On the Verge

English: Cowslips in the verge

Cowslips in the verge (Photo: Wikipedia)

As a learner of a foreign language I sometimes get this feeling that I am about to make a breakthrough.  After lots of struggle without really improving my language, I can occasionally feel as if I am on the verge of figuring something out, or performing better in my adopted language.  I am not sure if this feeling really does presage an improvement in my language or is in fact the result of an improvement in my knowledge that has already taken place.  Whatever the reason, it seems to be real to me.

I am having the same feeling now, but with regards to Thomas’ language development.  In the last week or so he hasn’t started producing any new words, or improved his pronunciation.  Instead, he seems to be using the words that he does have much more readily and in what seems to be a more ‘real’ way.

We can now have conversations with him when he will answer immediately, so long as these conversations are about cars or people that he knows.  He came home today and I asked him ‘Where have you been?’ and he immediately replied ‘Vovô.’  He puts together a string of natural sounding speech that, when you listen carefully to it, is actually comprised of just three words.  If you weren’t really paying attention, though, you would swear that he was having a deep and meaningful conversation with himself.

He is also integrating his signs with his speech.  As he is using his limited vocabulary he is always doing things with his hands or his body to help him get his message across.  He used signs in the past, but they never seemed to be so integrated with his own language.  We never set out to teach him any signs, but he has developed his own so easily and quickly I think that if ever we were to have another child this is something I would definitely look into.

In short, what I think I am trying to say is that Thomas seems a lot more fluent now, even if he still has limited vocabulary: he seems to be  consciously trying to communicate what he wants.  I am hoping that this means that as and when he learns new words, phrases and structures, he will be ready to use them.  It will be interesting to see how our trip to the UK will affect this, whether it will give him a boost in English or whether it will slow him down a bit as he gets used to not hearing Portuguese.

Related Articles

Milestones and Regrets on Teaching my Son a Second Language – discoveringtheworldthroughmysonseyes.blogspot.com

Baby Sign Language – julomanus.wordpress.com

Edit 17.05.2013, 08:30

Thanks to Damian Williams from Tailor Made English who pointed out this excellent article from Scott Thornbury called ‘T is for Turning Point‘.  Scott Thornbury writes ‘An A-Z of ELT‘ which is a must read blog for anybody interested in teaching English and language learning in general.  I don’t know how I missed this article because it is totally relevant to what I was writing about.


10 thoughts on “On the Verge

  1. I, too, feel like my learning is done in stops and starts, hills and valleys. I’ve noticed the same thing with my daughter in both English and French – she’ll seem to plateau, then suddenly she’ll make a huge leap in using her language. It’s made me want to return to school just to study linguistics and language acquisition. Fascinating stuff!

    • Linguistics really is facinating. I studied it, but there is nothing better than watching a kid put it all into action.

      The aricle I linked to at the bottom of my piece talks abouthow lots of learners experience a similar thing of non-linear language performace. Unfortunately there has been very little study of it because it is so haphazard.

  2. Perhaps he is just more confident that what language and signs that he does have are now understood by those around him

    • You could be on to somehting there. He might be realising more and more that when he communicates he gets what he wants (most of the time), and this encourages him to communicate more.

  3. Sounds fascinating. I’m finding it interesting enough watching our son work his way around his first few words, he’s 19 months old and has only really been talking for the past 4 months or so. And even at this stage I think you can see sudden bursts of progress.

    • My son is about 2 months older than yours, so we are probably seeing the same sort of stuff. It is completely fascinating watching him experimenting with language and suddenly figure something out.

  4. It’s so exciting when they make these small leaps forward. I have to say signs really saved us and I have no regrets using them and wish I had actually spent more time maintaining them. Good luck and look forward to reading more!


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