When is a word really a word?

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My kids are trying to talk.  Well, in truth, they’re talking up a storm.  Just not in any language that I know.  They use lots of different consonants, vowels, intonations, and volumes.  They mimic sounds that I make, and seem to understand some of the things I say (especially if they involve food).  But when I look at the books that say they should have “a few words besides mama and dada”…  um…. Shoot.  I’m not even sure they have mama and dada.  Oh sure, they can say mama and dada.  But do they mean me and M when they say it?  Questionable.

Of all the things we moms worry about, language development might be the most common one I hear amongst my MOT friends.  There’s certainly literature out there about twins often being a bit delayed in that area.  Maybe we’re more sensitive to the issue because it’s already “out there,” or maybe it’s just that noticeable in our own kids.

Plus, I think that what I heard about “first words” made it seem as though suddenly, out of the blue, these clear words would just ring out from my kids’ mouths.  Needless to say, that has not been the case.  I’m pretty sure my daughter’s first word was “cracker,” but I’ll be damned if I can get her to say it again.  Now, I’m amazed at how many words in her world start with “d.”  Everything is a variation of da-da.  Dog: “gah-dah.”  Daddy: “dah-dah” (maybe).  Daniel: “dah-doh” (sort of).  Her version of “dog” is probably the most consistent thing she says.  But it so much less clear-cut than I imagined it would be.  I really thought I’d easily be able to say “aha!  That’s a word!  She’s saying ‘dog’!”  But no.  The lines are a lot fuzzier.  You catch things that sound an awful lot like a particular word, but it’s fleeting and you have no idea if that’s what she meant, or if it was just a coincidence of sound.

I don’t necessarily think my kids are significantly delayed.  I think they’re experimenting with lots of sounds and they’ll get there.  I’ll ask the pediatrician when we see her in November.  But, as in all things parenting, nothing is nearly as clear as we’d like it to be.

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9 thoughts on “When is a word really a word?”

  1. Our ped said it counted as a word if it was either a word or a sound that was used reliably to imply a word. Meaning if they say “ga-dah” every time for dog, then it counts as “dog.”

    There’s one exception that we did not learn until we were at the point of discussing losing words. Words used in conjunction with sign language do not count. For example, Alex would sign “all done” and say “ah dun” because that’s what we did. But he was mimicking us and never said “ah dun” at any other time. We were freaking when he stopped saying “ah dun” when he signed it, but we stopped too. The ped said Alex thought it was part of the sign. He didn’t really start saying all done until much, much later.

    Language was/is one of the most maddening things around here, because Nate is so clearly advanced. We’re always worried about Alex. Even now, we worry that he doesn’t enunciate enough. Or conjugate verbs. Or use prepositions and conjunctions. All things Nate does!

    “First word” is the only thing I didn’t fill out in the baby book because I genuinely don’t know the very first time they said something!!

  2. Our girls are 2.2 years, and we get to see a speech therapist because they were preemies. We love her, and one of the things she said a long time ago that still sticks with me, was “you as parents, are the meaning makers.” If you think your kids are saying some form of Daddy, then go crazy when they do, and attach your assumed meaning to it. Even if it sounds like daga or whatever, say “Daddy! You said Daddy! Yes, that IS Daddy sitting over there!” Sooner than you think, they will really start to know/say the word AND the meaning. It made sense to me.

  3. Ah, you know how I feel about this issue. Let the crazy-making begin. Seriously, I think my guys will go to Kindergarden with only “kitty” and “more”.

    I loved Danielle’s feedback—what a great way to encourage speech!!! And so much more fun than MORE freaking animal sounds. I really do not think I can bark or moo any more this week.

  4. I could have written this post as well. I know that the boys are behind where their older sister was at this same age. I have (until now) figured “oh they’re multiples” and even “oh they’re boys” but as we approach the 15 month check-up, I’ve added “vocabulary” to my list of questions for the pedi. They just don’t seem interested at all. They understand perfectly well. And they, like your kids, are using all sorts of sounds and intonations. There is just simply nothing coming from their mouths that we understand on a regular basis. I’m glad we’re not alone!

  5. My girls are 2.2 and they have several words (each), but believe you me, no one other than me can understand them. And that’s mostly on the basis of intonation not actual vowel/consonant sounds. But their first word was “aippy” for aeroplane (because we live so close to the airport) and I knew they meant it, because they would point. They did not really mean me when they said mama until much later.

  6. my friend with a singleton just had her ped tell her that zac should have 30-40 clear words by 2. he turns 2 next month and he has a lot less than that. it scored her a referral to the SLP and some worry time. but here is the thing…i know zac really well, he is smart, able to comprehend everything and just very selective about who he ‘talks’ to. i told her to take the SLP and not to worry too much. hey, pretty sure all the kids are going to be talking well by college, along with sleeping through the night (if they sleep) and weaned from the bottle or sucking on dots. i have a lot of fun trying to decipher their current conversations. and we do the same as danielle, lots of repetition with use of the proper pronunciation and excitement. it really does work, all the reinforcement.

  7. I wonder how peds feel about signing. We have started to sign with the babies (11 months) and it works great so far. They can do eat, up and more. We are still working on milk.

  8. We did speech therapy for a speech delay for my DS, when he turned 2, he had about 10 words. When we started speech therapy, we were encouraged to do signs with him, even starting then. We had a great experience with the SLP, and after about 8 months, he no longer qualifies for EI services. Now our twins are 10 months and we are just starting to do signs (they don’t know any of them yet though).

  9. I am an SLP…its really not so bad if your child has to see one of us. I always tell parents that it is best to have early intervention than to wait because it gets harder and takes longer for kids to be “cured” the older they are when it starts. Most states have free early intervention services and the SLPs often come to your house. More than likely if you start early with speech therapy your child will learn and grow so quickly they may not require the service for long. Also, early intervention is so much about parent education as well as child education. I think if kids are comprehending language that is a great milestone and many late talkers go on to be extremely verbose.

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