Speech development of an 18-month-old bilingual child: number of actively used words

WHAT SPEEDS UP THE SPEECH DEVELOPMENT

In the first place, I would like to do a roundup of all the information on stimulation of speech development in babies to be found online. Various Internet sources claim that you can speed up the speech development of your baby if:

– you just talk to your baby (when your baby doesn’t speak, monologues are fine),

– you talk with your child (as soon as first words have appeared); in a situation when your child understands but can’t answer, answering for him or her is advisable, 

– you present flashcards with words or illustrations (there must be something in it because I know that my hairdresser’s son couldn’t speak until the age of 3 and he started speaking after attending sessions with a speech therapist during which they had been using such cards; besides my Maja often starts using new words soon after seeing these words on the cards)

– you read a lot to your baby (you can start at birth), 

– mum continues breastfeeding as long as possible (apparently, when breastfeeding your baby uses the same muscles which are later on used for speaking; a breastfed baby is more prepared to speak because these muscles get enough training),

– you listen to music with your baby (I was really surprised reading about this but I decided to mention it here as a curiosity which I had found). 

DOES IT WORK – STATISTIC VS ACTUAL SPEECH DEVELOPMENT OF MY CHILD 

We do all the above and I believe it really works. Read this post to the very end and you will see for yourself. It’s a pity, though, I can’t tell for sure which of the above-mention things has the most influence on our little Maja’s speech. I think her speech development is affected by all of them. 

Despite the fact that I have read somewhere that watching television does not support speech development, I do not reject it altogether. In my opinion, if reasonably used and limited it can have a positive influence on our babies’ speech. When, in the middle of the night Maja says “Grrr….dinosaur” it is for sure not because of me teaching her English. She learnt it from “Peppa Pig” – a popular cartoon for kids which she watches in English only.  

If we are to believe various statistics, a bilingual child starts speaking in his or her 20th month of life which is a bit later than monolingual kids. However, I could read here and there that bilingualism does not delay speech development in kids in any way. Kids differ and it depends completely on each of them when she or he starts speaking. Seeing what is happening in our case, I support those voices which claim that it does not really matter if a child has to acquire one or two languages as far as first words and sentences are concerned. What is your experience or opinion about this?

According to various Internet sources describing the speech development and the use of words of 18-month monolingual babies, most of them speak a dozen words. Two words are the minimum at this age. Moreover, a lot of sources, including this Kids Health refer to the period between 1 year and 2 years as the period of words. We can talk of first sentences when our child is 2 years old or older. Quoting Aneta Czerska – the author of a method Cudowne Dziecko (Brilliant Child) which is available in Poland only but which is just another modification of the Doman’s method: “At the age of 18 months a baby used 10-25 words and two-word phrases. Up to the age of 3, he or she will speak using 2000 words.” 

Did Doman spead it up so much? I had already had the opportunity to hear Maja’s first awkward sentences.  Since then, I have been counting all the words, phrases and sentences which Maja has used on her own initiative. I have collected a staggering number of them both in English and in Polish. It is also worth mentioning that my baby conjugates chosen words. Conjugation is one of the characteristics of a Polish language. I have analyzed the whole list and from now on I stop noting down every word because soon I will not be able to catch up. It’s high time I stopped running with a pen and a paper all day. 

COUNTING THE WORDS USED BY MY BABY- THE RULES I STUCK TO

While noting down all the words my baby used I always stuck to the rule which I already mentioned in the article summing up my daughter’s speech development at 17 months. I  decided to write down only the words she used on her own initiative. My baby is eager to repeat everything she hears. She often repeats even quite difficult words clearly enoough for me to understand. Just to give you some examples from the last few days: charger, Szymon (the name of one of my students), małpka (monkey), piesek (doggy), pralka (washing machine). She sometimes uses the shortening strategy and instead of saying “do widzenia” (goodbye), she says just the ending “dzenia.” From time to time I struggle to understand her because, for example “grapes” she pronounces in a way which makes it sound more like the Polish word “pieprz” (pepper).

I never write down the words repeated after somebody else. If they are just repeated and not really used by her I assume she doesn’t really know them. In a situation when we talk about something completely different and she says something out of the blue, I immediately make a note of a word or expression she knows because she can really use it on her own without any encouragement on our part. While counting the words, if it happened she used two versions of the same word, I counted it as one e.g. “but” (shoe) and its plural version “buty” (shoes). 

ENGLISH SINCE BIRTH WITH POLISH SURROUNDINGS – HOW MANY WORDS DOES A BILINGUAL CHILD KNOWS AT 18 MONTHS 

Single words used in a number of situations, without repeating after somebody else

Maja uses 101 words in English on her own initiative:

– she pronounces 94 words correctly enough, 

– she shortens 4 words e.g. instead of saying “delicious” she says „licious” and in the case of some others she drops the ending e.g. close(d) or her pronunciation is quite strange like “grapes” sounding like a Polish word for pepper (pieprz). 

Maja uses 117 words in Polish on her own initiative:

– she pronounces 91 words in a quite correct manner or with a slightly different sound than occurs in a given word,

– in case of 5 words she drops a chosen letter (usually the first one) e.g. “(I) dziemy.” (“We’re going.”)

– in case of the remaining 22 words she simplifies them or says just the ending or the beginning e.g. “kami” for “kamyk” (pebble). Only in case of the word “wujek” (uncle) she invented something completely different which is “lolek.” She sometimes says “ujek,” too. Fortunately, the form “uciu” which was introduced by my mum has not been accepted. It doesn’t existin our language. 

Moreover, Maja declines 6 nouns e.g. tata, tato, tatuś (3 forms of dad/ daddy) and 7 verbs e.g. “patrzy,” “patrzysz,” “patrzy” (3 forms of look/looks) and one adjective  “ła(d)nie”/ “ła(d)ne” (2 forms of nice/ pretty).

As you can see the Polish language dominates and it is something to be expected. However, I was positively surprised that it doesn’t dominate so much as far active vocabulary is concerned. To tell you the truth, the mere fact that Maja uses actively 218 words at the age of 18 months is a shock. I am amazed at this number as I know she understands much more than she can say. 

Two-word expressions:

The Polish language visibly dominates here. Among 9 two-word expressions Maja uses, there are only 2 in English.  

Sentences:

I have noticed that the more advanced structures she uses, the more Polish dominates. There are 48 sentences Maja created on her own initiative. Among them, there are only 2 in the English language. For comparison, in Polish there are as many as 32. In the remaining 14 Maja mixed two languages e.g. “Rabbit siedzi.” (“Rabbit is sitting.”)

Because this entry is a bit longer than I have planned, I will present the complete list of all words, expressions and sentences which I have colected so far in the next one. There was a number of funny situations and I will comment on those. 

I realise that my baby uses even more words, expressions and sentences that I have managed to write down. I don’t make notes when I am at work. My husband sometimes shares something with me but probably not everything. Most of my notes have been taken during my quality time with Maja. 

HOW DO I ENCOURAGE MY BABY TO SPEAK ENGLISH – THE MINORITY LANGUAGE

Bear in mind that I do not follow any research writing this. All is based on my intuition and experience. Maybe it is not the best option but every time Maja asks for something in English, she gets it whenever possible. For example, quite recently she asked for a bath and a minute later I was carrying her to the bathroom although it wasn’t a bath time.  

If I ask her a question and she says „tak” or „nie” (“yes” and “no” in the Polish language) I immediately say: „say yes” or „say no.” After a week of me doing this, she started answering:  „tak, yes,” „nie, no” exactly in the way I have written it with the Polish version first. 

It made me laugh when she tried to say “nie” to my mum and when she didn’t succeed, she tried with the English “no.” My mum doesn’t speak English at all. Recently she says just “yes” or “no” more and more often. Similarly, when she pulls my hand when she wants to go out saying “(I)dziemy.” (“Let’s go.”) and I ask her: “Say: come on.” she repeats it. Actually, she started saying “come on” on her own.

When I take care of her, I try to translate every Polish word she says into English. I also encourage her to repeat the English version. I noticed that she uses the word “moon” in my presence more often and when she spends time with her dad she says “księżyc” (pronounced in a funny way: “cienżyc.”) I am sure she has already started to distinguish between the languages. It’s the same with words like “eye” or “rabbit. 

It happens that I ask about something in English e.g. “Where’s …” and she translates it to her gandma saying “Gdzie jest …” However, this language awareness doesn’t interfere with her saying “more” to her grandpa who doesn’t speak English.

Quite recently we have had a funny situation with this. Grandpa heard this “more” as “moo” and he couldn’t figure out what she meant. He would have never guessed but for my sister. She heard it and explained to him that it’s not “moo” but “more” and that Maja just wanted something more to eat.

If she knows a word only in one language or it is just easier to say a particular language version she tends to mix Polish and English when speaking. When daddy asked her what she was eating, she replied in English: “carrot.” In this particular case the Polish word “marchewka” is too difficult for her. 

ENGLISH VS POLISH QUALITY TIME

I spent most time with Maja for the first 17 months of her life. It means she had more contact with the English language than with the Polish language. Only when I was attending courses abroad or during the time I and my husband had a week away in Austria she was surrounded with Polish only. Such situations lasted from one week to two weeks. However, like I mentioned in the article summarizing her speech development between 15 and 17 monthShe remembered everything she had learnt before altough that particular break was quite long. I had the impression she was encouraged to speak English more by my arrival. She started calling me “mummy” instead of “mama,” which sounded too Polish for my ears. 

I was back at work when Maja was 14,5 months old. However, it was almost the end of June and I am a teacher. This meant only two weeks at work and holidays. Since September I have been working for good and I spend only 30 hours weekly with my baby. This gives 4 hours daily on average. 

Because of my profession, we spend much more time together during all sorts of holidays (winter holidays, summer holidays etc.). When I am not around Maja spends her time mainly with Polish-speaking men: with my husband and with my father and with one of her grannies who don’t speak English at all. I think my 4 hours daily with her do not seem so little when we think about the fact that on average she sleeps 3 hours during the day. 

I have read somewhere that 30 minutes with a language is enough to have satisfactory results with little ones. So far, Maja enriched her vocabulary the most in September which was the month when she had less contact with English than before. 

Have you found my experience useful? If yes, share with others.  I am really curious how you support your baby’s speech development and how you are doing. I would be really delighted if you leave a comment and share your experience and ideas. 

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I have created a Facebook group for parents doing Doman as I haven’t found any. This is just the beginning but I hope there will be more and more of us soon and that we will share our experience with one another.

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