Native Language @ ISB

Entries Tagged as 'Ask Olga!'

Ask Olga! When Toddlers Invent Language

March 14th, 2016 · No Comments


When a baby is growing up, especially the first-born, parents often make a commitment to write a diary in order to record the first teeth, the first steps, the first fever, the first syllables, the first words. It is certainly not only helpful for parents to maintain a diary, at least once a month, but it is also a joy to reread entries, and laugh and cry over your baby’s developmental milestones. Recording emergence of two or more languages is fascinating food for thought. It helps to make personal discoveries, clarify ideas and grow wisdom about raising children. If we listen carefully enough we begin to understand – or at least to tune in – to what our child is trying to communicate. Contrary to the expectation that she will use either one or the other language, or a mix of both, she is creating her own tongue.

Kids are great inventors – and we should enjoy their creativity. Words our granddaughter uses often have a very unusual degree of approximation and do not sound like anything in the languages she is exposed to.  She absorbs and understands what we say but prefers to use her own version of the names of favorite toys,  animals, friends and family members. We are sometimes trying to teach her the ‘correct pronunciation’: Let’s practice saying the name of your baby brother (whose name is Maxim), say ‘m-m-m-Maxim!’ She is eager to learn and responds happily: ‘m-m-m… Tapi!’ How did Maxim turn into Tapi?? We imagine a young man still going by the name ‘Tapi’, trying to explain its origin… We realize that our granddaughter will probably continue to invent words and stick to her own language until the need for clarity and complexity of speech can no longer be ignored, and her attempts to imitate become more successful.

Tags: Ask Olga!

Ask Olga! Each Child Follows Her Own Developmental Path

March 14th, 2016 · No Comments


As parents, grandparents and other important members of the child’s social circle, we ‘plant the seeds’ and try to provide all the necessary ‘nutrients’ for the growth of the child’s language. We then expect her to follow a series of well-described stages of language development – and look for their early signs eagerly.  But we need to exercise caution in expecting too much too soon. Parents – and others – will have to rediscover each developmental stage because each child follows her own developmental path and timetable dependent on a multitude of factors.

So we, on both sides, Russian and French, engage in conversations and storytelling, make sure there is a supply of books and a commitment to read them together, plan trips and play dates. When we see our granddaughter in person we try to use our language for different purposes – this happens naturally when we do things together: play games, tell stories, prepare food, do chores and simple tasks around the house, read books, enjoy walks together and more. When we skype, we not only chat with her, we also have conversations with her parents so that she is exposed to more complex fluent speech in both languages.

We still worry – comparing our child to the neighbor’s children, to our nieces and nephews, to multiple other children described in baby blogs and books. But this state of mild anxiety keeps us alert and mindful of the linguistic needs of our granddaughter.

Tags: Ask Olga!

Ask Olga! All Who Contribute to a Child’s Language Development “Participate in a Miracle”

February 2nd, 2016 · No Comments



Hello everyone,

Olga Steklova worked at ISB for many years as an EAL teacher. Currently she is observing her grand-daughter develop a number of languages simultaneously. She has kindly offered to keep an observational diary of this development and is happy to share bits and pieces with us over time.

Olga speaks at least three languages (Russian, English and French) and maybe some others she hasn’t told me about! She is an expert in language development and is happy to explore any questions you may have about your child’s bilingual / tri-lingual development. So, subscribe to the blog and Ask Olga!

Paul Dufficy, Mother Tongue Coordinator

Here is Olga’s introductory post:

Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and teachers . . . all of us who purposely or accidentally contribute to a child’s language development, participate in a miracle. Despite the fact that language is one of our natural skills, we are filled with awe every time we witness a toddler spontaneously translating her emerging thoughts into meaningful utterances – especially when it is done in several languages.

Our granddaughter, born to French/Russian parents residing in London, is going to be tri-lingual – at least this is the goal her parents have set for her even before she was born. Of course, ‘a goal without a plan is just a wish’ (Antoine De Saint Exupery). Therefore a goal was set and a plan has been drawn in order to reach it, and all family members were brought on board. The two main considerations in setting a goal and drawing a plan were maximum exposure to both languages and consistency in their use. Each parent and grandparent was to speak his or her mother tongue while the common language between parents was to be French. English will be added later as she begins her social interaction and schooling in London. Now, the journey begins . . .

Grandparents, unlike parents, have a chance to observe the linguistic achievements of their grandchildren both from within and from without, as they take a break from attending to daily needs and routines. They also stay on the fringe of decision-making and can only offer advice when asked for it. However their role should not be underestimated. Once the plan is drawn, grandparents become active contributors to its implementation. They provide an essential link to the cultural heritage and family traditions encompassed in their native language. 

What a thrill it is when a child begins to make attempts at making meaning: pointing, attracting attention, asking, demanding. It always comes as a surprise that while a toddler cannot yet do much verbally, her receptive language is amazingly rich! Intuitively, she knows that the same message can be conveyed in different ways. (When did that happen??) She takes it for granted that different members of the family use different words to communicate.

This knowledge becomes more formal when she herself takes on the role of ‘language police’. Listening, or rather being exposed while playing, to parents’ conversation in French, she hears her Russian mama say ‘oui’ . . .  That is not right – she rushes to the scene catching Mama in the act of ‘breaking the rules’! ‘Mama, non ‘oui’, Papa ‘oui’, Mama ‘da’! She herself is allowed to break the rules, mixing the two languages, picking perhaps the words that are easier to say, or the ones that were ‘imprinted’ first . . . We all worry a bit – is she a late bloomer? Is exposure to two languages making her speech delayed? Is mixing languages ‘normal’? Should we think of hiring a speech therapist?? Worries, worries – the natural state of a parent. All we can do is provide the raw material – the living language that she will absorb, digest, and use creatively – and trust that the ‘visible’ part of the linguistic ‘iceberg’ will grow as long as the foundation is strong.

Tags: Ask Olga!