You’ve got so many different roles when you’re a parent – chief protector, feeder, and general dogsbody. But once your baby starts to talk, one of your most important roles is as their personal translator. You may not understand everything they say, but you’ll understand a great deal more than other people will. When your one year old points and says ‘ta’ are they asking you for something, or pointing to the car on the street outside? You’ll know, and you can reinforce them by saying ‘Oh you want the ball’ or ‘Yes, that’s Grandad’s car’, whichever is appropriate. And when your child is older and starting to say a lot, you’ll still need to be their translator. A four year old can say so much, and when they’re excited they tend to talk very quickly, so again you’ll need to translate what they say for other people.
Here are five quick tips for translating what your baby is saying:
- Talk to them – they need to hear you talking so they have a good model for their own speech.
- Repeat what they say – your baby says ‘bo’, you say ‘oh, you want your bottle’.
- Watch what they’re looking at – if you don’t know what they’re looking at, it’s almost impossible to understand what they’re trying to say.
- Other people who see a lot of your baby can often be a translator as well as you.
- Don’t worry when they’re hard to understand – they’re just learning!
- Talk about what you’ve done together, then you’ve got an idea what they’re talking about.
- Say back to them what you think they said – they’ll quickly correct you if you’ve got it wrong.
- Don’t correct their pronunciation, but do repeat back what they said with the correct pronunciation.
- It’s OK to ask them to repeat what they said more slowly.
- Ask where, what, who questions to clarify what theyʼre talkinɡ about, but why questions are a lot harder to answer so avoid asking why until they’re about four.
By about four your child will be understood by most people most of the time, so long as they’re not too excited. That’s when your role as an expert in translation will still be vitally important.
Margaret Maclagan and Anne Buckley are the authors of Talking Baby: helping your child discover language.