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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Subsequent children learn to talk later? Not too sure about that.

Ute of Expat Since Birth wrote a beautiful, informative post on how siblings chose their favourite languages, depending on birth order, number of children and other aspects. I’ve been thinking about this very topic for a while and now I think it’s a great time to write my thoughts down.

I’ve always heard that subsequent children learn to talk later than firstborns. The reason for this is that siblings don’t get the full, intensive one-on-one attention that singletons get. The theory says that when children hear parents talking to each other, they will ignore it and only talk when spoken to directly. This has not really been my experience so far. I think that subsequent children might learn even faster because the parents have more experience and know how to talk to a baby. Also, with a toddler around, the baby is surrounded by language, and even if she doesn’t understand it, she still absorbs it. 

My experience shows that a child has to be interested in learning to speak. With Klara, I knew that I had to talk a lot with her. I have read all the books and they stated that the more I talked, the earlier and the better she would talk, and that I should start really soon or else I’ll miss the perfect moment for speech development. And so I tried, and I tried and I tried. But soon I was exhausted by repeating: “and this is Klara, and this is mama, and this is this and this is that”, all over and over again. I got tired by telling her about my day, explaining what I was doing. I wanted my peace and quiet, and it seemed to me that she just wasn’t interested in this at that point. 

Children learn in spurts, so when I saw a progress in her speech development, I jumped at the opportunity and then talked more until she was ready to turn to other activities, like running, jumping. So yes, I could have and I should have talked more, but I desperately needed my quiet. Now, however, we are at a point, where we can have a real conversation, and I can’t even tell you how much joy that is. I love that she asks thousands of questions, and wants to know everything about everything and everyone. And the more she asks, the more I can tell her, the more progress she makes. I feel we’re catching up, and finally her speech exploded, just the way they said in the books. As for her multilingualism, she has phases where she prefers German and sometimes she prefers Polish. Her Dutch is not as strong yet, but that’s OK. She will catch up eventually.

I expected Julia to start talking later, but imagine my surprise when I heard her saying “mama” at 10 months. She also said a couple of other words: “Klara”, “Julia”, “papa”, “lampa” (lamp). But then, it was all gone, as if she regressed to a babbling stage. Julia wasn’t walking, and I knew that children either learn to talk or to walk, but not at the same time. And a month later, Julia wasn’t walking, and she still wasn’t talking. We have started physical therapy, and soon we had progress. Once she completed a stage in her walking development, she also tried to talk more, but again regressed when she was trying to learn to walk. But now she has mastered that skill as well. She still has to hold on to something, but she walks well and soon she’ll be able to do it all on her own. And, her vocabulary exploded. She can say: “Oma”, “Opa”, “ryby” (fish in Polish), “noch mehr” (“more” in German), “hallo”, and “pa pa” (which means bye bye in Polish). Yesterday she responded with: “Hello, mama” to my: “Hello, Julia!”- but I guess the two-words sentences will have to wait until she figures out how to walk all by herself because she didn’t repeat that. She doesn’t have a favourite language yet.

I wrote this post for two reasons: first, it will give you an idea how differently children can develop. And then, there might be other aspects affecting speech development that are independent of birth order. Then, I did it for me. To remember that whenever I get frustrated because my children don’t do this or that yet, sometimes the best thing you can do is to is to encourage rather than push, and then have tons and tons of patience. 

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  1. I also though that my second child would talk later. She had no interest in sitting down and reading books and consequently I spent less time building up the language building blocks with her than I did with my first. However, I think that she is going faster than my first did! She took a bit longer to get started, but we are already getting two and three word phrases and she is only 20 months old. Yesterday, she sang a recognizable version of "Happy birthday to you" to my mom for her birthday. What has been interesting is that she has spent more time with my husband (he always feeds her dinner) and thus most of the food-related words are in Italian rather than English or Dutch.

    It is true that every child takes their own journey - and sometimes the detours (or lack thereof) can surprise us!

    1. Yes, that's my point exactly! I was also thinking about you when I wrote this post, because your experience was similar to mine. Besides, what G. is doing is like magic- so amazing! And, the fact that she knows a lot of Italian might motivate your husband to speak it more because he sees that it works, and maybe he'll start to speak it more and more, also to A.Julia is also trying to sing, but I can see how her delay in motoric skills gets in the way of her speaking. She is very social, but she has to concentrate hard on learning to walk and it might seem as if she can't speak yet, which is not the case at all. So this is why therapy was a good idea as it helps both her motoric skills and her speech- it's all related.

  2. Although I'd been warned that my second child might talk later, I didn't really notice any difference. He picked up baby sign a bit more slowly perhaps, but then I wasn't signing as much with him due to the demands of having a toddler around. Talking seemed to go about the same. Interestingly, though, they each have quite different vocab and make different mistakes!

    1. Yes, the theory says that subsequent children start talking later (and also twins), but I am not sure how many parents can actually confirm it. And yes, just like you say, there are the many differences between the children's individual characters. Even though Julia has just started talking, I already see how differently she handles language. A friend of mine who has twins noticed an interesting thing, and said to me: "One of them speaks more, but the other one speaks better". So maybe, less or later doesn't necessarily mean "bad"? I'll raise this point at Eowyn's workshop in a few days and will let you know!


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