Mystery of acquiring language skills

Even though it?s once again illegal to shoot fireworks, we continue to have daily explosions at the Just house. But before reporting us to the authorities, you should know that our explosions have nothing to do with fire, and everything to do with words.

Now a 15-month-old, my daughter?s language development is exploding. Each day, it seems, she says a new word or imitates a new phrase. Staple words include outside, shoes, hi, hot and OK.

The phrase most often heard is a high-pitched, ?It?s a kitty.? We will be playing in our backyard when my daughter stops everything and points while saying, ?It?s a kitty, it?s a kitty.? She?s very astute, as it takes me a few moments to finally focus on the cat sitting at the back of our extended lot.

And, her excitement almost makes up for the fact that the cat is a stray that continually leaves ?presents? all over our yard. As long as her next phrase isn?t ?Look what I found, Mommy??

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Preceding intelligible word development, my daughter spent hours talking in babbling sentences. Hand gestures accentuated her cuteness.

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About a month ago, after dealing with the point-and-whine all day, I decided to teach my daughter a few words using sign language. While I?m not a baby sign language fanatic, it has been a great way for my daughter to get her point across, minus the whine.

So far, she does ?more? by bringing both hands together multiple times, ?all done? by moving both hands in a simultaneous waving motion, and ?thank you? by putting her hand to her mouth and kissing it. The thank you isn?t quite accurate, but hey, I?m not going to argue with a kiss.

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Before deciding to teach my daughter sign language, I went back-and-forth about the concept. In theory, it?s nice to have a direct line of communication. But, I wonder if using sign language could make it easy for a toddler to refuse to speak?

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I?ve heard one theory is to use sign language up to the point where a child should be able to say the word or phrase, and then stop using signs to express a need or desire.

In example, for the moment, I should answer my daughter when she indicates she wants more. But, as soon as I think she should be able to say more, I should ignore her signing. Somehow it doesn?t seem fair for a child to master a sign, only to be refused later on.

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For now I?ll just speak and sign at the same time. But, I think I?ll limit my daughter?s signing vocabulary to three words.

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Language, whether signing or speaking, is important. But, I?m realizing how complicated the English language can be.

Try looking through a book of animals and coming to a page of birds. My daughter knows what a bird is, but bird is simply an umbrella term. I?m trying to figure out a way to communicate that it?s a bird, but it?s also a parrot, finch, owl, hummingbird, woodpecker, penguin?

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As parents, our responsibility to our children is huge, and doesn?t lessen when it comes to language. We?ve been successful at teaching our daughter animal noises, and are currently working on colors. And we?re teaching her that blue is blue, red is red, and so on.

But parents have the power to really confuse their children. Imagine teaching your child that a duck growls, a cow oinks or a chicken barks. Imagine teaching a child that brown is purple, orange is green, red is blue. Or, that 1+1 does not equal two, but three.

Children are impressionable, and it is our job, through our language, through our actions and through our relationships, to teach our children how to properly interact within our schools, community and within the world.