Why did you say that?

I could start this post with a big reflection on all the things that have happened since I last posted. Sufficed to say there have been a few things on my “To Do” list above blogging during the last year including, getting pregnant, starting literacy consulting, beginning a research masters, changing jobs and having a baby. Despite this, ruminating in the back of of my mind throughout the year was my last post. You may need to reread it if you have forgotten, I know I did! Briefly, it was all about talk, or oral language to put it in teacher speak. Did I explore this subject more throughout the year? YOU BET! and now I’m ready to burst with all that I learnt! So that is going to be the subject of my next few posts.

For this first post let me start where I left …on home ground. My son. His language development over the last 12 months has been insane! He is now almost three, and so, rather than yelling single words at me that I have to try to decode, he is yelling full “sentences” at me that I only occasionally have to decode. I have started recording my favourite quotes of his. My picks from the last two days are:

  1. I love you for making my breakfast.
  2. You have beautiful hair.

Reflecting on these quotes makes me think of two things.

  1. I am very self obsessed and LOVE complements!
  2. He doesn’t know it, but he is talking in “sentences”.

It blows my mind that sentences are just a construct which we have labeled. When we speak we occasionally “punctuate” our speech by taking breath, but more common than not, as Bill Bryson writes in his book Mother Tongue, “…people don’t ‘talk like this’, they ‘talklikethis’… syllables, words, sentences run together like a watercolour left in the rain.” What a beautiful image of language. That we speak in melting watercolours. And if you are on the Gilmore Girls in watercolour hailstorms!


Which makes me consider what a HUGE step we ask of children who love to talk to read or even write their ‘watercolour’ images. And what a more massive task we ask of children who have trouble speaking. Here is what I am wondering, how do we ‘untangle’ the mess of words that is oral language to create written language with young learners?


Ok, so I have shared my favourite quotes. Here is my least favourite, believe it or not it isn’t “NO”, it is my son’s response when he doesn’t know something. I’ll ask: What did you do today? Where is your puppy toy? Why are you hitting the dogs with a stick? and his answer:

“I can’t know”


Yes, like every other English teacher before me who has raised a child and suffered listening to their poor understanding of language rules I have tried and tried to change this phrase. I desperately want my son to say “I don’t know” much more than I want him to find his shoes! So, I repeat back the correct phrase. I model the correct phrase and explain that “I can’t know” is incorrect, but does he change his speech to please me or to please the grammar Nazi that hides inside me?

“I can’t know”


But here is the real question. Is he communicating? Yes. Is it meaningful? Yes. Does it still drive me insane? Yes.

Could my hypothesis be that that language rules are changing in my house…under my own nose (or ears for that matter)? Perhaps it doesn’t take centuries for language to change, it can perhaps be brought on by a very stubborn and vocal almost-three-year-old? Well to be honest…

“I can’t know”


But I’ll tell you what. I can’t wait to find out.

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