On Language Acquisition

Monki is now 23 months old. Leave aside the standard “oh my god look how quickly time goes by” stuff and there’s some really interesting things going on. As you know, we’re a divided family. I’ve talked about this before when it came to naming the wee one.

But now, as she’s getting older, we’re waiting expectantly for her to start forming recognizable words and sentences (none more so than my parents, Bubby and Pa). Which isn’t to say she’s not talking, because she is. She talks a lot. But she talks in her own language. Hang around enough and you can sort of understand what she’s saying, or at least what she’s trying to get at. She’s not at the sentence level yet, mostly just pointing and learning vocabulary. She’s got the standard learning word books, the kind which show a picture with the name underneath.

Here’s where it gets cool, though. She’s got these books in two different languages: Lithuanian and English. When she reads them with her mother, no matter the book, the objects are identified in Lithuanian. When I read them to her, all of the objects are in English. We will often use both at the same time. Rasa will point and give the Lithuanian word while I will repeat the English equivalent. Never the opposite or reverse. When it comes to talking with Monki, Rasa=Lithuanian and me=English.

Because of this, we knew going in, she might take a little longer for her language skills to really develop. Not a problem. Well, not really. Sure, I see kids of similar ages already speaking understandable words and phrases and I have slight worries, despite all the reassurance the research provides that Monki is fine and normal, that she’s behind schedule. Then we noticed something.

Rasa is better at interpreting Monki than I am. She spends more time with her and “gets” her various sounds. Lately, her favorite things in the world are clocks and flags and balloons, She will take every opportunity to point them out, often screaming her delight. When she started pointing out clocks to me (we have one hanging in the kitchen), I understood it as “clock.” But then. Monki would turn to Rasa and say clock and Rasa would repeat it in Lithuanian. See, Rasa thinks everything Monki says is being said in Lithuanian. Except when she said “clock” to me, something was different and I said “no, this one is in English.”

Rasa kind of agreed, but then when Monki turned to her and “clock,” it sounded different, even to me, even in her gibberish language.

She was speaking to us the same way we speak to her. To me, she would point and say her version of the English word “clock” and she would turn immediately to Rasa and repeat it in “Lithuanian.”

I know we’re not unique and other bilingual families have gone through this developmental phase, but seeing it happen, on a personal level, is fascinating. It’s also amazing to realize she knows what she’s saying, and to whom. Odds are there are other words which are differentiated, at least to her. Now, instead of being concerned, I’m excited to see how it all develops.

And until then, it’s really all about the clocks.

9 thoughts on “On Language Acquisition

  1. Magical times… and this is only the beginning! 🙂 Don’t worry about Monki speaking later, this is a myth. Every child -whether monolingual or bilingual- is different when it comes to language development. It is us hasty adults who like to make kids fit into little boxes we can tick to reassure ourselves.
    I’m raising my 2 daughters (6 and 2) trilingual and they are doing fine, but both developed their language skills differently at their own pace.
    Enjoy the magic of raising bilingual. It is truly impressive what these little ones can do. 😉

  2. Teddy was raised speaking californian and geekish. She picked up French and Mandarin from instruction. From what I can tell, all her contemporaries communicate with selfies and emoji.

    1. Also, you know emojis are hitting the dictionary with their own syntax and grammar, so…

      On Thu, Jun 14, 2018 at 6:44 AM Getting the Hang of Thursdays wrote:


      1. You know, I’ve learned BASIC, FORTRAN, VBBASIC, and the esoteric jargon of various engineering and biological sciences. I’ve even learned to speak ARMY and how to communicate with managers and bureaucrats. But I don’t care enough to learn the dialect of emoji.

  3. I’m a speech therapist who works with toddlers, and I tell you, I never get tired or any less amazed at how little ones Monki’s age can not only pick up two languages, but can “code switch” between the two. I often work with kids who have developmental delays e.g., Down Syndrome, signs of Autism. Still, in spite of this, they can pick up two languages. And there’s really no such thing as “language confusion.” Well, maybe there is, but it’s strictly on the part of the adults! Jessica

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