English for beginners

Mangling the English language is all part of the learning process ... and can be pretty cute, too.
Mangling the English language is all part of the learning process ... and can be pretty cute, too. 

“When I’m bigger, I’m going to grow a slinge,” my three-year-old proclaimed out of the blue.

“A slinge?” I queried, watching him brush his hand over the front section of his hair.

“Yes, and it will get in my eyes and make me cool.”

So there was the clue. He’s watched his two older brothers grow their hair into horrid Justin-Bieber style dos, forever scraping their fringes on an angle direct into their eyes. I muffled my laughter at his mispronunciation and agreed that a slinge sounded like a marvellous idea.

I cautioned my older boys not to correct his “slinge”. I want to enjoy his quirky words. He will eventually assimilate into mainstream language and pronounce words as they were intended, but for the meantime, I want to rejoice in his individual interpretation. Just as I did for all our toddlers.

I love the way children learn language. It starts when they are babies and we point out every object known to man, labelling it for them. Their version often sounds nothing like the original but we are excited all the same. We read countless books and sing nursery rhymes over and over (curse you “Row Your Boat” - I am well and truly ready to sink that song), to have language swimming around our children’s heads.

If you grow up as a younger sibling in our house, you have the older siblings mercilessly demanding language from you. My gorgeous “slinge” boy spoke quite early, and I attribute this to his brothers paying him absolutely no attention unless he articulated what he wanted.

“Spoon? You want the spoon? Say spoon. Spooooooooooonnnnnnnnnn. Say it and I’ll pass it,” an older brother would insist.

The younger sibling would finally form the word and blow it out his mouth ... only for his brother to add, “Now say please. Puhleeese!”

Cruel, perhaps, but as a result he learnt to speak quickly.

Naturally, all children learn at different rates, as is the case with anything developmental. Experts talk of word spurts between 18–24 months, where the drought often seems like it has broken and the words start pouring out. Some children are more reserved in their speech, taking a little longer to enunciate. Some get what they need without having to use words, focusing on gestures instead (or, if my 16-month-old is any indication, screaming!).

Once they do learn to speak, there are inevitable mispronunciations that usually have us perplexed or in fits of laughter.

My husband loves the toddler-slaughtering of the English language, revelling in talking to the older children using toddler words. “OK kids, who wants to eat yunch in the youngeroom?” “Everyone! Get your jocks and jews (socks and shoes) on!” As expected, they roll their eyes and huff.

We’ve had an assortment of altered words, from “helidatdoos” (helicopters) to “jire engines” (fire engines), "fingersnails" and "towches" (couches). And a bedtime kiss wouldn't be complete without a “sceezy cuggle” (squeezy cuddle).

All too soon kids learn to speak fluently. Embrace the cute mispronunciations, because before long they develop a new vocabulary - one I call "TwitFace Talk". Just as I had to adjust my translations for toddlers, as we enter tweenhood I'll have to lose the blank stare when a child calls something “phat” and then "LOL" as I pretend to know what they’re talking about.

What are some of the funny mispronunciations your children have come up with? Comment in the Essential Baby forums.

If you grow up as a younger sibling, you have the older siblings mercilessly demanding language from you