Communicating with my 16 month nephew Loki (I have recently all but abandoned his name at birth, Liam) is a challenge. He doesn’t seem to understand my attempts to discuss abstract metaphysical issues with him, or even the more concrete banalities of contemporary politics. He is probably experiencing a certain degree of confusion as well since my mother and I speak Norwegian to the child while my father and his father speak to him in English. My sister, Loki’s mother, speaks to him in a mix of English and occasional Norwegian. The baby’s books are also a mix of Norwegian and English language children’s books that we all read to him.
To be honest though, the prospects for a fully bilingual child are not that great. Living in the United States as they do, with a huge majority of those around him speaking English, he may develop decent listening skills and some limited speaking skills in Norwegian, but since my sister is most comfortable speaking in English, this will probably mean that in the long term Loki won’t be growing up in a two language household.
For now, however, he not saying anything at all. I don’t know if he is supposed to be saying anything at 16 months, but even if he is, this is to be expected in a mixed language environment. I apparently didn’t start speaking muddled Norwegian and English until I was two or so.
Loki is, however, communicating. Since two spoken languages were apparently not enough, the parents have been teaching the child simple signs from American Sign Language. I understand that this is the newest trend in the “teach your kids to do tricks” genre, but I have discovered that it has a real practical value with a 16 month old child that does not yet emit anything more than extremely entertaining gurgles.
Here is my brother-in-law Mike’s posting about this. Here is what he says:
I’ve been teaching Liam sign language for the past few months now, and I wanted to keep a record of the signs he’s learned. Here’s what he knows so far: Light Fan More Water Eat Shoe Dog Bath
I think that’s all. I proud of him, and myself as well, this is the sort of thing that I would start and then just give up on, and I almost did, but then he just exploded with all these new signs that, after months and months of practice, finally just started popping out of him.
I was rather skeptical when I read this but since I have come to visit them in the United States, I am pleasantly surprised to see that this child, who otherwise expresses his likes and dislikes by pushing things away, pointing, and screaming is able to give these signs and convey his desires very nicely.
Of course, the child speaks a unique dialect of this small set of ASL, having changed many of the signs somewhat.
I have had a bit of catching up to do to learn his dialect. This morning we were teaching him the word for ‘berry’ so at least I will be able to recognize the newest addition to his gestural vocabulary. Here are some examples of his communication so far:
Situation #1: Loki is crawling up and down the stairs. He looks pooped. He turns around to me, stands still, and begins slapping his cheek and mouth with his hand in very regular motion. I yell to my sister in the kitchen, “Carleen! What does it mean when he…” -“He is telling you he is thirsty.” We get the boy some water.
Situation #2: Loki discovers one of his favorite mechanical devices: a small light plugged into the wall which lights up when things are dark (or when you cover it with your hand). The light is not on, but he recognizes the object for what it is. He stands up, turns around and starts flicking his hand behind his right ear. “Carleen! What does it mean when he…” -“He is giving the signal for ‘light.'” UPDATE: Loki also did this whenever he noticed the lights on the Christmas tree.
Situation #3: Loki is bouncing on the couch next to me while I eat cereal. He stops, walks carefully over to me, looks like he is going to grab my spoon and I give him a stern look to indicate that I don’t want him to grab my spoon. He seems to acknowledge this and then begins to repeatedly and slowly put his clenched fists together. “Carleen! What does it mean when he…” -“He is saying that he is hungry.” We take the boy into the kitchen and feed him. UPDATE: Loki mixes this sign up with the sign for shoe, and thus later in the evening, when he saw one of my shoes, I thought he was hungry.