to look for his boat bath toy or to know where his magnets are in French but not English.
Also noteworthy, the bulk of the language foundation is being built daily in French and TM is noticing how quickly it is for Ayo to understand simple English equivalents without ever being taught the word. I am noticing how quickly Ayo gets concepts and new words these days. Often, they take one or two iterations and they are in his passive vocabulary. Bam!

New sounds
Over the past 2-3 months, these are amongst the sounds that have surfaced: AA, BA, PA, DJZ, AJA, DA (this last one came later than the average Anglophone kid, but we also don’t call anyone “dada” or “daddy” around our home)..
I am still unsure if his consonants are aspirated (think of the force of the attack of the ‘p’ in the English word ‘pen’) or unaspirated. Time will tell. As you might know, the French language does not contain aspirated consonants. French consonants demand a precise attack, without the extra air (If you speak French, think of the clarity on the attack with “tu”, “pouvoir”, “kiwi”).
He learned to both cluck and whisper a week ago. That was pretty entertaining.
Also cute, that the whisper turns into audible (loud) speech when he says a word he knows. Whisper whisper whipser BAA BAA! whisper whisper.

Associating sounds with basic objects
Ayo can point to a BA/BAP (ball), PA (pain/bread), ADTA (water), AA (eau), DJZ (jus), BA BA (papa) but won’t yet say anything that he has learned a sign or sound for (it’s easier to wave than to say “hi”. Also, I imagine that, bonjour which is heard more often than “hi!” is fairly hard to say at this stage) Another example: A tiger says raaaar! So, he prefers to voice ‘raar’ than saying complicated words like “tiger”. This leads to: “Can you say tiger?” Him:”Raaaaar!”
I would say that the average English monolingual his age has more accurate/clear pronunciation for basic words like: Ball! Hi! Uh oh! Mama.

Difficult sounds
The “M” sound has been really slow in emerging for some reason. It only comes out when he is NOT talking about Maman. Papa = BA BA and Maman = MBA MBA. Same for GA or GOO: so much for babies saying GA GA GOO GOO! These sounds are non-existent thus far.
Only sounds that exist in French have made their way out of Ayo’s mouth. HA (as in “hi”) is not used in his speech yet with the exception of him mimicking our laughter. Same for glottal stops found in English like in the onomatopoeic “uh. oooh!” or “oh. no!”  These are supposedly “typical” things for kids his age to say.
Both the French and English “R” have been non existent so far, as well as the traditionally difficult sounds: Y (English), LL (French) TH (Eng.), CH (Eng.)..

Mirroring syllables
It was only a few days after arriving in France (15 months) that Ayo enjoyed repeating words. Shortly thereafter, he figured out that some of them have multiple syllables. Pain (bread) sounded like: PA,  yaourt (yogurt) something like BA DA and on occasion, we’d even hear a three syllable word. Most of the sounds wouldn’t make sense to the average person off the street but the number of syllables is often there. That’s pretty cool.

Mimicking intonation
It was in the car one day, about July 5, when I pulled into the garage and announced to Ayo that ‘”voilà”, we’d arrived!’ From the backseat, I could hear a sing songy rise and fall hum of my “VOIlà!”. Since then, I often hear the rhythm and intonation of many of my “allez!”, “on y va?” from my little shadow.
It feels quite normal to be asking questions most of the day when your buddy doesn’t respond, but I am trying to make a conscious effort to include some assertions in there too, to avoid constant rises at the end of all my sentences.

Creative “conversation”
Just before turning 16 months, Ayo started to carry out enthusiastic short monologues in gibberish. Usually, a consonant is followed by a vowel and repeated to sound like: RA RA, DA DA. Or RA RA, ADJ ADJ and is typically accompanied by frantic pointing. Those sounds at times seem to contain diphthongs, more leaning towards English language gibberish. We’ll respond with a random answer [papa]: “oh you mean you like the fan?” or a [maman]: “Oui, je sais que tu veux aller jouer en bas”.

Apparently, Mandarin is still funny
Yesterday, I told Ayo to repeat a sequence of words in French and added a few in Mandarin for kicks.

Maman: <<Ayo, dis ‘voiture’!>> (Ayo, say ‘car’!)
Ayo: <<LA LA>>

Maman: <<Ayo, est-ce que tu peux dire ‘porte’?>> (Ayo, can you say ‘door?’)
Ayo: <<DA-TCH>>

Maman: <<Ayo, dis ‘面包’!>> (Ayo, say miànbāo / bread)
Ayo laughs in hysterics

Maman: <<Ayo, dis ‘小狗’!>> (Ayo, say xiǎo gǒu / puppy)
Ayo, more uncertain laughs in hysterics, clearly realizing something is different about these fun singing words (tones)

And then something interesting happened:
Maman: <<Ayo, dis ‘你好’!>> (Ayo, say nǐ hǎo / hello)
Ayo: <<RA RA>>

Maman: <<Ayo, dis ‘弟弟哥哥’!>> (Ayo, say dìdì gēgē / younger bro, older bro)
Ayo: <<LA LA..>>

What a fun journey we’re on.


2 thoughts on “Language at 16 months

  1. “Also cute, that the whisper turns into audible (loud) speech when he says a word he knows.” That is so, so funny. My Ebay account got blocked because I was using a VPN from Los Angeles. The Ebay rep in SE Asia had to ask me some questions to verify security. One was “have you ever visited a person near elephant.” I was stunned. Evey said she is trying to say Philadelphia. So I said yes, yes to the elephant I heard. She said she isn’t allowed to reveal which SE Asian country she is in. Must be where elephants are talked about more than Philadelphia. Language and repetition may also limit our vocabulary. Do you think?

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