Small Stepping Stones in Two Languages

bilingualbabyMy son is now 21 months old. He’s still not speaking. Not really anyway. He’s “behind” on his spoken language development, but it is definitely happening.

Using Two Languages

He has picked up several new words since my last post three months ago, and his receptive abilities continue to grow. His first word apart from “Baba” (Dad) and “Mama” (which he responds to but uses only on occasion) was “clock.” I watched with delight as he pointed to the clock on the wall, then the picture in his book, made the connection and uttered “cwaaak.” Now he sees clocks everywhere, pointing them out as he goes.

He’s also picked up Turkish “orada” as well as the English version, “over there” which he uses interchangeably. He also says Turkish “burada” (here), which he does not say in English.

How he’s picking up both languages is really fascinating. It seems as if he is acquiring English and Turkish together, for the most part, at the same pace. However, there is some degree of separation. He knows and says “clock” but he also responds to the Turkish “saat,” although he never says it. When you ask him where there are “trees” or Turkish “ağaç” he will point outside. He also knows “fan” and Turkish “pervane” as he, like many children, has had a distinct interest in ceiling fans ever since he was a infant.

Receptive Language

Because he’s not really speaking yet, much of what we can evaluate are solely those words for which he shows receptive comprehension. Here is where we can really see the split.

In English he responds to “eat” and “diaper,” and can point out cars and books. If shown a set of different farm animals, he will select the cow upon request.

In Turkish he knows nouns like “lamba” (lamp), and several commands like “getir” (bring), “ver” (give), and “al” (take it, or ‘here’ as in ‘here you go’).

When he learns certain words in one language and not the other, he usually tends to pick up the other one shortly after (he did this with “shoe” and “ayakkabı”) — in part, I can only guess, because of the unintentional competitive nature between myself and my husband.

Turkish vs. English

It’s silly for us to compete, but we can’t help it. It’s silly because we don’t have to force it, he will learn both words on his own through our natural use. But it’s hard for my husband not to think, “He can only say shoe in English, he can’t fall behind in Turkish! Ayakkabı, Ayakkabı, Ayakkabı!” and vice versa for myself. (Although now that my son has started daycare and is exposed to English more frequently, my husband’s concerns may now hold more weight.)

This is how these slight competitive scenarios tend to unfold. While playing with his puzzle of farm animals, I ask my son: “Where is the cow?” He will grab the correct piece and show it to my husband who responds with “Evet, inek, IIIIN-EHHH-K,” (Yes, cow, COWWWW.). Similarly, when my husband asks him “Lamba nerede?” (Where is the lamp?) he will point his sweet little finger in a correct response, to which I’ll quickly follow with “Yes! that’s right, it’s a lamp! L-AAAA-MP!”

We should give him more credit. He knows that his father and I speak two different languages, even if he hasn’t quite figured out which words to use with each person.

But it will come, with time. Just like the rest of his language.

The Not-So-Forgotten Third Language

I’d like to point out one other bit. As I mentioned before, I sadly can’t speak Korean fluently. But I do have multiple Korean children’s songs under my belt. Interestingly enough, as Korean has taken a backseat to my son’s main language acquisition, he currently refuses all lullabies in English and Turkish, but will settle ONLY for Korean. All of those late nights and early mornings from his infancy with 할머니 (halmoni – grandma) and mommy have definitely made an imprint on his growing brain.

Even if he doesn’t understand the words, the sound of the language definitely comforts him.

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