Thursday, March 26, 2009

Don't listen too hard...

One of the things I've learned from having kids is not to listen too hard to what they say.

It doesn't mean what you think.

Think about it this way: children's minds are designed to be able to take the mess of sound constantly coming at them, filter out the non-speech sounds from the speech sounds, and pull patterns out of that so that they can develop a system of phonemes, words, and sentences. Before they've had too much of a chance to develop this system, they're trying to duplicate it based directly on what they hear - without the underlying understanding to generate it.

The result is that children's first attempts at language are often difficult to recognize. Difficult to understand, yes, of course, but sometimes a child (a baby, usually) will be saying something and you won't even realize that the sound is a language sound. Maybe as a parent you can't wait for your child's first word. Maybe you're listening hard, waiting for the first signs of language to come out of their mouths.

But if you're listening hard, chances are pretty good you'll miss it. Because the first language out of the baby's mouth won't be a hard-and-fast word, made up of hard-and-fast syllables, or even phonemes. It will be an oral gesture towards the word, a gloss of what the child thinks he or she heard.

The best approach for catching this is the same as for grasping the content of impressionist art. Stand back and let it flow in.

Now I have to go off and see if I can create a story out of this idea...