The following is by contributor Amanda Morgan of Not Just Cute.
I love listening to my three year-old talk. He has a way of making the most common words sound delectably darling. He asks if we can look something up on my “compweeter” almost every day. He comments on our secret “packageway” when we take a new route home from his brothers’ school. And my heart absolutely melts when I hear him half shout, half sing, “Lemolade!” while peddling summer’s favorite drink with his big brothers.
I’m not the only mother who revels in the mispronunciations commonly found in our preschoolers’ lingo. When I shared some of my favorite boyhood bumbles on Facebook, loads of parents joined in, sharing examples like “soupcase” for suitcase and “ice cream” instead of sunscreen, that kept me chuckling for days.
As much as I would agree that these misnomers are endearing and cute, they also provide a window to the rapid pace of language and cognitive development in our little ones.
While it generally takes 18 months for a child to garner their first 50 words, soon after that point, their vocabularies begin to explode. By age three, the average preschooler has a vocabulary of 900-1000 words! With that much new information, it’s no wonder some of it would get jumbled in the process.
Child development theorist, Jean Piaget posited that we can learn as much (and perhaps more) about what children understand by really looking at their mistakes rather than simply measuring them by the sum of their correct answers. Here are some ways to recognize your child’s learning in the middle of these hilarious misspeaks:
Mixing the Files
Piaget believed that through experience and interaction, children actively work to construct an understanding of the world around them. In that process, children build schemas - kind of like a filing system – for organizing information. When new information comes in, they either assimilate the information — put it in an existing file — or, when the new information doesn’t fit, they accommodate by changing their schema — reorganizing their filing system.
This is where we get slip-ups like “flutterbyes” and “hoparoos”. In the process of looking for the right file, things can get muddled. The words make sense: those things flutter and hop, so it creates equilibrium for a time. This is also where we get kids calling things by the wrong, but more familiar name (calling rhinos “cows”, for example). In labeling the new object, a familiar file gets pulled.
Assimilation can also lead to overgeneralizing rules. When a child begins to pick up on the past tense -ed pattern, they begin to go to that schema or file for all past tense verbs. That’s how we end up with kids who “goed” places. It’s not proper English, but it’s on the right track!
These mistakes show us the child is capitalizing on salient characteristics to categorize the item or word. The resulting word may not be right, but it shows a growth in observing, understanding, and conceptualizing.
Many of the most endearing errors come when our little ones mix sounds around or substitute familiar rhyming words for parts of the new word. Like when my son went out to pick “bikinis” rather than zucchinis, or sat down to eat “psketti” instead of spaghetti.
Children are taking the words they hear, remembering them, and recalling them. To aid them in reproducing them, they have their burgeoning phonemic awareness skills. These skills allow them to hear and manipulate sounds, and eventually allow them to learn to read.
The fact that a child would substitute a rhyming word or rearrange sounds and segments shows, at some level, that they are able to hear and recognize these sounds as important building blocks of the word. So it’s not just a cute flub, but also proof that your child’s brain is already wiring itself for the task of reading.
As our little ones begin to add new words, they’re going to make mistakes. We all make mistakes when we try something new (though few of my grown-up mistakes have been nearly as adorable as my cherub’s cheerful chatter).
At the preschool stage, these language mistakes generally don’t require much direct correction. What helps preschoolers build language skills is experience — with words, ideas, conversations, stories, and songs.
Over-correcting simple slip-ups can actually have a counter-productive result. When children are worried about being lectured or ridiculed, they’re less likely to risk, and without the risk of practice and experience, not much progress can be made.
Rather than correcting, try modelling. For example, if your child says, “I falled and hurt my knee,” respond with something like, “Oh dear! You fell and hurt your knee? Let’s get a band-aid on that!” If your child sits down for a snack of “tawbessies”, comment on how much you love strawberries too.
Give your kids plenty of opportunities to experience new places, things, and ideas and verbalize those experiences to build vocabularies. Talk– and listen. Read, rhyme, and sing. Build language development by giving your child meaningful language experiences — and write down those endearing misspeaks in the meantime. They’ll disappear all too soon!
What are your favorite preschooler misspeaks?