Dual-wielding Dutch and English: bilingualism second time round

Zhuzh

Zhuzh

From the start I have been dying to find out how the Girl would get on with the two languages spoken in our house. In case you are tuning in for the first time: I am Dutch and (try to) speak Dutch exclusively to the children. My husband is British and speaks English. And as we live in the UK, absolutely everybody else in the children’s every day lives speaks English too. I often feel like I am battling the tide trying to maintain Dutch – I myself have spent most of my adult life here and it takes a little effort to speak Dutch all the time, and as my friends and their children speak English, all our play dates take place in English.

I know people who have grown up in a similar bilingual set up and almost without fail, they tell me that their younger sibling barely spoke the minority language. This is not surprising, really. The second child in a bilingual family like ours grows up in a very different language environment to the first. Whereas the Boy spent 98% of his time with me, his Dutch mum, for the first 2 years of his life, and went on fairly frequent visits to the Netherlands with me where nothing but Dutch was spoken to him, the Girl has a constant confused language tutor by her side, even when we are at Opa and Oma’s house. Inevitably, and rather sadly, the Boy’s language of choice is English. Especially since starting pre-school and spending a lot of time with a group of people who just speak English, he will often answer me in English even if I start a conversation in Dutch. So of course he will always address his sister in English too.

I could see the effects in the Girl’s early vocabulary. Her first ten words or so were English: Daddy, cat, teddy, down, juice, cheese, shoes and so on. She had two Dutch words: “aai” (stroke), said running after the cat or when saying sorry to someone for yanking their hair out, and “dag” (bye), which she only used for a book I read to her in Dutch at bedtime with little animals you could tuck up in bed. “Dag!” she’d wave as the rabbit disappeared into his hole.

When children start to speak and come into contact with new words, they make several assumptions that help them learn vocabulary more quickly. One of those is that the new word refers to the whole object and not a part of it (“cat” must refer to the whole animal, not just the tail or the ears or the colour of its fur) and another is exclusivity: each object only has one label. This means that bilingual children start off learning just one word per object – which language they go for depends on what is presented to them first, but to start off with they will not absorb both “cat” and “poes“. So most bilingual children of the Girl’s age (18 months) have an expanding vocabulary that includes words in both languages, but only one word per object. In a later phase they will start to realise that Mummy speaks one language and Daddy another, and that they each have a word for “table”, “juice” and “bye bye”.

Except the Girl is already doing this now. And she has done from the beginning.

Not with every word, but from very early on I could hear her experimenting with Dutch and English words for the same concept that had a similar sound. She went through “hello” and “hallo“, as if trying to taste which version she liked best and got the most laughs. And sometimes, she kept both.

She says “neus” AND “nose”, mimicking the version that the person she is speaking to is using. I have also heard her use “voet” and “foot”.

And where she started off with just “cat”, she now also says “poes“.

She says “vast” plaintively when she can’t get out of her high chair or car seat (“I know, I did that on purpose,” I explain). But I also hear her say “stuck”.

She seems very aware of her own language learning, and when she tries out a new word and I repeat it in Dutch, she will repeat what I have said, looking at me proudly as if to say: I am saying it like you, aren’t you pleased, mama?

It isn’t just giving two labels to one object that is quite advanced about her language learning. Generally, she is speeding through the process much more quickly than her brother did. Bilingual children are on average about 3 months behind their monolingual peers when they learn to speak. I was already quite proud of the Boy, who hit each milestone exactly on cue and said his first two word sentence a few weeks before his second birthday (it may have been “bye bye baby” to his new sister…) But the Girl is blowing his progress right out of the water. Besides being an entire phase ahead in her bilingual language acquisition, she is also using personal pronouns, something her brother didn’t do until he was two. She started saying “my Daddy” at about 16 months, expressing a sentiment I had seen in her eyes from her earliest cuddles with him, when she would turn into him and glare at any bystanders who looked like they might be about to muscle in on her special time with Daddy. Also “my juice” turned out to be a necessary addition to her phrases to ward off any thirsty friends or brothers.

She also started making sentences a few months ago, waving “bye bye Daddy” when he goes to work, prodding me while I try to have a sneaky Team Umizoomi-nap saying “mama sleep!” and most recently breaking our hearts with a little sleepy monologue in the Fairy Godmother’s arms at bedtime, saying “Mama? No, mama work. Daddy? No, Daddy work.”

And so it starts. As they say, you spend ages wishing they would talk and then when they do, you wish they’d be quiet. I do love this phase. I love finding out what is in her head, how she is making sense of the world. And I feel more than a little proud of how quickly she is learning to talk, dual-wielding Dutch and English like the bilingual ninja she is.

"tat" or "poes"

“tat” or “poes”

Secrets of the  Sandpit

Overgeneralisation: the Girl strips English of excess words

Cheezh

Cheezh

I loved essay writing – in school, at uni – but I was never very good at handling “constructive criticism”. I would always get defensive and want to explain and justify myself so the teacher/tutor would understand that really I was brilliant and beyond reproach. (Hm I wonder why I write a blog…?)

A recurring theme in my feedback was overgeneralising and hyperbole. I’d make sweeping statements for effect and claim that ‘everyone felt the same fear of death’ (for instance). A piece of feedback that I have treasured for both the compliment and its cutting wit, called my analysis of Plato’s theory of forms: “A marvellous essay, marred only by a tendency to pointless overstatement.” I like to think of this as a tagline for the story of my life.

Now, my 16 month old daughter is experimenting with sweeping statements. I know that overgeneralisation is a natural stage in child language acquisition, but she is taking it to a whole new level. As soon as she discovers a new word, she goes in search of what else you can do with it. Rather than finding out how we, experienced speakers of the English language, define this new word, she sets about delimiting it herself, expecting us to keep up as she rewrites the dictionary. Or rather, rips most of the pages out to slim it down a little.

After her first word (Daddy), she discovered ‘down’. This meant: “I want to get down” but was soon expanded to mean “pick me up”, “get me out of these straps”, “lift me out of the cot” and “I want to go downstairs and watch television”. Perhaps this word is best summed up as: “Move me to where I want to be.”

Her favourite word must be “zhuzh”. This was first said with great delight while pointing at her own shoes, and later when carrying Daddy’s shoes to him to indicate that he must come on the outing too. Then it was said pointing at boots and wellies. Then it turned out to mean socks, feet and toes as well.

I kept nodding and thinking: this is textbook stuff. She is learning to assign characteristics to words. For example, “Teddy” to her means anything inanimate and huggable. She will hug any soft toy – rabbit, raccoon, pony – and say “Teddy!” What is supposed to happen next is that she will start to notice that the people around her limit the word to the bear only and have different names for the other cuddly toys. Then she might add a further note to her internal lexicon:

Teddy: inanimate, huggable, bear shaped

Also cheezh

Also cheezh

But I got a bit suspicious when the word “juuzh” showed up. It rhymed with “zhuzh”, which perhaps explained its appeal. “Juice” has been said while pointing at any bottle, any carton, any jug, any glass (full or empty), her sippy cup, water, milk, cups of tea, wine… Then came “cheezh”. She first said it while hunting through the food cupboard – which is most definitely not where I keep the cheese. I thought: maybe she means Shreddies? Cheerios? But I was soon set straight: she greets any food with a joyful shout of “cheezh!”

This is overgeneralisation taken to a bit of an extreme. I’m sure the Boy used quite a few, if not most of his words at this age, for fairly specific things.

Perhaps she is just not a details-girl. Perhaps the Girl is quite happy to paint life in broad brush strokes. She is not learning words. She is learning categories.

Even “mama” is not for me alone. I was overjoyed when she started using the name to call for me over the Christmas holidays, but when the Lodger returned from a visit to her family, she was greeted with “mama” as well, and so was my friend who looks after her on a Friday. It is clearly the umbrella term for “female who can provide me with soothing cuddles who has nice long hair I can twizzle”.

Her latest category was a source of great delight to the Boy. She pointed at a number in one of his endless number books and shouted: “Eight!”

“YES!” the Boy exclaimed, “Eight! Haha! A. is saying eight!”

Then she pointed at a 4: “Eight!” And a 9: “Eight!” Number 2 was also eight. The Boy thought it was hilarious. But she wasn’t done there. The alphabet puzzle got the “eight” treatment as well, and Surrogate Friday Mama reported that the Girl had been pointing at a handwritten note saying “eight”. We concluded it must mean “squiggle”.

It is just Daddy who gets exclusive rights to his name. She stops in her tracks when there is a sound at the front door. “Daddy!” If we walk past the study after her lunch time nap and the door is ajar, she will peek inside: “Daddy?”

I comfort myself with the thought that at least it sounds a lot like “teddy”, so there can be just as many embarrassing no-that-was-not-who-i-wanted mix ups.

Sixteen months into life, 5 months or so into discovering words, our marvellous Girl sweeps through life using only a handful of words. She doesn’t need any more. She defines them. The world is hers to shape and control.

And that is most definitely not pointless overstatement.

Definitely cheezh

Definitely cheezh

 

Life Game: The Gamers’ Dictionary

Hey there fellow Life Gamers,

I thought it was time I let you in on the secrets of Speech. I’ve started discovering in this new level that increasing your Charisma and your Influence hinges on acquiring more and more Words. You find them by interacting with NPCs and with the Brother, and when you use them on people, I find you get some interesting results. Every word you speak increases your Influence over the adults in the room and makes them go all gooey-eyed and less observant so you can eat more sofa raisins, floor food and play dough, but each particular word also turns out to have a specific extra benefit. To help you out, I have compiled a

Level 1 glossary

down – gets you lifted out of the high chair quicker
wow! – increases interaction time with the object you are admiring and the adult in the room
uh oh! – reduces the negative impact on your relationship with the Mummy when you spill something
cat – draws the brother’s attention to the cat and he will help you chase it for strokes and ear-pulling
teddy!! – exclaiming this while hugging a cuddly toy (not necessarily an actual teddy, a raccoon will do) increases your happiness
ball – gets you a ball. Trust me. This is good.
Daddy – nearest adult will usually take you to Daddy. If the nearest adult is Daddy, it gives you a massive Influence boost with him
bih-ki (biscuit) – this two syllable word will stun the Mummy and turn her into a mindless zombie for just long enough for you to command her to hand over a biscuit, even at 5.30am.
round – gets you a piece of paper and a crayon, which you can either munch on or use to draw loopy squiggles while saying “woun woun woun” some more.
ow! – this one is a trade off. When you hurt yourself, choosing “ow” over crying gets you fewer cuddles but more laughs
puh, puh, tap tap tap (pull, pull, clap clap clap) – Singing this with actions gives you a boost to your Musical and Coordination skills. Singing it within earshot of an adult, while pretending you don’t know they are listening, gives you a MASSIVE boost to your Cute levels.

That’s all I’ve got so far. HTH. If you find any more words, post them here, pref with a sound file so I know how to say them.

Thnx

TinyToddler

Me, hacking the slot machines at my local.

Me, hacking the slot machines at my local, wearing a party dress. Oh yeah.

Is my son a foreigner?

photocopierSo I am back in the ESOL* classroom after a three year hiatus and it is all coming back to me. Teaching my pre-intermediate group of immigrants is affecting me a little like looking after The Girl did in the early days. Not that they’re ringing me up in the middle of the night demanding food, but I am having a similar slow dawning of recognition: oh yes, this is what newborns/ESOL students do and need. These were the resources I used to use. This is how I solved this problem before.

One example is the mistakes they make. Each student has his or her own typical grammar errors:

“They have catch him,” says the Polish student.

“They are travel on a road,” says the Tamil speaker.

“Yesterday, I write a list and do shopping,” says my Brazilian student.

“It’s in pront of the college” says my Indonesian student.

Oh yes, I think. Pre-intermediate students may be learning about story telling in the past, but that doesn’t mean they have got all their present tenses sorted. Oh yes, I remember. I should pay attention to each student’s pronunciation difficulties and spend some time on that. I diagnose, I make notes, plan lessons. I think of ways to help them learn to use verb tenses correctly and improve their pronunciation of bilabial fricatives (‘f’ and ‘v’ to you).

But why does this all sound so familiar, even after three years’ break?

“Mummy, I need to go to toilet!” the Boy interrupts my lesson planning. I get up to help him. “NO! Mummy not come too. I go by myself.”

I find myself making a mental note: he is not using auxiliary verbs to form negatives.

A shout reaches me downstairs: “Come and see, Mummy. I did a wee wee!”

He earns a sticker for his sticker chart, and by dinner time the stickers have added up to an ice cream for dessert. The Boy is covered head to toe in sticky vanilla goo – he is in heaven.

“I’m love Megan White,” he tells me. I’ve given up trying to get him to say Magnum. The dark ones he calls: Chocolate Megan Whites. But besides this pronunciation issue I am also diagnosing an issue with present simple/present continuous confusion. I compare it in my head to his announcement to strangers before his birthday: “I going be three!” Definitely a bit of a mix up happening there.

Daddy gets home just before bedtime. There are hugs. Daddy also gets covered in ice cream.

“What did you do today?” Daddy wants to know.

“Going children’s centre. And play with Nebecca.”

Past tense, I think to myself. Understanding, yes. Using, no. Also, pronunciation of alveolar approximant.

Slowly it is beginning to dawn on me: my son is a pre-intermediate ESOL student. He would fit right in to my evening class. Have I just stumbled on a point in time where my son’s experience of Child Language Acquisition just happens to intersect the Second Language Acquisition that my students are going through?

Then there are times like this evening, when we play a game before bedtime. “I’m going to choose this one,” he says, picking up a card. “Your turn, Mummy. I can pass it to you.” He startles me then with his beautiful sentences. There may be similarities, there may be an intersection here, but the Boy is 3, not 33. His brain is designed to refine those grammar points and pronunciation issues in record time. He is soaking up idioms and phrases. He hears them once or twice, then puts them to use in real life. He is fearless. Not afraid to make mistakes, never embarrassed, he jumps right in to have a go. None of the inhibitions of an adult immigrant plague him. Before we know it he’ll be eating Magnums, while we grown ups still fondly refer to them as megan whites, clinging on to that endearing pidgin English of the toddler years.

And my students will probably still be saying “I’m like”.

Is my son a foreigner? In a way, yes he is. A fairly new arrival in the adult world, still working out how the game is played. Also, he is half Dutch.

But I think he’d get bored pretty quickly in my evening class.

ice cream

Who could get excited about an evening that does not include desserts??

*ESOL = English for Speakers of Other Languages

The Boy speaks

A little collection of what the Boy has to say for himself. He is still speaking a lot of Dinglish – I had thought it might be sorting itself out by now, but instead it almost seems to be getting worse. As he picks up more of each language, he mashes them up more. He is also still using his “filler”-syllable, “ne”. Any part of a sentence or word he is not sure of he will fill up with “enenene”.

The Boy plays out a disturbing little scene with his breakfast items.

“Don’t be scared, sap [juice]. Enenene zorgen [I’ll take care of you]. Don’t run away.
Kiwi really scared enenene sap. Sap really sad.
Don’t be scared, apple. Don’t be scared a snijden snijden snijden [cutting cutting cutting].”

I am reading a book. The Boy takes it from me.

Boy: “Is mama’s book.”

Me: “Actually, it’s Daddy’s book. Mummy has borrowed it.”
Boy (nodding sagely): “That’s papa’s book, called ‘Papa’s Magic’. Heel veel letters [lots of letters].”

I take out a notebook to write down what he is saying. He notices: “You drawing. I’m enene reading a book. Aha! That’s the page.”

He hugs his little sister and says: “Love you.”

Compliments: He notices the Girl, puts an arm around her and says: “Beautiful baby. Got a hair and a smiley face. Blije [happy] baby.” Similarly, I was changing his nappy one day and he was gazing up at me. Then he said: “Really mooie [pretty] mama. Got some eyes, and a smiley mouth. And a red t-shirt. And trousers, and a that one [forehead] and hair and a neck.”

He loves helping in the kitchen. We are making cakes and I let him put the butter dish in the microwave to be zapped. He places it in and says “I’m really careful.” Then I give him a spoon to stir the mixture with. “I’m goed in roeren [good at stirring]”, he compliments himself.

His banana falls on the floor. “Want a nieuwe banaan!” he wails in Dinglish.

He picks up lots of phrases from TV shows or from the people around him and applies them to his own life, startling us all.

“That’s a fun filled festival!” he exclaims.

Or he invites me on a “rip roaring pirate ‘venture.”

The Girl wants to join in his game. “Noooooo!” he screeches, “Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin!”

“It’s a tough day,” he says with a happy grin.

“I go get it,” he explains to me. “You stay here.”

Finally, my favourite moment. I put him to bed for a nap, but have to come back up after ten minutes because all I can hear over the baby monitor is crashing, banging, jumping and shouting “Walk the plank! Walk the plank!” I tuck him up again, set the lullabies going. He wriggles and giggles in bed. In my calmest, most soothing tone of voice I say: “Now, you are going to have a lovely sleep.”

He responds in the most patronising tone: “Yeeeeeees Mummy.”

Dinglish is still going strong, but I think nap time might be a thing of the past.

The Baby updates on Life Game

Yo yo! It is me, the Baby, or the Girl, or DevourerofEverythingzzz (I have several accounts).

It’s been a while since I gave you an update on how things are going with Life Game, so here I am, updatin’.

I am on level 11 of the training module now.  I think I’m a few weeks away from getting to the end of the Candlekeep section and stepping out into the big world of adventure. I’ve read ahead on the Internet and it turns out that at Level 12 you graduate to a new, tougher system where you don’t level up as often and you have to start at the bottom again with Level 1. Hrmph.

Right, my amazing discoveries in this level. Hard to know where to start. First of all, it turns out that chewing is not the only way to interact with objects. This level I’ve unlocked a whole range of new options: “bang”, “bash together”, “throw”, “combine with”, “insert”, “remove”, “rip”, “draw”, “poke brother” or “poke cat”. The possibilities are seemingly endless, and I’ve had to start revisiting all the areas I thought I’d bled dry to see if there is more mileage to be got out of them.

Draw! How awesome is that! You can take a crayon and make marks on paper!

Draw! How awesome is that! You can take a crayon and make marks on paper!

New this level: you can get Knowledge from books. I’d seen them lying around before of course but I couldn’t click on them at first. Now that I can, I’ve found it helpful to spend several hours of game time per day Doing Reading. Here’s how it goes: you “open book”, then you “turn page” and “study pictures and scribbles”. Sometimes you can also “lift flap” to reveal hidden truths or “press button” to hear sound clues. So far I only seem to be able to drag one along with me at a time, but I’m hoping in time I’ll work out how to add them to my inventory.

Reading two book at once  and barely breaking a sweat.

Reading two book at once and barely breaking a sweat.

I have also acquired some new skills that make it easier to interact with the NPCs (Non-Player Characters of course, you n00bs). Last level I took “learn words” and this level I put more points into it, so I have now collected 4 or 5 words. “Da da” gets you +2 charisma with all Grown Ups and a whopping +5 Influence over the Daddy. “Da” combined with a wave gives you +2 social interaction, but only with Dutch speakers. The most useful words so far have been “ba” (gets you a banana) and “ja/yeah” (saying this in response to any question while you’re in the high chair gets you more food. Keep saying it until your health bar is back up to full).

On the subject of food, it’s like the better you get at the game, the more food it takes to fill up your health bar. I had a look at some walk throughs and there were some good suggestions. Underneath the high chair you’re guaranteed to find food, but be careful, if they glow green they’ll give you an upset tummy and your health bar will go into the red for a day or so. Same with the bin. I tried stickers and play dough too, but they don’t seem to give you any health points, just -1 to Influence on the Mummy.

Bit random, I know, but I one of my best discoveries this level is that hugging teddies gives you +2 happiness. And it’s +3 for hugging Dolly!

Dolly. She will prob turn out to be sentient later on and she'll be my henchperson

Dolly. She will prob turn out to be sentient later on and then she can be my henchperson

Best of all, though, is that I have acquired loads of amazing new movement skills. I can “Stand from Crouching” and “Walk while Holding on To Things” (these things can be on the floor or in your hand, they just give you that extra bit of confidence). Then there’s “Climb”. I’m pretty good at that one, but it’s a bit buggy. Usually, if you lift one leg in the air you can get up on top of things. Sometimes this works out really well, like on the stairs and on the Brother’s bed. But sometimes you just end up standing there with a leg in the air, a bit like a dog doing a wee against a tree. Yup, awkward.

And I’ve almost got “Walk”. I’ve managed up to 7 steps up to now before I had to sit down. I think I just need to bump up Confidence a bit more and perhaps put one more point in Balance and I’ll be there. Then, I will be UNSTOPPABLE!!!

Finally, I was hoping someone could help me out with this puzzle I am stuck on: this new object has appeared in the kitchen (when you hover over it it says “walker”) and sometimes the Mummy will put you in it just when you’re about to boost your health points with some cat food. The walker is irritating because it contains you, but it does allow you to zoom all around the kitchen at speed. You can use it to get to The Cupboard of Mysterious Amazingness. Problem is, once you have got the walker to the cupboard, the door won’t open. I have tried pulling at it repeatedly and shrieking with frustration but it doesn’t seem to help at all. Got any tips?

See? It doesn't open when you're in the walker. Help!

See? It doesn’t open when you’re in the walker. Help!

That’s it from me – keep playing, Babies! There is a whole world out there for us to explore and if anyone tries to stop you, don’t forget about your weapons! Earsplitting Shriek is my favourite, but maybe you’ve found different ones that are just as effective. If all else fails, I’ve found “Roll over and Crawl Away” gives you +2 to run away.

Spk soon,

xxxxxxx

The Girl

Too wibbly-wobbly

The Boy is almost three and his language is getting more and more sophisticated and imaginative. His current craze is adjectives, especially with modifiers. He has noticed that you can give reasons for your choices and that they usually involve “too”+adjective. His favourite adjective is wibbly-wobbly, but he is happy to try all sorts or even invent his own. He first rolled out his new repertoire when I was helping him get dressed one morning:

“Would you like to wear your Bob the Builder t-shirt today?”
“No, mama, is too wibbly-wobbly. Too cutting-things-out,”

Too wibbly-wobbly. Too climbing-up-high.

Too wibbly-wobbly. Too climbing-up-high.

On a trip to our local playground the Boy was very keen to get up to the crow’s nest to make friends with the 6 year old girl who seemed to have got herself stuck up there. He had a go at the ladder, but being a cautious lad, he decided it was not going to work. “Too wibbly-wobbly, Mummy. Too climbing-up-high.” There was also the option of climbing up a net to get there, but that was “too squeaky”.

Today’s episode of Roary the Racing Car was not to his liking (“Is too tricky”) and a chicken and bacon sandwich was rejected on the grounds that it was “too lucky” and the mayonnaise “too slimy”.

I have got so used to the inappropriate adjectives that it is almost funnier when he gets the right one, for instance:

I hear a suspicious sound and shout “Don’t touch that!”
The Boy responds from the other room: “Too late.”

Good experiences also get awarded adjectives, paired with “really”. I appeared dressed up for a wedding one morning and he exclaimed to my great delight: “Really beau’ful dress, Mummy. Beau’ful flowers.”

But sadly it is no longer just Mummy who is the most wonderful and beautiful woman in the world. After a long spell of being Numberjack obsessed, the Boy now has a new favourite programme almost daily. A favourite of the moment is the new CBeebies pirate-themed game show Swashbuckle and while doing some piratey craft he asked me to draw Gem, the presenter.

His eyes gleamed as he looked at the picture. “Gem really soft,” he said full of admiration. “Really pretty Gem.”

Finally, he has also discovered that he can give his approval or disapproval added oomph by choosing more extreme adjectives. When he first saw Angelina Ballerina, his verdict was: “I love that one. That’s amazing.” And the spoonful of Piriton I gave him to swallow was forcefully ejected all over me. “That’s gisgusting!”

In which you speak

In which you speak

We speak, we smile,
pour love and time
into this tiny life.
We sing, we rhyme,
we speak, we smile,
we wait a while.

You blink, you stare,
absorb the world
and at the sounds of life
for you unfurled
you blink, you stare,
become aware.

Then

A tiny finger
picks out the man
who whispered truth & life
when yours began
A tiny finger
on him lingers.

You say:
Da da.

You speak, you name,
You stake your claim
You stand, you make,
You step into the world-

awake.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013

Prose for Thought
Wednesday Words

Communication at Eight Months

Having done the baby stage once, I was expecting to enjoy watching my daughter grow up, but perhaps not be quite so amazed by it as the first time around. My son at this age had my complete and undivided attention. I would sit and play with him and watch him, waiting eagerly for him to pass objects from hand to hand, swallow his first bite of finger food, pull himself up to standing, take his first step. My daughter does have an audience (her brother loves observing her and will keep me updated on her activities at the top of his voice), but life is much busier. I noticed that she was passing her spoon from her left to her right hand while in the middle of mopping up spilled milk, fielding requests for a fourth helping of Weetabix and trying to finally squeeze in a moment for a cup of tea.

“Hey!” I thought. “When did she start doing that?”

Was the Toddler doing eyebrow shaping at this age?

Was the Toddler doing eyebrow shaping at this age?

Perhaps because I don’t have the time to be watching and waiting for each milestone, she amazes me more. Every day I am startled by what she is capable of. I keep thinking: did the Toddler do this when he was her age? It seems very advanced.

She was eight months yesterday, and what I am most struck with is how well she can communicate with us. Yesterday at lunch time, the Toddler and I invented a new game to play with her. It is called Hands in the Air! We both stick our hands in the air and start waving them about, looking expectantly at the baby. She beams at us. Her breathing quickens with excitement. Then she lifts up an arm and flaps it up and down, looking from me to the Toddler. “I’m joining in!” her proud face is saying.

It occurred to me, as my son and I were sitting there with our hands in the air waiting for her to follow suit, that this is also her first experience of peer pressure.

Babies are of course well versed in expressing both displeasure and joy. When she sees her brother first thing in the morning she will screech and wave and kick her legs with excitement. If he hugs her a bit too forcefully (eg: puts her in a headlock) she will exclaim in protest. If I don’t keep her highchair tray supplied with titbits and her spoon loaded with food she will shout and cry.

But her communication is becoming more subtle as well. She is choosing what she wants to eat. A piece of banana she will fall upon with ravenous gusto. I put a piece of pepper in front of her next. She examines it. It is not yellow, therefore not a banana. She doesn’t even pick it up but turns back to me, waiting for something better. I put a piece of cheese down. It is yellow, so she picks it up and tastes it. She pulls a face. This is not banana! She throws it on the floor and turns back to me, now giving me a frustrated shout. Her little hand reaches out to the rest of the banana, which is lying in front of me.

I am constantly amazed at what she can communicate without words.

Yesterday she was sitting on the floor while I hung out the washing. She got a bit fractious, so I sat down next to her and we looked at a soft baby book together. It had a fluffy bird that you could hide away in its nest, and we played peekaboo with it for a bit. “Oh hey!” I thought as her hand went to the nest after I’d hidden the bird, “She is learning about object permanence.” When she seemed happy again I stood up, intending to go back to the washing.

From the floor I heard a friendly screech. I looked down. The Baby was beaming at me, holding up the book towards me with both hands. “That was fun!” she was saying. “Can we read it again?”

 

A Magic Moment. Click on the badge to read more!

Just a little bit more

A day later than normal, but this is the last of my Nininand Triptych. First I looked at the influence of Dutch culture visible in my children’s lives and then there was basically some pic spam of stuff we’d done. Now it is time for a language update.

Just as much as the photographs in my last post, the new words and phrases the Toddler has picked up during our visit tell the story of what we have done and what we have seen.

Meal times

Mag je van tafel, oma? [May you get down from the table, Oma?]

The Toddler has been practising being polite in Dutch, and prefacing his requests for things with “Can I have-” instead of “Want a-“. Unfortunately, his version has become victim to a little hypercorrection. He knows that I refer to myself as “I” and that if he wants to refer to me he should say “you”. So when I model the right phrase: “May I have some juice, please?”, the Toddler will dutifully morph it into “May you have some juice, please?” All his questions at the table have now become “May you” instead of “May I”.

He has learned new words for things-to-put-on-bread, as this is the Dutch staple for both breakfast and lunch. He can ask for leverworst [liverwurst] and hagelslag [chocolate sprinkles, yes we eat those on bread at ordinary mealtimes], in addition to ham and kaas [cheese], which he already knew about. He will also gleefully trot ahead of opa delivering me a kopje thee, mama! [cup of tea, Mummy!]. He knows little snacks come in a bakje [bowl] and that what he needs to do with his chair is schuiven [shunt/move] to get it closer to the table.

Daily life with Opa and Oma

Opa and Oma’s house is very tall and has three floors, so we are keeping quite fit climbing up and down many flights of stairs many times a day. The stairs are quite steep, so each trip involves a lot of Toddler-managing, persuading him to hold on to the handrail. Self-regulating chap that he is, he now does the pep talk himself and descends while keeping up a constant commentary: “Leuning, vasthouden leuning, dit leuning, dit balustrade” [Handrail, hold on to handrail, this hand rail, that bannister].

He loves having Opa and Oma around, and keeps constant tabs on them. Wat ben je aan het doen? [What are you doing?] is what he wants to know all the time. If one or the other disappears, he wants to know where they are. Telling him they are at work will produce a sage nod: Opa werk. Oma werk. However, five minutes later he will want to know where they are again, as he thinks that was quite enough work.

A bit more milk

A bit more milk

The Toddler’s English is full of little phrases he has borrowed from his Gran, such as “goodness me!” and “That’s a clever trick!” and “not again!”. It has been lovely to see the things my parents say creep into his Dutch over the past week or so. My parents made up a little song about my Dad (Opa, to the Toddler), which we have sung a lot while we were here, my Dad improvising new verses as the mood took him. This has led to the Toddler randomly coming out with “gekke vent!” [silly guy!], a phrase Opa uses to refer to himself in the song. The Toddler also seems to have noticed how Oma frequently nudging Opa for a little refill of tea or wine (depending on the time of day) and has started to do the same. He now holds out his milk beaker to me and asks me with a charming smile: “Beetje meer, mama?” [little bit more]

Little sisters are fun

The Toddler has been having great fun playing with his sister of late. We’ve been rolling a ball back and forth with the Baby. When she catches the ball, she lifts it up and starts gnawing on it, causing great hilarity and “Nee, niet om op te eten!” [No, not for eating!] Her brother has also been recreating her kinderstoel (high chair) for her out of cushions (one behind her back and one on her lap).

He loves the fact that she is trying to crawl, and he will merrily demonstrate for her (or just for me) giggling: “probeert te kruipen” [trying to crawl]. When her efforts fail he lets me know: “viel om!” [fell over] and usually also “baby huilt” [baby is crying]. In general, he acts as her advocate and protector, warning me when she is crying, telling me when she is lying on her front “aaaaaah baby beetje moe, baby slapen” [baby bit tired, baby sleep] and insisting that she must also wear her hood (capuchon) when it is raining, just like him, even if they’re actually sitting safe and dry in the car.

When he is feeling a bit fragile, though, he will command Oma vasthouden Baby [Oma hold baby], so that I have my arms free to hug him and carry him down the stairs.

Little

Feeding the 'little ducks' - who are half his size.

Feeding the ‘little ducks’ – who are half his size.

Most importantly, while we have been here, the Toddler has picked up a key feature of the Dutch language: the diminutive. It is mostly formed by adding the suffix -je to the end of a noun, pronounced ‘yuh’. It basically makes something ‘little’. You may have noticed some examples earlier on. The Toddler brings me a kopje thee [little cup of tea], goes to feed the eendjes [little ducks], looks for his sokjes [little socks] and tells me we have to wait for zes minuutjes [six little minutes] until it’s dinner time. Why do the Dutch make everything ‘little’? Mainly, it is our way of softening the things we say and making them sound less harsh, less threatening. Asking someone for a cup of tea might be a bit forward. Asking them for just a little cup is more acceptable. A six minute wait till dinner is a long time for a toddler. Six little minutes, however, can be done.

The Toddler seems to have instinctively grasped this while he has been here. I can see it in his face, holding out the milk beaker. A ‘bit more’ got Oliver Twist into a lot of trouble. But a little bit more, that he might just get away with.