Love letters: On learning a love for language

LoveLetters_WritingPeoplePPoetryMy son loves letters. Tracing over them, asking how they make words. He points to a McDonald’s sign. “Look, Mmmmm… Does it say Mummy?” Um, noooo…. But I love his enthusiasm, which has only increased in intensity since he started school this September.

When I let him, he’ll stop at every street sign, tracing over the letters he recognises, trying to sound them out. “Mmmm”, “Ssss”. He can’t quite put them together yet but he’s at that stage where he’s holding all the pieces of the jigsaw and trying to work out how they fit together. It’s lovely to watch.

I don’t remember that far back. But I do remember that spark, the start of a lifelong passion for words.

I love the way he gets really excited about new words. Like me, he loves the word bubble. It was one of his first words and he used it to mean many water related things – baths, rivers, swimming.. As well as actual bubbles of course. If heΒ reallyΒ likes a word, he’ll repeat it over and over. His latest favourite word is ‘Mandala’. On the day he first learned this word, he sang it over and over as he created his own take on this creative exercise, softly singing “mandala, mandala, mandala” as he carefully placed bananas and mushrooms around the circle. Later that day I was lucky enough to hear some of his self-talk as he played, oblivious to my presence. It went something like this: “I made a mandala, it was awesome. Mandala my mandala, I want to mandala again.” Then when he dropped something, “Oh, mandala!” When I finally interrupted to speak to him, he was startled. “I was just trying the word Mummy. I really like mandala.” At first I thought he meant he enjoyed making them, which he did… But on reflection he must have meant he really likes the word. Which makes perfect sense. It’s a beautiful word. Why wouldn’t you want to roll it around your mouth all day and get a real taste for it?

The evolution of language

I remember when I was at primary school, the ‘in’ words were then ‘cool’ and ‘wicked’ (showing my age now!). It seems ‘cool’ hasn’t gone out of fashion (among four-year olds anyway!) as my son has now started to say it. Then, the other day we were playing football in the park and he tried a drop kick. He was pretty impressed with himself and turned to me and said “that was heavy.” He was waiting for a reaction so I asked him whether he meant it was good. “Yeah” he said. “It’s a cool word. We say it as school.” When I asked if I could say it too he said “Not really. No. You’re not cool enough. You’re quite cool. But not cool enough.”

I remember being stupidly embarrassed when my Mum tried to use ‘cool’ words as a teenager but at four? I don’t know. According to my Nan I went through a phase of trying out the word ‘sexy’ at that age (of course having no idea what it meant), so I guess it’s all experimentation.

When he reaches his teenage years, there will be a whole new language to learn. I listen to the younger members of my extended family talk and ask them about words I don’t recognise. What sounds like slang to me is, in fact, a rich alternative language that includes words from so many different countries; languages I wasn’t exposed to growing up. It reflects the much more diverse world that these young people are growing up in and that’s a good thing, I think. I suppose I could see if as divisive – it’s only for young people – but from another perspective, it’s actually pretty inclusive. I look forward to hearing how it evolves even more by the time my son hits his teenage years.

Falling in love with language all over again.

Watching my son start to experiment with letters and words is a real gift. Through him, I’m going back to the beginning and remembering what it was like to fall in love with language. All over again.

What’s your relationship with words like? Did you enjoy learning to read and write at school? How did you talk when you were in your teens, and what do you think about the way language has evolved? Could I possibly overwhelm you with even more questions? πŸ˜‰ Do share your thoughts in the comments below!

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12 thoughts on “Love letters: On learning a love for language

  1. What a lovely post. My 2.5 year old is a bit of a chatter box and I just love it when she picks up a terribly grown up or old fashioned turn of phrase and uses it in the correct context. Terribly sweet & just shows how early words and environment influence our world view. So lovely to chronicle your interactions with your child on your blog. I’m sure once he’s old enough, he will love reading this one back. Thanks for sharing and getting me thinking!

    • Aw thanks Susie! Yes, I usually reserve stuff about my son (in this much detail) for my parenting blog but this was so relevant to remembering when/how I started to love words and writing that it seemed appropriate to have it here. Glad it got you thinking! πŸ™‚

  2. Watching my sons learn to talk and hearing their language develop is one of my favourite parts of parenting. It’s so funny and cute but also really interesting. It’s odd to realise that, having once been the ‘cool’ ones who were allowed to use the language of youth, we’re now no longer cool enough and the next generation are developing a language we don’t always even understand. I think your son is totally right about the word Mandala and the way he experimented with it suggests he’s has a creative mind just like his mum!

    • I know Maddy, it’s hard to hear a four-year old tell you you’re ‘not cool enough’! And it won’t be long before I’m not cool at all I’m sure πŸ˜‰ – It is fascinating how languages changes with every generation isn’t it? x

  3. My son is doing the same as yours and really enjoying sounding out phonemes and trying to read. It’s such a gift to watch him learn and continue to grow in his capacity for language. (Though I still think it rather bittersweet as it’s a poignant reminder that he really is no longer a baby!). Thanks for this lovely post. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks Marija! Yes I know what you mean about the not being a baby anymore thing… At the moment it’s cute when he uses ‘grown-up words’ but all the little milestones mean he’s slipping away as he grows into a more grown-up version of himself. The latest is that he doesn’t like kisses! πŸ™ Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  4. Super-cute mandala song, he’s a natural poet. My youngest still does that playful thing around the way words feel, without being too attached to the meaning, I love it! I wrote down some words from a game I used to play with my eldest when he was little and made them into a (sort of) poem – it was around the time he was fascinated with ‘rude’ words and found them endlessly funny. Here it is if you want to have a look: http://www.rebeccaannsmith.co.uk/have-you-got-something-yum-in-your-tum/ It might make your little boy laugh anyway!

    • Lol @ him being a natural poet! Not like I’ve led him that way at all *coughs* – I’ll have to check out your poem, my son is into rude words at the moment, I frequently have to tell him ‘that’s enough toilet words for today, thank you’!

  5. Such a beautiful post πŸ™‚ Arthur is just starting to get interested in signs and letters, wanting to know what everything’s for. It’s like the world has just taken on a whole new level of meaning for him – all these secret codes to unravel. I am very much looking forward to standing beside him as he works it all out xx

    • I’ve only just realised I never replied to your comment! Sorry… Thanks Sophie, it is a rel gift to stand beside them (I love the way you put it) as they learn and grow, isn’t it? Hope you’re looking forward to the holidays! x

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