Our boy is being pretty good-natured despite this nasty cold (a chest cold of all things! Couldn’t he have started with some sniffles?). I am in the office right now, but I can hear him babbling on and on to J. He has started babbling this week a bit more. He’s making “b” sounds and “d” sounds, and every once in awhile, he’ll voice some new multi-syllabic concoction of vowels and consonants, and J and I will look at each other and say, “That was something!” We get really excited about these words our Baby Genius makes up. They don’t make any sense to us, but they’re remarkable all at once.
Language development is something I looked forward to the most about becoming a parent. As an undergraduate, I dabbled a bit in linguistics–enough to earn a minor in it–and as a graduate student, I studied second language acquisition a little. This stuff fascinates me. At his age, Baby Genius has the ability to pick up any language on earth, and he could do so with native fluency. Sadly, our only fluent language here is English. I wish I could teach him German, but there are far too many holes in my German for that to be a success.
In fact, I speak what J refers to warmly as “T-Deutsch,” which means basically that I have my own grammar that is based on German grammar, and I have a decent vocabulary, which also consists of plenty of made-up words. This is the German I taught to J. Yes, I taught my wife German–it’s our pillow talk, our liebesprache. We have spoken T-Deutsch for the entire time we’ve been together, and it is hard to avoid using it around our son, especially now that he’s really paying attention, now that his “Language Acquisition Device” (see Chomsky) is hard at work. We don’t want to confuse the boy. As I said, it would be great to teach him a second language so early, but we’d rather it be a real language, not some hybrid of German and English (Germglish?).
This is something we certainly knew we would struggle with, but we’ve been pretty good about using minimal German and only using a few terms of endearment. Here’s the thing though: J and I seem to need our German to connect. We remarked the other day that we have never fought in German, never said anything nasty to one another. German seems to be our Switzerland (talk about international mixed metaphors), so we need to use it, and when we do, it’s pretty magical how quickly we reconnect.
But what does this mean for our Baby Genius and his language development? Well, we aren’t teaching Baby Genius German, but we want to maintain our language skills (if you can call them skills) and the strange closeness we get from speaking it with one another. For now, our inclination is to speak German only when he’s not around, and avoid speaking German to him directly (unless we’re using a term of endearment or something) and hope that it just becomes this weird tick of his moms’–that thing we do when we want to swear or say something secretive. I imagine when he’s older and he can differentiate between languages, we’ll teach him a little–and very carefully, and only real German.
At present, it’s wonderfully fun to see him experimenting with the sounds of English, to watch him roll these phonemes around in his mouth, to hear his latest “Bah!” or “Ah-dah!” of “Ah-Mah-Mahm.” He’s come so far from his early “Ah-Goo!” and he has so far to go before he’s making any sense, but he’s working it out one vowel, one consonant at a time. To me, despite my scholarly interest in the subject, it’s pure magic.