At the age of 12 months, both Max and Zoe understand a lot of words and commands in Russian, Swedish and English, although English has not been our focus this year. The children are nevertheless exposed to English in public places, in the childcare facilities of the YMCA gym once or twice a week for 1,5 hours, in playgrounds, and during occasional daycare visits (about once a month for 5-6 hours a day).
Swedish or Russian? Max and Zoe do not say any words yet, at least not clearly enough for us to understand. They have sounds for a wide variety of objects, and the context helps us to understand what they want to say. Occasionally they try to repeat some words after us, like [ptika] for птичка (bird, Rus), but they never say words without prompts. Both babble a lot and play with ranges of intonation. Zoe’s articulation at times makes me think that she favours Swedish over Russian. For instance, she often pronounces umlauted [u] and [o] not present in Russian. Max’s babbling, on the other hand, sounds more like Russian in both intonation and sound prevalence.
The children are more exposed to Russian than Swedish, as they spend their whole day with their mother. However, we try to compensate for the absence of Swedish during the day by the father’s active play and childcare participation in the evenings. An effort is made to balance reading in both languages every day. I read in Russian at approximately the same time in the morning and before their naps to make them calm down and get ready for a sleep. I read at least 15 minutes each time, following popular advice, like this one, given in InCulture Parent. Furthermore, Max and Zoe listen to Russian radio, Russian children’s music, audio books of fairy-tales, age-appropriate short videos, and my ‘monologues’ which are essentially comments about whatever I do during the day. I find the latter rather challenging as it has never been in my habit to say what I am doing and why. Well, it is now!
I have just started looking for other Russian-speaking parents with children of similar age in our neighbourhood for occasional playdates so that Max and Zoe could hear Russian from other adults addressed to other children. Their attention is immediately gripped when someone else speaks Russian to them.
One of my favourite websites for parents www.babycenter.com offers the following talking timeline for this age:
Birth to 3 months
Makes quiet cooing sounds when pleased. These are typically a single vowel, like ahhhh.
2 to 3 months
Cries differently in different situations. As you get to know your baby, you may be able to distinguish a hunger cry from the cry he makes when he’s tired, for example.
3 to 4 months
Vocalizes mostly vowels, but cooing becomes a little more sophisticated, with more varied sounds.
5 to 6 months
Practices intonation by making her voice rise and fall, often in response to baby talk and your facial expressions.
Red flag: If your child isn’t making vocal sounds by the time she’s 6 months old, talk with her doctor.
7 to 12 months
Begins to babble with greater diversity, making new sound combinations and intonations. Tries to imitate your speech, putting consonants and vowels together (like “bah-BAH-bah” or “dee-dee-dah”). Has pretend conversations with you, taking turns “talking.”