We were in the car the other day, on our way out to lunch, when we heard the funniest (to me) joke in a long time, being told by Yasminne Cheng on Class 95.
A little boy says to his dad one day, “Dad, where does poo come from?”
The father is a little taken aback that his 5 year old son is already asking difficult questions and thinks for a while about how to respond.
“Well, you know we just ate breakfast?”
“Uh huh!” answers the little boy.
The father continues, “Well, you put food into your mouth and chew and swallow. The food then gets smaller and smaller, and goes down your oesophagus, which is a long tube that goes down into your tummy. Your tummy then mixes up the food and liquid with the digestive juices produced by your tummy. The digestive juices help to break down the food so that your body can process it properly. Then the food comes out of your tummy and goes into your small intestine. The walls of your small intestine are filled with little hairs or fingers that stick out, called villi. The villi take the nutrients from the food into the entire body. After it leaves the small intestine, it travels into the large intestine. The only stuff that’s left over when it goes into the large intestine, is waste. The waste then comes out of your bottom when you go to the loo, and that, is poo!”
The little boy stares at his dad in stunned silence for a few seconds then asks, “And tigger?”
I was really amused by the joke, and couldn’t stop laughing for quite some time, which in turn, made Noah laugh, even though he had no idea what was going on. I love how easily amused this child is!
On a more serious note, I started thinking about how we should talk to babies/toddlers/children, in order to both convey meaning accurately, as well as to teach the language itself. I’ve been reading quite a few articles online about the issue, and even had the privilege of speaking to Fiona Walker, the principal of Julia Gabriel Centre, to get her perspective as well. I’ll be writing in more detail about what I learnt from her, but for now, I’ll highlight one important issue close to my heart: baby talk.
There are many different definitions of ‘baby talk‘, and the most common one would be ‘motherese’, which is talking in a higher pitch, and in a sing-song manner. I’m not a huge fan of ‘motherese’, as I feel as though we are treating the baby as though he’s erm, not very smart (Dad and Buried puts it more bluntly in his post here) and I’d like to believe that he can understand what we’re saying. Thus, I am extremely uncomfortable when people don’t use proper words when they speak to Noah. Words like ‘mum mum’, ‘gai gai’, and ‘pom pom’, used in place of ‘food’, ‘go out’, and ‘bathe’, really, REALLY bug me. The older generation is definitely more prone to using such replacements, and when I ask them to use the proper terms, they sometimes say that I’m being too fussy, and that it won’t affect Noah, as our generation was also raised on these same words, and we have no problems code-switching, or differentiating between the colloquial and proper terms.
One of my daily chats with Noah when he was much younger and had no choice but to sit and listen to me
When I raised this issue during my chat with Fiona, I was relieved to hear that she, too, didn’t approve of using colloquial language. She explained, and I concur, that children speak and learn what they hear. How will they learn the correct terms, if all they hear are the colloquial ones? They will not know any other words, if we don’t use them. A good foundation is important, and it doesn’t make sense to have to re-teach the child the right words when he is older, as it will only serve to confuse him.
As Noah’s primary caregiver, I try to use standard English when I talk to him, although I do lapse into Singlish every now and then. That is something which I will have to work on, especially since I spend so much time with him. I can’t help it if strangers or acquaintances use colloquial terms or Singlish when they talk to Noah, but I think I will try harder to convince the people who spend a good amount of time with him, to be more aware of what they say to him, so that he learns English, rather than Singlish. Yes, Singlish is an integral part of the Singaporean culture and identity, but I think he will have more than enough time and opportunities to learn it later in life, after his foundation in English is built, and he is able to code-switch effectively, according to the situation.
Do you use standard English with your child?
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