My first language is English. No surprise there. But I am sad to say that after taking five years of Spanish in high school and college, I don’t remember much other than “hello,” “good-bye,” “Where’s the bathroom?” and that “embarazada” means pregnant, NOT embarrassed (as my high school Spanish teacher made sure to warn us about due to her own unfortunate tale of trying to tell someone she was embarrassed but instead telling them she was pregnant). So obviously Spanish isn’t my second language.
My second language is one that I learned in under three years. I can speak it almost as well as English, and I understand it most of the time as well. My second language is “Toddler.” While you may not consider “Toddler” to be an actual language, I am willing to bet that most people talking to a 3-year-old understand the toddler about as much as I understand Spanish now.
I have had the joy of watching my oldest son Alec go from a babbling baby to a story-telling 4-year-old, and I am now watching my younger son Chase begin to go through the same learning experience. My boys have provided me with lots of practice in the language of “Toddler.” And in the process, they have also caused me a decent amount of embarrassment and created some pretty wide-eyed stares from strangers (and even family) with some of their toddler words. Here are a few examples:
Alec: Can I have some more boobies?
Translation: Can I have some more blueberries?
To this day, one of Alec’s favorite foods is blueberries. He can say “blueberry” perfectly fine now, but this was not the case about a year ago. I’m pretty sure I scared some other moms off at the park when I took blueberries for Alec to snack on. I can’t say I blame them though – I think I would casually back away from a family too if their young boy was demanding “more boobies.”
Let’s just say that Chase has conveniently chosen to leave letters out of words that he is learning. His most recent omission is the letter “r” in the word “fork.” So when he happens to drop his fork at the dinner table, the word that comes out of his mouth sounds an awful lot like a different 4-letter-word. And of course he doesn’t just casually let me know that he dropped his fork. It comes with a very loud declaration.
He has also chosen to insert random letters into other words. For example, Chase’s version of the word “sit” contains the letter “h” in a very inappropriate place, making yet another 4-letter-word that he says on a regular basis.
Alec: Mommy, Daddy’s shirt is gay.
Translation: Mommy, Daddy’s shirt is gray.
Trust me – we worked really hard to correct this one.
Alec: Mommy, my friend told me about seeping booty.
Translation: Mommy, my friend told me about Sleeping Beauty.
This one took me a while to figure out, and until I figured it out I really began to wonder about some of the kids he’s been playing with!
My experiences with my own children have made me pretty fluent in the language of “Toddler.” I am even able to understand many of the dialects of this language with my friends’ young children, even ones who can’t talk yet. For example, a “da” combined with a finger point tells me that a child wants Cheerios (or whatever he happens to be pointing at). A cry followed by thumb sucking or eye rubbing tells me that a child is tired. A grunt while standing perfectly still and looking around to see who is watching tells me that a child is working on… well, you can figure that one out.
Fortunately, Alec is pretty much past the stage of learning how to talk. Most of his words are much clearer now, and I can once again safely take blueberries to the park. But there were definitely a few awkward moments when he was learning to talk.
I’m sure Chase will also have his share of mispronounced words that land me in some interesting situations over the next year or two, so who knows what stories I’ll have to tell next year at this time. Maybe by then I’ll at least be able to go to a restaurant without the fear that Chase will drop his fork.