7 October 2016, by Lim Peifen
The early years of having a child is all about getting to know and love a whole new person. I enjoy knowing more and more about Luke every day, and I think he too enjoys learning about the world and me as he grows each day.
He has picked up a few spoken words and practices them at every chance. One of his first words, to my amusement, was “Aiyoh!”. I wondered how he’d learned it, and then I realised my helper and I both utter that expression quite frequently when we are with him – whenever he falls on all fours, whenever he drops or throws something, whenever he runs into something or almost bumps into it…well, almost every moment with him these days is an “Aiyoh” moment. I would’ve hoped his first word was something more conventional and proper like “Mummy” or “Papa” or “Milk”, but I guess “Aiyoh” is pretty impressive, because it is quite unusual?
On a more thoughtful note, this is also a gentle reminder for me to watch my language around him, because once he picks up something I say, there is no way to undo it!
He’s also quite an expert with the word “No”, because other than “Aiyoh”, this is another most commonly used word with him. He now knows not to touch wires and sockets and dustbins and door stoppers and wardrobe sliding doors and scissors and cat litter boxes, because these are all “No.”. What he does is walk up to them, point, turn to look at me and say in exactly the same serious way that I do, “No.” I’m always tempted to burst out laughing, but I don’t want to spoil the message that I’ve tried so hard to send across.
Being bilingual, I speak to Luke in both English and Mandarin. An advantage in teaching him words in both languages is that I can choose to teach him the easier way to say something. Instead of “flower”, which isn’t the easiest word to pronounce even for adults, I’ve taught him to say “Hua”, the Chinese word for flower. Instead of telling him that cats “Meow”, I refer to our three pet cats as “Mao”, the Chinese word for cat, which sounds like “Meow”. There are four tones in the Chinese language, and for Luke words in the first tone seem to stick better, perhaps because that is the most melodious tone. He has most recently picked up the word “Deng”, meaning “Lights” or “Lamps”, which is also in the first tone, and probably also because I sang it to him to the tune of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.
I asked Luke if he wanted to meet Uncle Kiat, and he replied “Uncle.” I suppose that’s a yes. My helper introduced the word to Luke while he was fiddling with a magazine. Pointing to the back cover, which featured Eddie Redmayne posing for an ad, she said “Uncle”, and Luke repeated it immediately. I was amazed at how fast this one got registered.
I hope Luke will be able to speak properly eventually, but right now I’m very much enjoying his baby talking stage. His eagerness to use the words he knows – he points to everything with wheels and exclaims “Car!” – never fails to make me smile. Some words are only understood by me, like “Boh” for “bottle” and “Sih” for “shoe”, and while I always correct him by saying it the right way, part of me wishes to keep this secret language that he shares solely with me. As his language skills develop, I want to be present with him every step of the way, constantly guiding and communicating with him, never losing the special connection that we now share.