Emerging Language skills in Children: Salma as an example

It is very interesting how we humans acquire language as babies. Just by listening and observing, we acquire language and meaning, build vocabulary and grammar.

It was interesting to see how Salma, my baby daughter, did this.

This is not a full fledged study, but rather a collection of observations. 

Example 1: English or Arabic?

Early on, just after she turned one year, Salma started saying syllables. What we noticed is that she understood both English and Arabic words (which is to be expected, her not knowing the difference). What was amazing is that when we presented her with two terms for the same thing, one Arabic and one English, she picked the easier one to pronounce, although she knew the meaning of both words being the same.

An example is : Up and فوق (Foo2). Since Up is a shorted syllable, it was always picked. English wins here.

Another example is : Down, تحت (Ta7t). Since تحت was shortened to تح (Ta7), it was picked. Arabic wins here.

Example 2: The Cow:

When she was around 26 months, Salma knew how to say Cow, which we see driving out of the city, in the nearby farms..

She started by saying Ba22ah بأّة. In Arabic this is بقرة. Notice that the Q is pronounced as a hamza in colloquial Egyptian. The R sound is not there at all.

After a few weeks, this morphed into Ba2alah بألة, with the R being pronounced as an L.

In early October, it was correctly pronounced as Ba'arah بأرة with the R appearing. 

Example 3: Names:

Around 2 years of age, Salma was calling her uncle, Omar عمر by the name Umu أومو. Her cousing, Ahmad, has become ِamda7 أمدح.

Example 4: The Fish: 

Children often do strange substitution of consonants. One such example for Salma is the modern Arabic word for Fish Samaka سمكة. This is pronounced as Fakaka فككة. The S is substiuted by F, and the M as a K.

I should note here that Suhaila, her eldest sister, now in High School, used to do some strange substitution as well. Artichoke خرشوف Kharshoof was Fafafoof فافافوف, and Chicken فرخة became Farfa فرفة. All Fs instead of the Kh, R, Sh sounds!




Besides the lingua franca, we

Besides the lingua franca, we used to speak a dialect. We wanted our child to learn the main language, hence we taught her accordingly. While talking with each other we used local dialect but with our child, we communicated only through the main language. But, in course of time we noticed that my could understand and respond effectively with the local dialect. It may be a coincident. However, my child could speak both the languages effortlessly. I do agree with you that our children learn more by observation.