Translating Toddler Speak

I never really expected that “translator” would be a line on my resume. And it probably never will be, truth be told, but only because “toddler” is not an official language. There are just too many dialects. There are probably about as many dialects of toddler as there are toddlers in the world. It’s kind of amazing, and also kind of lucky, that each toddler is paired with a translator at birth.

This part of mothering is so amusing to me. I love to hear other mother’s with their two-year-olds. I hear this: “Ba dodie kal dal boo,” and the mother responds something like this, “I’m sorry, Billy, you just have to wait your turn for the train. Bobby is playing with it right now, but when he’s done, you can have a turn.” I can’t help but think of Lassie (despite having never actually seen it) and how Lassie barks and barks and barks some more, and from that we know that little Timmy has fallen into the well. Or whatever.

This is on my mind, of course, because we’re transitioning out of the stage of communication in which random people ask my pre-speech offspring how old he is and what his name is without ever acknowledging my existence, and moving towards the delightful phase in which I get to be Squish’s translator. It’s quite a treat, and a feat of mental and aural gymnastics, besides.

Among Squish’s linguistic quirks is that he has not yet learned the second syllable of any word at all. This would lead to some confusion, especially considering that several of his favorite things — ball, book, bus, banana, bath — start with the letter “B,” except that he has been blessed with an exceptionally gifted translator who can discern the subtle nuances of his speech. Or maybe just the frantic pointing and signing that accompanies each “ba! ba!” He also has a tendency to mix his signs and words. He may, for example, be signing “milk” even while he says, “di! di!” and I, being an excellent translator, know that he wants a drink, though not necessarily milk. And when we walk down the street and a bus (or several) pass us, and he starts signing “train” as fast as he can, even as he says, “bu! bu!” (everything is an exclamation at this age), I know that he’s really excited about the bus, and not the train. Because I know my toddler’s dialect so very well.

I like this stage. It makes me feel intelligent. It makes me feel like my brain is being well used.

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1 Comment

  1. You just articulated how I’d been feeling as well when I translate for my 2 year old! By the way, great use of the the word aural!


    lizzie Reply:

    It’s fun, isn’t it? And fun, too, that I get to brush up on my vocabulary now and then in this blog. 🙂


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