Leon 16 Months

Leon has just turned 16 months and it’s high time to review his language development.

During the month of October, I diligently wrote down every single new word that he used in our Port Stephens wall calendar. The selection process was rigorous: Before a word made it to the calendar, Leon had to show complete command over it, using the word at least three times and in the correct context. So just repeating a word after me or somebody else didn’t count. However, I was more relaxed with the pronunciation of a word, e.g. if he didn’t manage to say the “l” in pulpo (SP for octopus) it was still valid, as long as he was consequent with both pronunciation and usage.

By the end of the month there were just over 30 words on the list. Around 15 of these were Spanish, just under 10 were English, and the remaining were either Swedish or people’s names. Add to that another 10 or so signs or sounds and the total tally lands at around 40 words/signs/sounds.

I recall our first exhaustive conversation that month. I said we were having food, and he lit up and said “¡Pollo!”. No Leon, not chicken. He tried again, “¡Vaina!”. No, we’re not having green beans either. He made one last attempt, “Apple!”. This just cracked me up, a one-and-a-bit-year old shooting his entire food repertoire at me (except “toast”, surprisingly!), hoping to guess the menu!

Looking at the October list now, I’m surprised that such a high percentage was (and still is) English. Because him and I communicate exclusively in Spanish, and because it’s me he spends the most time with, I just assumed that my language would also be his strongest. However, it would seem that the environment and society around him (and his dad too, of course) influence him just as much as I do.

Needless to say, I’m worried! Not that I’m a language Nazi…but it tells me that I need to find other forums where Leon can use his Spanish and as a consequence also value it as a viable communication tool, rather than ditching it for English once he realises that that’s what everyone else is speaking and that’s what works around here!

When it comes to Swedish, I’m less worried. We spend a lot of time with Mrs Louis, and Leon adores Noelle and copies lots of her words. Also, with my (lazy!) siblings only speaking Swedish to their kids, his cousins are all communicating with us in Swedish.

Here’s a sample of Leon’s October words:

ENGLISH: tractor, piggy, book (sounds like “boo-ty”…don’t ask me), owl, wheel

SPANISH: uva (grape/raisin), auto (car), tiza (chalk), diente (tooth), vamos (let’s go), bulbo (bulb)

SWEDISH: lampa (lamp), mormor (mat. grandma), dricka (drink)

There are a few more interesting developments now in November; will add these later! If you’ve read this far you’re either a fellow language acquisition nerd or a grandparent—thanks!

The Blackboard

So now that he’s turned 1, it’s high time he learned the alphabet.

We’ve devoted an entire wall in the kitchen to this, painting it in blackboard paint.

Super fun!

Word #4

So Leon’s first word was papá. I felt a tiny bit of outrage but then figured that that only shows who is there constantly, i.e. who he doesn’t feel the need to call out for. Then it was mamá. So we’re even. Then it was the next member of the Gómez Hawkes-family: bebé. Although pointing at mamá’s boobs instead of her tummy slightly gets her into outraged mode again.

And now…it’s tatú! Yes! My son is showing true Bolivian spirit by making sure to include Mr. Armadillo in his baby vocab. And I’m bursting with pride. //s.

P.S. Thanks to Anna Homer for yet another educational toy!

A One-Year-Old’s Communication Skills

This last month Leon has been making remarkable progress. It’s like suddenly everything slotted into place in his little brain. All of a sudden he’s making new signs, things we’ve been showing him for ages but which he finally seems ready to incorporate into his communication repertoire.

So now, instead of just signing flower and train and dog, he’s also doing duck, jaguar/lion/large feline and, more excitingly, he’s started to babble loads, with an impressive Polish-esque combination of consonants thrown into his ramblings! He now imitates the sounds of a bird, a cat, flying insects, a woofing dog instead the sign for it, food time, a snake, cars/any wheeled vehicle, a little kiss and green frogs. And only a couple of days ago he surprised us by signing his first word which requires two hands: his favourite food, toast. Most of these words (and our accompanying commands “what does the cat say?”) he knows in both Spanish and English. Oh, and a few weeks ago he learned to clap properly when he means bravo/music/mum’s singing is lovely. Well I just love him!

But best of all is that he’s finally found his legs! He’s pulling himself up on any box, table and sofa, then starts laughing out loud of sheer euphoria and clapping bravo at himself, only to end up on his bum again of course! And the day before his first birthday my Mum caught him taking his first crawls! Yes, my peeps, up until day 364 of his existence the only way Leon’s moved around has been through the army shuffle. And now that he’s crawling I expect my chill days to be officially over. //s.

P.S. I’ve had to update this post twice in the last couple of days to add more words and sounds that Leon just keeps popping up with. The latest thing is him signing his little friend Noelle’s name. Funnily enough, because they both involve a rotating motion with his hand, Noelle’s name becomes very similar to the sign for washing machine… :)

Extra footage: Brad’s educational lineup… “Where’s Kevin the Kangaroo?”

In the Garden

Summer’s arrived! And to celebrate, Leon and I agreed to have our meals in the garden today. It’s so fun to see him discover and react to all the sounds and colours and everything else out there. Can you imagine what that must be like? A brand new world, bathed in sunshine and brimming with life. He saw a butterfly for the first time and stopped chewing mid-bite to stare and point. His fascination for tiny details is so touching, his new(ish) soul filling up with all things strange and exiting, his awe of life pure and sincere. Even an annoying fly will make him forget what he’s doing and just watch. At what point in life do we lose this sense of joy and awe..?

When it comes to Leon’s language advancements I often get asked if he’s started signing yet. No. Crawling? No. Sitting up properly..? Sort of. So he’s not one of those speedy babies who start walking at 9 months or sign the alphabet at 10 months, but hey, as soon as all of that starts happening my chilled days will be over…so I’m just taking a hint from my son and enjoying life as it is now.

Now, when it comes to comprehension, that kicks in sometime around month 7. And it’s been a good old while now that I’ve noticed that with Leon. Here’s two examples: When we eat I always ask Leon if he wants some agua (at the same time as I make the sign for water—that’s how spoken language and signs complement one another). He then always turns his head to look at the sippy cup on the table on his right. He loves his water. The other thing he adores is trains. The train tracks run just behind our house so every 5 minutes or so we’ll here them swish by. I always say ¡TREN! and Leon turns his head towards the window or the back door if open, as he seems to realise they aren’t in the same room. He goes by the sound. Then the other day we were playing in the lounge and I handed him his toy train and said ¡TREN!, and Leon did his thing without hesitation and turned his head towards the french doors. So now we just need to move on to explaining that actually, “train” is a category with lots and lots of “prototypes” like they say in linguistics…

People who don’t see Leon everyday say he grows so quickly. I wish I could see that, but I’m too close. What I can see though, and what I try to keep a record of here on this blog among other places, is the development of his inner person, and that, I hope, will keep me fascinated for life.

We’re Reading

Leon likes his books! This one is particularly quick read…


Finally we found a brilliant, clever and Irish speech therapist! Meet Katie Cummins. Katie, Leon and I (plus Mega Awesome Connect-ers) spent an afternoon a while ago chatting about early communication, multilingualism and carrot cake glazing.

Katie’s just graduated from uni and works at Cambridge Hospital with adult rehabilitation, with patients who have had their ability to speak reduced following for instance a stroke or an accident. Patients in these situations have that in common with babies that they cannot express themselves verbally in the conventional way. This is where sign language comes in and saves the day!

– People often have the misconception that teaching you baby to sign will get in the way of them starting to speak. It’s actually the other way around, says Katie.

Babies are curious and love learning. They’re wired to communicate, and sign language will never slow down their speech learning but rather introduce them to communication and facilitate it from early on.

Really it’s a win-win concept: baby learns to sign “hungry” or “nappy” and mum and dad won’t need to guess what the cry means anymore! And imagine how much easier potty training becomes when baby can just sign “potty” or “wee wee” (uuu I know a song about that!).

Baby signing also introduces the basic idea on which all language is built: symbols. The word and the sign for “teddy” for instance is a symbol of the actual physical object.

– To encourage a baby in their speech learning it’s important to constantly put words to their actions, Katie explains. Say you’re playing with a ball and baby rolls it over the floor. You can just say something obvious then, like “oh, you’re rolling the ball!” and this way make the connection between action and its symbol in the form of language.

At this point in our chat Sarah’s luscious carrot cake makes an appearance, the conversation drifts into the decadent world of cream cheese glazing, and I stop taking notes…

Inventory of Leon’s Vocab

We’ve had a busy night. And by that I mean Leon has had a busy night. We’ve been blessed with a child who normally sleeps from 8-ish in the evening until 7 in the morning (with a small snack around 11pm, or whenever Brad and I go to bed). Up until now he’s had his cot in our room, mainly because we haven’t got around to putting second glazing in his room and so it’s quite drafty. Last night though, Leon decided 1am and 5am were great times for feeding. The first time, I played along as the long suffering mother and did what was expected of me; the second time I ignored him. So in the strange, hazy land between dream state and awake, I listened to Leon chatting to himself (once he’d given up crying..). Apart from his all time favourite “HE-HE-HOO” combination, this week he’s also started to say “BBBA-BA”. Last night though was the first time we’ve heard him say “DA”, loud and clear, and then again “DA”. Obviously, Bradley is over the moon. Me too. But just to make sure, this afternoon we had Leon’s first reading lesson: “Mm”. And this old rhyme from my first alphabet book really came in handy: Mi mamá me mima. Amo a mi mamá. (My mummy spoils me. I love my mummy.)

Leon Learning Español

In a break from our usual “Brad speaks English to the child and Sara speaks Spanish”, Brad made an attempt to teach Leon Spanish via the iPad. Here’s the result.

“Daddy. Change. My Nappy. Please.”

Just got home from our fist baby signing class!

I have to say though, the name is a bit misleading: 8 mums with our little ones, ages ranging from 3 months to 1 year, bundled up in our laps, sitting in a circle on the floor, singing silly songs about the seaside and the zoo, waving arms around, all while the babies are snoozing, throwing up, or, as in Leon’s case, blowing spit bubbles. So much for babies signing!

Tony the instructor guy (who is a rugby player by the way, he made sure to mention) taught us mums a whole bunch of useful words like milk, potty, please, dance, crocodile and everyone’s favourite phrase “Daddy change my nappy please”! The idea is that the parents learn to sign, and that they then teach baby by incorporating the signs in communication. Tony stressed how important it is that we don’t replace the spoken language with signing. Signing is a complement to speech so, simultaneously, we need to be speaking and saying the words out loud (or singing silly songs!). Hopefully baby will catch on and so be able to express his wants and needs even before he can speak! And I know, our babies won’t be signing any deep philosophical thoughts, but they will definitely be empowered as tiny individuals in a big world.