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Love and observe

Someone special

You are special to your child, and your child is special to you. The most important single thing that you can do to help your child learn to talk is just to enjoy his or her company in conversation, using whatever language you feel most comfortable using.

If you think you might have heard “MMM bah” as a child is being undressed and you are running the water for the bath, “bah” probably means bath. The MMM possibly means in. The important thing is to make whatever notes you can.

What you’re doing is recording a process which naturally happens in stages. One important stage is putting two words together – like “Mumy sock” – which might mean more than one thing.

Some developments in a child’s speech and language are quite sudden. Late at night your child has something not quite right. And in the morning the point at issue has been mastered. How this happens is not yet fully understood,

New and interesting

Pick and choose what you write down. Perhaps once a day, perhaps more often, perhaps less often, you hear your child say something new and interesting. If you can, make a note as soon as possible. And always remember the date.

Or better still, make notes on a mobile and copy these into a searchable computer filem which can be shared by e-mail.

  • 6. 4. 23
  • Father just leaving for work
  • Child’s name: “Daddy go work'”
  • (First time he has said three words)

Many words may not come out quite right.

The most important things to get down are the words and bits of words that make a difference to the meaning. And you’re the best judge of what these are. Try not to put in any extra bits. Notice whether there are any words or bits of words being left out or said in the wrong order. It is important to record both what a child gets wrong and what he or she gets right and the context.

The context

Suppose you are just going shopping, and you say “We are going shopping”, and your child says “Going shopping” or “Go shopping”, and you have not heard anything quite like this before, you could enter something like this:

  • Date (and time if this seems to be relevant or if you have already made another entry the same day)
  • Me: “We are just going shopping.”
  • Child’s name: “Going shopping” (or “Go shop”, or “Going shop”, as the case may be)

In this situation, you get the idea that Going shopping is the sort of thing your child is listening to. So you might reasonably decide to give your child more examples of the same sort of thing to help him or her recognise that this is an important sort of structure, what is known as a ‘verb phrase’ or an extended version of one, as and when this seems appropriate.

Answers to questions

Some of the most interesting things a child says are in answers to questions.

Someone asks where the child is, or what the child is doing. And the child answers with a single appropriate word. Write down the conversation. Show who is saying what.

Suppose the child’s father is painting.

  • Me: “What’s Daddy  doing?”
  • Child’s name: “Paint”

Such answers are important because they show that the child has correctly understood the question.


Sometimes someone says something or asks a question which you wouldn’t expect your child to understand. But your child answers in a way which seems to show that he or she has understood.

Suppose your child has a brother called John, and your mother asks what he is doing. John is playing a guitar. But your child has never previously commented on what John is doing. Record the words you think you hear.

  • Grandma: “What’s John doing?”
  • Child’s name: “Play guitar”

Here your child seems to have both understood the question and given an appropriate two-word answer.

Two-word sentences and answers of one or two words to simple questions are typical of children learning English as they approach two years of age.

Questions by a child

If your child asks a question, record, not just the question, but the answer which seems to satisfy the child’s curiosity. Make this clear by adding a note about what seems like the end of the conversation.

  • Child’s name: “Why birdies fly?”
  • Me: “To get to their nests.”
  • Child’s name: “Why, Mummy?”
  • Me: “By flapping their wings.”
  • (child seemed satisfied)

Your child is probably confusing why and how. Your note helps to show how far your child has got in the process of learning what words like how and why mean.

Other questions, of course, ask just what the words say. When these questions are new they are especially interesting.


Fast forward a few months, suppose you’ve been talking about your plans to make some bread. You hear a sentence, but beginning with a word you can’t quite make out. Use a capital letter X. You might write down the utterance as:

  • Child’s name: “X going make bread oven today”

You’re better than anyone else at guessing what your child means, working out which words or bits of words are missing, etc.. But later it can be hard to remember. So in this case add:

  • (After getting some flour)


At the same time, and. especially as a child’s language develops, you may notice interesting mistakes. Like you may hear your child say something like

  • Child’s name: “We gotta measure him see how he is big.”

Reacting to a newly-arrived puppy or a kitten. Here, the to is missing from the front of see. And big is not next to how, immediately after it. The first may indicate an imprecise categorisation of the phrase headed by see. The second suggests a problem with what is known as ‘pied piping’, a characteristic grammatical process in English, both part of necessary ‘learnability space‘, what the child targeting English has to learn. And there is no trace of the have after we, commonly omitted in many varieties of competent adult English.

Step by step and on the spot

Your diary should be as accurate as possible. Most people find that it is useful is to keep a pocket notebook with you while you’re with your child.

It’s your privilege to be in the right place at the right time to hear your child talking about whatever is for him or for her, the most interesting thing in the world. This can be anything at all – teddy, a treat, something on television, or a new insight.

Keeping a diary should not get in the way of fun conversation. It can increase the fun, like taking pictures when you’re out with friends. But as with anything else, if you’re enjoying your diary, you’ll keep it that much better.

Original, revealing, unique

Every child’s acquisition of language is unique. It is almost inevitable that, you will hear your child say things which have never been said before in the whole course of human history. There are four key points:

  • Enjoy your child’s company, never mind any defects in his or her speech, just record whatever you hear as best you can, as sson as you can, with the date and a note about what was happening.
  • Focus especially on all the new things you hear.
  • If you are worried, get to see a specialist in children’s speech and language with your child, and show him or her your diary.
  • Have fun!

This is a record of what your child CAN say. It is more positive than a list of defects. But there are also commonalities in these records. When they are compared, it turns out that children sometimes say the same things – like “Daddy go work” or “Daddy gone work”. The commonalities suggest that the same phenomena are being captured across children. The data is thus revealing with respect to some significant phenomena.


A diary provides a sensitive and accurate measure of a child’s language development. If your child needs help, your diary will help to show this. It is also a fun thing to keep and fun to look back at it in years to come. Keeping a diary is an interesting job. What your child says is even more personal than a photograph. A video, of course, shows more. But a diary can be searched.

Hsve fun!