The active, communicative toddler: wa-was and doggies

Over the last few months our daughter has come along wonderfully, she is outgoing and communicative. I know that most of you, bilingual parents, will be fed up with hearing the same song “don’t worry, your child will be a late talker, because s/he is bilingual, but it’s normal.” Well, guess what, of all the bilingual families I’ve met in the last two years through my daughter’s playgroups and people I knew before, I’ve only really met two children who were “late talkers”. It is debatable if these children were late talkers because they were bilingual, or just because they would have been late talkers anyway. So far, it is difficult to know, as for a proper research you would need twins or maybe a time machine so you could analyse one kid as a monolingual speaker and then go back in time and make the same kid bilingual… It is such a complicated issue, because there are so many factors that would affect a child’s development, like development in pregnancy, diet, illnesses and environment among others. So, sometimes I am really surprised at the ability of people to affirm something so far fetched as “your kid will talk late because he´s bilingual” when they actually don’t really have a clue of what they’re talking about… it is like Chinese whispers, like those damned Chinese whispers apparently based on psychological research that caused that many kids born in the 70s and 80s lost out on their family heritage because well-meaning family and friends decided that learning two languages would be detrimental to their development.

Anyway, coming back to my main point. From my immediate experience of two babies, not a “statistically significant number” I know, unless you are a politician and instead of “2″ babies you say 100% of the sample (which is 2), I can say I haven’t seen any signs of slow development. My daughter and her friend are both bilingual, in the case of my daughter multilingual, both babies achieved the normal milestones of development at the time when most babies do, not sooner, not later. One baby is now 25 months and she actually speaks quite a lot in English at the same level you would expect from any other baby of that age. My daughter is younger, just under 2 years and she is also a good talker using one and two words to convey meaning.

The main thing that I’ve noticed is that at this stage babies will use the easiest word, so for instance if agua is easier than water for them, that’s what they’ll say. I was a bit worried about it at the beginning, but talking to other bilingual mums they assured me that their kids went through the same phase to come out unscathed at the end of it. It may take a while to separate utterances into different languages, possibly until they are 3-4 years old, but hey, isn’t it worth it?

Also, recently my daughter has shown signs that she does recognize some differences in languages. For instance, since she was very little she has said “wa-wa” which is baby talk in Spanish for dog. Although many people don’t agree with “baby talk” I’d rather have her communicating than not saying anything because “perro” is actually a very difficult word to say and she can’t say the “rs” yet. Anyway, I did hear her saying “doggie” once before, but it wasn’t until she got a new DVD for Christmas that she started saying it. It’s Kipper the Dog, a lovely English character with lots of lovely and cute friends. When she wants to watch Kipper she doesn’t say “wa-wa”, she says “doggie”, while any other dog is still “wa-wa”. I’d like to think that it’s because she knows Kipper is an English dog… of course for those set on “scientific” tests and proof, there is nothing I can cut up and put under the microscope, but I will use the oldest scientific method of all, careful observation!


  1. I’ve just discovered your website! I’m Scottish, my partner is French and we’re raising our (now 5 year old) daughter bilingually. I’ve been writing a blog about our progress for the last few years, so I’m looking forward to looking at your website, as I’m sure there will be a lot of similar experiences! Like you, I found there was a period when our daughter used the “easier” word, which had me a bit worried at the time, but one day it all just seemed to click into place and now the only people who mix the languages up are me and my husband! The whole bilingual thing is a lot more hard work for the parents than the children, I’m finding! Jenny

    • Hi Jenny, thanks for your note. It is always interesting to hear opinions from others. What is your blog? it would be interesting to have a look.

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