Max is a week shy of 23 months old. As his peers’ vocabulary increases, so does Max’s. His speech is developing at lightning pace.
He’s making some remarkable sentences of 2 -3 words with ease.
Yet very few people around him will actually recognise the huge developments in Max’s language from day to day. Not because they don’t interact with him, but because you have to be fluent in English, Dutch and Hungarian, as well as Max language to decipher what he is saying.
It took my persistent toddler a fair few times of telling me “How fast” and giving me his hand before I recognised he was actually saying “houd vast” (sounds the same but means hold tight in Dutch); and meaning hold my hand.
We will often hear a short sentence with 2 or 3 languages mixed in there.
With a trilingual or multilingual child I’ve found it is important to embrace this muddled language phase and carrying on in your original language is even more vital than ever. By paying attention and deciphering their attempts you are building their confidence in their own language skills.
With Max I will repeat the words in whatever language I recognise him using and then I will repeat the sentence in Hungarian, grammatically correcting any error, but starting with a praise.
Sometimes I find myself repeating Dadonthebrink’s Dutch in Hungarian too, as if to translate; which really isn’t necessary.
I will “read” an English or Dutch book to him in Hungarian.
I reckon my multilingual toddler’s vocabulary is actually up there with most fluent toddlers of his age group. Max’s vocabulary, however, is spread across 3 languages- he will have a preferred language for each word.
A good example is “horse“- first it was “clip clop” from one of his favourite books about a horse galloping with his farm friends on his back.
He then picked up on “ló” the Hungarian for horse using that for a while and then “pard” was in vogue for a few weeks.
He obviously demonstrated his fascination for horses at nursery, because one day he came home with the word “horse” very clearly pronounced. That is most certainly his preferred word to name the four legged animal people ride on for now.
A bit of anthropology
This is a fascinating time in a multilingual toddler’s life, as words can be traced back to certain people or certain environments- there is mum-time, dad-time and nursery-time.
A few days ago I picked up on Max saying “oh dee“, I reinforced “Oh dear!” with an internal smile and knowing that is a phrase that has come from nursery. Then I added “Ajaj!”, something that we’d use in Hungary and we continued playing as any mother and child would.
Last week he saw me coming to pick him up from nursery and was shouting “Anya! Anya!” (mummy in Hungarian) with utter delight. The nursery staff thought he was saying “hiya!“. I explained. Yesterday, as I picked him up he was running to the door shouting “Anya! Anya!” and then turned to the nursery staff and shouted “Mummy! My mummy!“. It made my heart burst with pride!
I love bringing up multilingual children!
I love that with a little extra effort from our side Dadonthebrink and I can give our children the special gifts of another language acquired without too much pain for the children.
Sure there are hurdles, the toddler tantrums can be worse because of the frustrations of not being understood, there is much more discrimination, being subjected to assumptions as I speak Hungarian to my children when out and about; but who cares?!
Why would I deprive my children of a special gift because of narrow-minded people?