“¿Dónde está E.?”

I think she understands what we’re saying!

D. and I have recently had the privilege to witness our daughter, E., show signs that she understands what we’re saying to her, and like any new parents, we’re flipping out!

I’ve always known that from birth babies understand the sound of their parents’ voices, and that even though they themselves cannot produce words, infants are absorbing every word they hear, building up a vocabulary for their grand entrance into the speaking world.

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But, I’m a mom for the first time. And, as a mom, I’m watching first-hand how my speech is shaping the linguistic development of another human being. How amazing is that?!

And, when I watch and hear my daughter begin to make sense of the language she is receiving from D. and me, it’s absolutely fascinating. (Even more so because it’s in MY second language!)

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While E. is on the changing table, D. plays a game, one that I’m sure all parents play: ¿Dónde está E.? (“Where’s E.?”)

At first, it was D. who covered E.’s face with a blanket, asking ¿Dónde está E.? Followed by him removing it and exclaiming, ¡Allí está! (“There she is!”)

But, now E. takes center stage, initiating the game and waiting patiently, faced covered by a blanket, for papá to ask, ¿Dónde está E.?

My heart skips a beat every time I see it. I could watch it for hours.

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I’ll admit that it can be tiring and outright boring to be the only interlocutor in a conversation. But, now, as I watch E. and papá at their little game, I am beginning to see the fruits of all of our reading to her, singing to her, and talking to her. The words and sounds that she has been hearing us pronounce are taking root in her little baby brain.

Like I said earlier, I love to read research (D. calls me an empollona or “nerd”), and I recently came across this three-page research report out of Cornell University on infants and language development.

If you’ve got 15 minutes of free time (okay, who am I kidding? You’re probably a parent with zero free time, like me!), give it a read. Here are the three tips for parents that I found most insightful, particularly for parents of multilingual children working to build a child’s vocabulary in more than one language:

1. Name objects – 

D. loves to swoop up E. into his arms and escort her through our apartment on el gran tour de la casa. E.’s tour guide points out la nevera, el espejo, el salón, la lámpara, la cuna to his captive audience of one. What’s been especially great about these tours is how they’ve made me stop and look around our home to find the words I don’t know or had forgotten in Spanish, which has sent me straight to the dictionary! Remember, if E. is learning words, so is mamá!

2. Explain your and baby’s actions – 

Until E. was five months old, I carried her around everywhere (we didn’t purchase a stroller until she was five months). I found that this facilitated my talking to her, explaining what I was doing. Ahora, voy a limpiar el baño. Después voy a recoger la cocina. Tú vas a dormir tan a gustito allí en el porta bebés. I found that, when I had no idea what else to say to E., just explaining my actions was a great way to provide her with daily input.

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Cleaning the bathroom with a one-month old E.

3. Act out songs –

I hate to brag, but this is my speciality. Choreography! I love acting out the lyrics to E.’s favorite songs in Spanish. She is now at the age when she will occasionally follow along. Besides acting out songs, memorizing their lyrics is a GREAT way for you as a parent to increase your own input (if you’re speaking to your children in your non-native language) and give you words to speak back to your children. When I’m just too tired to say anything to E., I’ll resort to singing. I can’t sing to save my life, but she LOVES it. So, music is now a regular part of our daily routine.

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D. and friend getting their groove on with E.!

Friends, I’d love to hear how you foster your own children’s language development. Or, when was the first time your son/daughter began to recognize your speech? I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a line!

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