Language exposure and practices
I now consciously extend various groups of vocabulary. Thus, primary colours are now joined by “purple”, “violet” and other hues; living creatures do not just “say” ор “do”, but they make their specie-specific noise:
кошки мяукают (cats meow), собачки лают (dogs bark), уточки крякают (ducks quack), коровы мычат (cows moo), etc. I have suggested that Martin should do the same in Swedish. He did say, though, that doing this is not very ‘natural’ for the Swedish language. I wonder if it is not very ‘natural’ for him to do…
At the same time, I am trying to stick to the same core vocabulary as before by naming major objects consistently. The matter is, the Russian language is a language which allows multiple forms of one word to coexist. This is, for example, the case when diminutive forms of nouns are concerned. This is further aggravated by the presence of masculine and feminine forms of nouns like “cat” in Russian (“a male cat” and “a female cat” are two different words in Russian) . Here are some diminutive forms associated with the word “cat” (equivalent to “kitty (cat)”):
I try to stick to the same form of a noun at this stage not to confuse Max and Zoe. Thus, if кисонька was the word of my choice in year 1 of Max and Zoe’s life, this is the word I predominantly use for “cat” with them year 1-2. In general, it is typical for a Russian person to use diminutive forms for pretty much everything when talking to a child. It is impossible to convey to an English-speaking person what this means exactly, as such forms are not typical for the English language.
I am planning to gradually add new forms of most frequently used words rather than expose the children to numerous forms of the same word simultaneously. For example, the word кошка (“cat”) was introduced to Max and Zoe when they were 16 months old. When they were 17 months old they were still puzzled by the new word, and did not want to point at pictures with cats in them when prompted Где кошка? (Where’s the cat?). They still only pointed at cats in pictures when they heard кисонька (kitty) instead.
Furthermore, at the age of 17 months, I start to introduce pronouns into my speech when talking to Max and Zoe. I used to say Мама делает омлет (Mom is making an omelette.), thus, referring to myself in the third person. Now I say Мама делает омлет. Я делаю омлет. (Mom is making an omelette. I am making an omelette.). Thus, I say a sentence in the third person first, but then I add a sentence where I refer to myself in the first person. I am planning to then gradually decrease the use of the third person referring to myself and eventually only use the first person form. Same goes for referring to Max and Zoe as “you” and not in the third person, ex. Max likes carrots. I will soon only say sentences, like You like carrots, Max.
At the age of 1,5 years, Max and Zoe start singing along! This is a very important and exciting milestone! I like to think of myself as a musical person, a person who likes music, playing music on the piano, and singing. So, I am very emotional and excited about this new stage, and my dreams about our trios or quartets are coming to life. Max and Zoe used to hum now and then, but now we can say for certain what song they are “singing”. Their favourite songs are all in Swedish. I am a bit envious, but there are so many great children’s songs in Swedish! I personally prefer them to Russian ones, so I am not surprised that Max and Zoe do too. Russian children’s songs tend to have a complicated melody, or be rather lengthy, and their vocabulary is too advanced for this age. I still don’t give up and sing some songs in Russian. I also translate Swedish songs into Russian where possible (with rhymes, of course). This new stage renders songs a great value as a language teaching tool.
Starting at 18 months, Max and Zoe reveal that they have associations between the words they hear and certain possessions of theirs, or life experiences. Developmental psychologist Judith Hudson says that babies develop memory for specific objects around 9 months, but “Long-lasting conscious memory of specific events won’t develop until your baby is between 14 and 18 months old“. Thus, Max and Zoe’s cognitive development shows signs of being following the general timeline.
It is about this age that it is becoming more clear to me that their intonation is Swedish: Max and Zoe tend to stress the end of words or have double stress in words, even Russian. Intonation is a challenging matter, in my opinion, because I sometimes catch myself speaking Russian with a Swedish intonation too. It is particularly tempting when one wants to articulate a word and make its pronunciation clear to the children. The result is a word with multiple stress, which is typical for Swedish.
When Max and Zoe turn 20 months old, our life becomes much easier as they start voicing their needs. They tell us when they are hungry, thirsty, or need their diaper changed.
“Мама, пить!” – Rus. “Mom, to drink!”
[ku:s’a:t’] – кушать (Rus. “to eat”)
“Мама, кака/bajs! Там!” – Rus./Swe. “Mom, poop!” Rus. “There!” (as in “change me there” – pointing at the bathroom).
Max and Zoe’s first two-word sentences emerge at 17 months (see Language Milestones for further details). Their real three/four-word sentences appear at 22-23 months. First adjective “маленький” (Rus. “little”) is added at 21 months by both, but Zoe was first to say it and imitate my falling intonation following by a palm-over-the-floor gesture that is meant to indicate “so little”. Just a week after their first adjective the first verb was added by Max and then by Zoe: “åka“. It is a common verb in Swedish used in many set expressions, like “take an elevator”, “go by car/bus/train”, “ride a bike”, etc.: “åka hiss/bil/buss/tåg“. The verb is used on its own first and then in set expressions before the kids turn 22 months.
Max and Zoe do not add same words to their active vocabularies simultaneously. Sometimes there can be weeks between them in adding a certain word. Thus, Max first started saying “åka hiss/bil/buss/tåg“, while Zoe added the expression in about 2 weeks after that.
One of my favourite websites for parents www.babycenter.com offers the following talking timeline for this age:
Has said his first word. Knows one to five words well enough to use them.
Uses inflection (for example, raises her voice at the end of a question, like, “more?”) and makes hand gestures to complement her speech.
Red flag: If your child isn’t saying any words by the time she’s 15 months old, bring it up with her doctor.
Talks to someone much of the time as opposed to just babbling out loud. Calls you to get your attention (“Mommy!”), nods and shakes head for yes and no. Makes many common consonant sounds, like t, d, n, w, and h.
Has a vocabulary of five to 20 words, including names (“Mama”), verbs (“eat”), and adjectives (“cold”). Uses common phrases (“want doll”) to make requests.
18 to 24 months
Starts putting two-word phrases together for more novel purposes (“Daddy go,” “milk mess”).