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Show Me the Bunny: Language Acquisition


Some children are really funny about experimenting with speech. Nonetheless, the first intelligible words bring such a feeling of elation to a parent. Come on, Sweetie. Show Mumma the bunny. Without saying a word, my little girl points to a plush rabbit.

Ever since I read in a parents' newsletter that kids my younger daughter's age should have a vocabulary, I've been trying to persuade her to speak words instead of relying on gesturing, pointing, and high-pitched squealing to make her needs and wants known. While a mild speech delay might be understandable for bilingual babies who are trying to sort out the mechanics of two languages, mine has only one language to learn. Apart from her experiencing frequent ear infections at an early age, I have to wonder, what's up?

Bear. Ball. Blocks. I repeat words to her over and over, thinking that somehow, this might pass on whatever information she needs to be able to form the words herself. Bee. Ba-by. Ga-a-a? She asks, using the same intonation with which I recite the alphabet to her. She spends the rest of the afternoon touching my mouth while I'm talking to her.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, while eighteen months is the age at which a toddler should be able to say her own name, it isn't until early in the second year of life that a toddler will seem to understand what's being said to her, because this is the age at which kids develop language and comprehension skills.

It's a huge leap in a child's development, and will probably alter existing parent-child communication. Now would be a good time to discontinue the kind of language I've grown accustomed to conducting conversations in ("piggies" instead of "toes," "yummies" instead of each meal's correct name).

By the end of her second year, a toddler should have about fifty spoken words, and should begin using two-word sentences. To my dismay, mine only ventures to pronounce a word's second syllable when it sounds exactly like the first; transposes some sounds (cup becomes "pa;" rip becomes "pi"), and approximates others (hello is "ha WOW"). Far from being on her way to constructing two-word sentences, she doesn't try saying her name. Duck. Ga-a. I place her hand on my cheek and try again. Duck. She shortens her ga-a to match the abbreviated sound I'm making. Ga. I'll bet she's a little perfectionist, refusing to say much until she can speak correctly.

I'm afraid if she catches on to my disappointment with her progress, she'll stop trying altogether. So I'm quietly making an appointment for her to see an audiologist. As I wait on hold, I tell myself that this is probably nothing.

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