The language before the language
I am still reading the book about bilingualism and before I write a more detailled review about it, I wanted to share my last experiences in terms of communication and languages. As you may know, or not, we had a baby. Emma was born a few weeks ago and I must say that the greatest challenge her father and I have been facing since she was born is not so much the short nights (although those are real), as it is understanding her.
At first, a baby's language is binary. Either she cries, or she doesn't. After a few weeks, there are some notions in between, but it is really not that different. The challenge thus resides in understanding the cries. Why on earth is she crying? Is it hunger? Pain? A way to communicate? Fear? Trying to practice her singing? Well, it can be all of those and more. Her cries can mean a number of things, all different. How many times in the course of the past weeks have we looked at her right in the eye and asked
What exactly are you trying to tell us here?. A million times already, I believe. And she does not answer. At least not in so many words.
So we have been forced to develop a finer understanding of her language. Mind you, it is interesting to note that babies don't "cry", as in they don't really go with the tears and such. They cry, as in 'shout' or yell, or "express themselves loudly.".The actual tear part comes up seldomly and it's rather the result of intense crying than a part of the crying altogether. This is the first clue as to why the baby is crying. If she sheds tears, it is usually pretty serious. As such, it comes with stomach aches for example, or terrible hunger.
With time, here are the clues we've been able to gather, the signs we're looking for to decode her language.
- The length of the cries: is it a steady cry? then she's probably hungry. A more intermittent cry? Then she's probably uncomfortable (gas, diapers need to be changed...)
- The intensity of the cries. Is it really loud? Then she means business. Rather a puppy-like yapping? Then she's warning you that this might get more serious.
- The color of her skin and her breathing. Is she getting really red as she cries, and holds her breath? Then she's frustrated and unhappy. Keeping her milk-like complexion? Then she's rather asking for some conversation (I swear, babies sometimes ask you to talk with them).
- Observe body language. If she folds and unfolds her legs, she might be experiencing digestion problems. If she's sucking her thumb like crazy, she's probably hungry.
All in all, with a little practice, I would say one learns to decipher most of the baby's needs by observing and listening closely. It is, if nothing else, a great exercise in observation and taking into account other things than just words, something we probably should be doing in our everyday life more often, so as to make sure we understand not only the words, but also the environment surrounding them. Looking at people's body language, analyzing the tone of their voice, understanding whether they are anxious, angry or happy probably goes a long way to help us understand what they are really saying. A lesson in communication. And she's 2 months old!