John Walker's Electronic House

Baby Talk

by on Aug.29, 2008, under The Rest

Today was spent visiting my family in Guildford. My new niece is six weeks old, but today was the first day I’d met her (my sister, her husband and their two kids live in the unreachable wilds of France). She’s remarkably advanced for her early age, holding up her head herself, sitting comfortably with support, and even putting some convincing strength into her legs when stood up. Despite feeling like she weighs about 3lb. All this is ideal for ‘walking’ her across tables as Babyzilla, destroying buildings and passersby.

It was also nephew Wil’s 2nd birthday on Wednesday, which marks that important moment when parents stop this ridiculous nonsense of aging their children in months. That’s fine up to the first year. Then they’re one, then “one and a bit”. “Nearly two” is a lot more practical a description than the confusing, “22 months”. Parents, stop it. Or carry it through. As of Wednesday I’m 370 months old.

More importantly, it’s an opportunity to buy him more toys he doesn’t need to further clutter my sister’s potentially idyllic French cottage. (Idyllic if you like the idea of living 7000 miles from the nearest electrical outlet). One of these toys led to a victory I could never have even dreamed of achieving: I taught him a word.

And that word was “poo”.

Wil’s vocabulary is moving along very quickly now, elaborating from the catch-all phrase that had previously dominated: gogglygog. A word for all occasions, you’ll agree, but social conventions are such that he’s forced to learn other words. While “no” is currently, rather confusingly, not only playing the part of “no”, but also standing in for “yes”, many other words are showing up. Like most boys, he’s not been in any hurry to get with the sensible speech, but the words are pouring in. “Car” is a favourite, accompanied by “BEEP BEEP!” after the recent mistake by his dad of taking him to a banger race where the winning vehicles declared these previously secret car voices. This expands rather extraordinarily when it comes to makes of cars. While the recognised brand names are currently in a sort of half Wil-speak (Citreon is pronounced in the same way as “chicken”, a sort of “clurchen” sound), what’s astonishing is his ability to point to the correct car in his dad’s magazines when asked. “Where’s the Audi, William?” and he’ll scan the page of vehicles and quickly point to the right one. This is no fluke, or trick of a taught page. He can do it in the street too with a stunning number of manufacturers. Geek. Incredible geek.

But back to my victory. One of the toys I bought him was a plastic train that can cause playdough to ooze out of its front end. Front end it may be, but there’s no escaping how much this looks like the train is going for a shit. “Poo!” I declared, excited. “Look William, the train’s doing a poo!” We played for a bit longer, then it was time for lunch, the moment forgotten. Later that afternoon, while having his nappy changed (yeah, he may be able to recognise more makes of car than me, but I can change my own pants after I crap in them), he looked down and proudly declared “Poo!” Then a short while later, when his sister Sarah was having a similarly disgusting nappy change, he pointed down from where I was carrying him and once more correctly identified the contents as “Poo!”


I’ve never taught a kid a word before, and what a place to start. In fact, I don’t think it can get much better than that, so I might retire at this point.

I do, however, have a conviction that we’re all mentally stunting our children’s vocabularies by the way we talk to them. I’m aware of all the studies showing that by making nonsense noises at our babies we begin to teach them how to form basic sounds. But think this through. We say, “Who’s a widdle biddle liddle baby waby then?! Who’s a piddle widdle? Eh? Giggly wiggly piddle widdle!” And what noises do babies make for their earliest attempt at speech? Exactly. Of COURSE that’s the noises they make – it’s all they ever hear! If we’d only speak to our children in eloquent, properly formed sentences at the earliest opportunity, they’d all be chatting normally before they were one, reading and writing by two, and then just imagine the step forward this would be for humanity. We’d finish school by 14, get through university by 18… Look, it’s not hard – I’ve clearly stumbled upon the most important thing humanity has to recognise.

You know, alongside teaching them to point and shout, “POO!”

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