My youngest daughter has had difficulty with speech. When she was born she had a lot of medical needs and couldn’t even drink milk regularly. As a result the muscles that develop in the mouth from sucking were weak; at ten months we were wrapping muslins round her little neck and she’d have about half of the the milk in an 8oz bottle, the rest ending up in the muslin. As she hadn’t been drinking regularly it took a long time to also diagnose her with reflux, so for her consuming nourishment was associated with pain.
When children are delayed for whatever reason in their eating milestones the subsequent lack of muscle formation also effects their speech. We worried about this moving to France as, having been a teacher and read about the common three month delay on children with a second language, it concerned us that she would again face another stumbling block. However we knew too that she evidently understood language and was communicating to us using signs so we thought the risk was limited.
Once living in France she was naturally taking in lots of new information and the few sounds she’d had in the U.K. seemed to disappear. For example she can say hello quite clearly (“ewow”) and had started to say a “b” sound for goodbye, but the b sound went, although we often heard the hello. Although I’d joked to my mum that if she’d started speaking French I may not recognise the words, as time went on I grew more concerned.
Then one day we were in the supermarket and we were about to leave she was waving wildly and making a “awaw” sound. She’d done the same thing the day before waving goodbye to my mum and I’d been reminded of her step back from the b of bye bye sound, so had been a little saddened by it. However the cashier looked delighted, saying back to her “au revoir”. This time though something about the cashiers reaction and La Petites intent whilst saying it made something click as I observed; it was au revoir. Her first French word! My humorous observation was accurate; when you are unused to a language you don’t pick up the similarity.
I immediately phoned Le Marie to tell him as well as my mum. Then over the weeks I started to doubt what I thought was happening was actually happening. Was it just wishful thinking? But over time a ‘v’ sound has been added to her “awaw”. On the day she first started to use this new, more precise, pronunciation there was obvious surprise and delight on French people’s faces as they recognised their tongue from the mouth of an English woman’s infant, so it became clear that it wasn’t just me, she was saying a French word.
In the last few weeks her ability to verbally communicate has developed significantly. She can now say about 20 recognisable words and is starting to add 2 or 3 words together. It finally looks like the second language gap is closing!
Our next stage is to organise a crèche for her, but that’s a story for another post as developing social networks for our toddler is proving far more complicated than I thought.