Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My Theory: Why Kaya speaks more English than German

I have been noticing that Kaya has a lot more words, or beginning of words, that she says in English than she does in German, which I have been thinking is a bit strange since she is with me all day long, and her English-speaking Dada on the weeknights and for only a couple hours each night. I've addressed this briefly in a recent post, which is why this may sound familiar, but I put more thought into it tonight and wanted to sound my thoughts.

I find myself worrying at times that perhaps "she isn't going to pick up the German" like I hope. Fortunately, however, I have my teaching and linguistic background on my side, so here's my theory (it may even be more than that outside of my head, but I haven't read anything on this yet, and am actually now very motivated to do some research on it!):

At this point, Kaya has "mastered" the following consonants: B, M and D, N, L. She has said a "V" once, a month or so back. If you're a linguist, it may be obvious to you as to why I grouped the letters above the way I did. If you're not, though, you could figure it out pretty easily:

B and M are both made by closing one's lips and vibrating one's vocal chords.

D and N and L are created by putting the tongue behind one's teeth and vocalizing.

All the other consonants letters of the Roman alphabet are formed in ways other than that (go ahead and check--I'll wait...).

(On a side note, I am guessing that it won't be too much longer until she learns words with P and T, as they are formed with the tongue in the same position as the other groups, but with puffs of air instead of vocalizations--wanna place any bets with me?)

As you may or may not know, Kaya forms a variety of words with the above letters:

B and M: mama, "beh" (her newest term for book), "ba" (ball/Ball), "baba" (bottle/Flasche), mehr (more), "moh" (mond/mood), baer (bear), "buh" (book/Buch), "bau" (Baum/tree)

D, N, and L: Dada, Nana (LOVES that word and concept!), nenenene (uh-uh in German), "dah" (Dog/Hund), "duh" (duck/Ente), "lai" (light/Licht)

Ok, so here's my theory:

I think there are more everyday words in English that start with those 5 (B, M, D, N, L) letters, than there are in German.

If Kaya hears a word in both languages, she will default to saying the one with the sounds that she is already capable of producing. I'll spell out my observation a bit:

Mama: same in both languages.
Ba (Ball): same in both languages, can't yet combine two different syllables, so she can't add the "l" end on yet
Baba (bottle/Flasche): Can't say an "F" yet, so goes with the "b" from bottle
mehr (more): her first german word--one consonant, one vowel sound. In German, the "R" at the end of the word is more of an "aye-ah" sound--vowel sounds. "More" has TWO sounds, which she can't combine yet.
"moh" (Mond/moon), baer (bear), "buh" (book/Buch): same theory as with mehr above
"bau" (Baum/tree): can't yet say T or R or EE. =)

Because I'm having so much fun with this (no wonder I majored in German and Spanish!), I'll keep going:

Dada: we were going to go with the German term Papa (though now that seems silly from a language standpoint), but as you might expect, Dada came first, so that's what's stuck!
Nana: coincidence. =) It's what my mom wanted to be called. She picked a good word with nice, easy consonants! (unlike Grandma or any other G derivative)
nenenene: she doesn't hear this much, except mirrored back to here when she says it, or when I react quickly and don't want her to so something. She doesn't hear the word "no" much, so no big surprise that she's saying this one instead.
"dah" (Dog/Hund): No "h" yet
"duh" (duck/Ente): no words starting with vowels yet
"lai" (light/Licht): doesn't have the soft "i" sound in English yet, or the "cht" in German yet, nor the ability to combine the multiple syllables

To anyone who hasn't experienced Kaya, or doesn't know what a linguistic nerd I am, these may all sound like very good justifications to make myself feel better about her speaking more English words than German ones right now.

But the process itself has actually been really fun for me. I LOVED my German pronunciation class in college, but had no idea it would come in so handy while raising my child! It's also exciting to be learning about phonics and such through experience. Being a middle and high school teacher, I've never officially taught anyone to read. And never put so much thought into it before this, either.

Nothing like having a baby to get you to think in ways you never have...

Bets are on? T or P? Or a repeat performance of the V?

*oh my gosh! After talking to Geoff about this, and him placing his bets on the "P" because he worked with her on the word PEAR last night a lot, I remembered that she actually said "Peh" (Pear) today, while I was giving it to her! I was SO shocked at the time that she said that instead of the German equivalent (Birne), that I must have blocked out the progress! =) Now, however, it's clear to me (and surely to you, too, if you've followed me thus far): Birne has a sound "EER" that she can't say yet, and more than one consonant, unlike her version of "peh"! =) YAY. I love this! Now that I'm thinking in terms of "p", I also remember that she said "Pah" today for Park/Park!!


  1. ¡Bravo Tamara!
    You insight and linguistic observations are right-on and fascinating! You really know your stuff! Thanks so much for sharing this with us! My daughter, who will be 13 months on March 2, also is producing the same sounds as Kaya, and as you know from reading my blog, lamothertongue.blogspot.com, we only speak to her in Spanish. So it is even more fascinating to make these linguistic comparisons of the girls who don’t even speak the same language! Changing the topic for a moment-keep on! Don’t doubt yourself. You are obviously highly motivated, educated, and resourceful. As long as you can continue to provide a constant language rich environment in German for Kaya, she will be fine. It sounds like whatever language “deficiencies” you may feel that you have, you will find a way to overcome because this is what you do as a professional. What you also have on your side is the simultaneous English, which we know will develop perfectly so the two languages will complement each other.
    ¡Bravo! ¡Bravo! ¡Bravo!

    Muchos saludos,

  2. Elizabeth,
    Thank you, not only for your presence here, but also for your inspiring and reassuring comments. The past few weeks have been very good for me, in regards to my confidence in this process, but it's ALWAYS nice to hear more positivity, esp. from someone who is doing the same--which doesn't come every day, as there are fewer of us, and fewer that I know.

    I find it fascinating that your daughter is producing the same sounds, despite the different language. I have read that babies pronounce different sounds according the languages they learn...but then that may play right into my new knowledge--babies are likely to develop the ability to make easier sounds first, regardless of the language, but it's just a matter of WHICH words in their particular language they'll say? I also wonder if Kaya and your daughter, Sofia, are learning languages with basically the same sounds and alphabet, so naturally their developing phonics would sound similar at this point?

    I am interested in your most recent post...haven't been able to read all of it yet, but am looking forward to it.

    Did you get in touch with Sarah from Colorado? I thought it was great how you responded to her in so much detail, like you did with me.

    Anyway, muchas gracias! Me encanta mucho oirte comentar! Hasta luego,


  3. Hi! "Sarah in Colorado" is a total linguistics nerd too. I loved this stuff in grad school, and get a huge kick out of it now as the mom of a bilingual kid!

  4. Sarah, I bet you do! Isn't it SO fun to have our own, living examples right in our own living rooms? I never realized how fun it would be to make some formal observations and analysis (nor did I really plan on doing it), but when it starting happening in my journal the other night, I couldn't help but let it bleed over into the public domain!
    Thanks for stopping by, I look forward to hearing more from you, and through your blog, as we move through this process "together!"


I LOVE reading your comments, they make such a difference! Thanks for sharing!