Playing with Language - A Sign of Success

My daughter has been doing some amazing stuff recently.  Language is fluid.  It changes every generation and we always use it in new ways.  People just really like to play with it.  We mess up grammar on purpose – “Now you done did it”, change our accent, or make up new words like “ginormous”.  Playing with language is the fun part and it’s also a sure sign that your child is acquiring their new language.

I mentioned in a previous post how Jasmine had been switching out words for songs between Chinese, Turkish, and English and doing it very purposefully.  For more proof that bilingual children are really smart, she has recently started playing with language.  The other day I walked into the living room and she had put her socks on her hands.  Our conversation went like this:

Sock Gloves!

Sock Gloves!

Me:  ” 茉莉, 它们是什么? (Jasmine, what are those?)”

Jasmine:  “手套. (Gloves.)”

Me:  “他们不是手套. (Those aren’t gloves.)”

Jasmine:  “袜子手套! (Sock gloves!)” and then cackling ensues.

Not only is she taking two words and combining them together into a word we’ve never said before, she knows it’s funny and is mixing them on purpose.  Like many parents, we play around all the time calling things by different names to be silly.  Jasmine has started doing the same thing.  She’ll pick something up like a cup and ask, “Is this a dinosaur?”, “Is this a cat?”, “Is this a glove?”.  Each time I’ll say, “No, it isn’t!”.  Then she laughs and gives me the correct answer after a few tries.

When I used to teach children language, I did this all the time as well.  We might take a hat and say, “Put the hat on your foot?”.  The children would pick up the game and, in a few classes, would always be calling out silly places to put the hat.  Once children start doing that, you know they’ve got it.  When others watched my classes, I often got comments on how amazing it was the kids talk so much, but it’s because we were playing and being silly.  More importantly, the children had a voice.  They were using language, but using it in their own way to have fun rather than just repeating some words and structures because the teacher wanted them to.  They had started making the language their own.

In our home language – Chinese – this can be a big challenge for me.  In Chinese, people often play with language by playing with the tones.  A lot of Chinese jokes are based on incorrect tone use for comical effect.  My Chinese isn’t that good yet and I’m focused on keeping the tones right, so that’s something we’ll be working on later, I hope.  But, for now, I’m super happy Jasmine is being silly in the language and feels so comfortable with it that she can create new constructions for her (and my!) own amusement.

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