I love watching – or perhaps a better word, listening – to my son learn his first words. I’m amazed at how quickly he learns it all. Everyday he learns a couple of new words. I know that it’s perfectly normal and not at all exceptional but it’s the first time that I’m actually experiencing a child learning his first words and sentences. And, as a language buff, I’m thoroughly enjoying the ride.
We’re raising our son bilingually, which makes experiencing his first words – for me – even more fun. I speak English, and my husband and pretty much everyone else in my son’s life speaks Dutch. About ninety percent of the words he says are Dutch, yet he understands the English words I say just as well as when his father says it in Dutch. So, passively, the two languages are equal to one another.
What I find most interesting is that he translates. I say to him in English, “Why don’t you go stroke the dog.” And he’ll run up to the dog and say “aaien” (Dutch word for stroking.) Why not simply parrot me and use the English word?
He’ll also change languages if he thinks that will get him more attention. He was pointing at a book saying “paard” repeatedly, but I was busy with something so I didn’t respond. He stopped for a moment and then tried again, but this time in English, “Mama, horse.” Then he did get my attention because it was the first time he’d used the English word.
Also peculiar is his counting. In English he counts correctly up to five, but in Dutch he skips the number three. I’m not sure why as the Dutch word (drie) sounds similar to the English word. I know that it will soon sort itself out; I just wonder what goes on in his little brain on that issue.
And so his story continues.