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The International Writers Magazine: Development

Talk-Talk: A Two Year Old's First Words
Gordon Ray Bourgon
The Words

These are some of the words my two year old son is beginning to say. 


He hasn’t control over the volume when he says them, so each time sounds like a jubilant milestone in his journey of self discovery.

He smiles through his struggle to form a word, puckers his lips or opens his mouth wide to facilitate the making of the word. So when he finally says “Dayee!” for Daddy, the moment is magic.

Children eighteen to twenty four months old are supposed to have a vocabulary of around two hundred words. Two hundred. That’s a lot of words. If they could be counted, the chattering, the sounds, and the slurs my son produces when he’s pointing to a shelf seemingly to explain something to me, could tally two hundred.  But, no, not actual words.

Two year olds learn about ten words a day. They are sponges, and have been since the age of three months. The detail I find most interesting is: Children understand more than what they say.

The Understanding

I am a dad.  I’m not an expert.  But I can understand that detail when I look into my son’s eyes and listen to him struggle to form words. I believe that receptive language, which is the understanding of language, tilts the scales more than expressive language, the spoken language.
My son understands the word “No,” for example.  And “Don’t touch.”  I know he does because he smiles mischievously as he reaches out to touch the very thing I told him not to touch. He knows he is doing wrong.  He associates “No,” and “Don’t touch” with unacceptable behaviour on his part.

In a 2007 article in Science Daily, it says that one year olds can comprehend sixty to one hundred and ten words, and a few thousand by the time they are two.
My son eventually learned to use “No” when something is taken from him, or he is prevented from wreaking havoc in the laundry room. He has even come running after me yelling “No, no, no!” when I am about to put his empty bottle in the sink.

A two year old child, purportedly, can make phrases, and use adverbs and adjectives in small, wrought-out sentences.  I’m not quite sure about that. The child will point to objects when named. This I have seen: truck, car, bottle, ball, moon, shoe, train, as examples. My wife and I will point out other objects, say the words for them and, in turn, my son will point and utter a sound that comes close (or not so close) to the word.  Plane, for example, is “Plaaah.”  Jet, is “Beh.”
 Some he expresses as the sounds we tell him they make, like, “Roar!” for lion, and “Meeow!” for kitty. Today he went down a list of these: “What sound does a truck make?” we asked.  He replied, “Brrmmm!” A car? “Beep beep!” A dog? “Raow raow!”
Oh yes, stimulating conversation for sure.

My two year old also mimics the tones and inflections he hears in our everyday speech. The rising pitch, as in a question.  The terse grumble for annoyance or anger.  There is a wash cloth/glove we use for his bath time that has faces on each finger tip.  The parent makes up stories with accommodating voices and characters from these faces.  My son picks up the glove/cloth on his own and makes imitation talking sounds – no words – as though he, too, is telling a story.

It is funny to hear him say “Oh-oh,” like we all do when something has gone wrong.  Or the whiny sound of disappointment, “Oh aahhn,” like a Californian ‘dude’ would say, “Oh man!”
It is equally funny – and endearing – to hear him attempt a monologue that describes the day he has had.  When I come home from work, I get a big, “Dayee!” followed by a long winded barrage of sounds and inflections while he spins and points and waves his arms.  He is telling me of his day in my absence, I am sure of it.

The Development

To develop a child’s language skills, it is suggested to simply talk to them.  Talk with not at the child. There is a tendency with adults to talk baby talk, because it sounds cute. This may or may not communicate what is intended to be communicated. Tell the child stories, use a lot of words that rhyme, and sing songs. Read to them.
When my son was a year old or slightly younger, he sat and listened to me read him a book. His eyes wide and glued to the colourful pictures.  His mind – I hoped – nourished by the wonderful power of words.  Now I have a window of opportunity to hold his interest of about two minutes, then he pulls the book from my hands, gives me another for about the same length of time, and we repeat the process. I have used bath time to read aloud to him while he plays with his toys.

A toddler’s brain is very literal, and it is suggested to avoid cliché’s, metaphors and long words. Listen to the child when he or she speaks, and engage in simple conversation with a generous helping of excitement in your voice.

Everyday our son surprises us with new words he has learned to say.  My wife is pregnant (due any day now), and our son will hug her belly, press his face to it and say, “Baby.”  This was after he was shown the ball-shaped belly meant “baby”. However, after pointing to his mother’s stomach and saying “Baby”, he crossed the room, pointed to mine, and said the same thing.  Thanks buddy.

This whole talking process is magical and astounding.  You have to be careful what you say because the child will pick up and use your words.  There is also the sticky “emotional eavesdropping”, where a child listens and watches the emotional reaction of and between his parents and shapes his or her behaviour. 

My son has heard my little temper flare ups – growls and groans and altered profanity – and behaves the same way when he encounters problems or when things do not go his way.  It hits home when you see a smaller version of yourself showing familiar frustration when things get stuck or break or fall to the floor in a sticky, messy heap.

So, it is an exchange of learning.  The child learns the words; the parents learn, well, how to behave. Milestones for all, every day, every moment of the day.
I’m no expert.  Just a dad, listening and learning, soaking in the magic.

© Gordon Ray Bourgon August 2011

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