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 he really 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? 😉 Do share your thoughts in the comments below!

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