If someone asked me how many languages I speak, I’d probably jokingly answer, “Two – English and Toddler.” But it’s true, toddler translation is a skill that should be recognized and respected. I can’t tell you the number of times I have had a full conversation with my son, and realized afterward that the other people I am with could barely catch a word of it.
Cullen is a pretty chatty guy, and for the most part I think he enunciates fairly well for his age. There are a handful of words that he says very clearly, and that most people seem to have little trouble understanding or responding to. But there are also a good number of words that I only know because I have heard them over and over again, not because they necessarily sound like the word he’s trying to say. Take “big bird” for example – Cullen’s version is “bah-doo.” I know this because he’s been saying “bah-doo” for the past six months, and it very clearly means Big Bird. But I would never expect anyone else to realize that!
We’ve recently started preschool, as well as some additional drop-in childcare mornings where Cullen is being managed and looked after by adults other than me. I’m realizing now that perhaps my responding to, and even encouraging the use of, words that don’t really sound like what he’s intending might end up causing more confusion than it helps. During our daily chats, Cullen and I banter back and forth all day long. I still make sure I use words correctly, rather than repeating his version of whatever we’re identifying. He thrives on encouragement and acknowledgement, so likes for me to essentially repeat back to him everything he is saying. Because of this, he knows that I understand him and that his message is being heard. He seems to take great pride in this! But how will this work now that he’s talking to new sets of ears? I can’t expect them to know all of his language quirks and translations. Will this encourage him to pronounce and enunciate certain things better, until they are understood? Or will he just end up frustrated that he’s not being heard? I guess we’ll find out!
Of course it’s not realistic for me to think that all adults will understand his chatter at this age. And I do think it’s really important that we acknowledge his words and let him know that we understand what he’s trying to tell us. At the same time, I hope we aren’t perpetuating the “toddler-speak” cycle and prolonging quirky mispronunciations. I assume this is a very age-specific thing, and most kids figure out correct terms and sentence structure eventually. One thing is for sure – translation needed or not, it is so fun to communicate with him so much these days!