As some of you following this blog might have got to know, my son turned one recently. He is fond of books, and he has quite a few in his collection already. They are cute little books with really thick glossy pages and full of colourful pictures, as kid’s books ought to be. Also, he loves to be on the road all the time. He says pointing towards the door ‘Babba….babba’ which means ‘take me out, right away’!
He imitates any sound he hears almost instantly. Ask him how does a ‘Mixer’ run and he does this sound “Brrrrrrrrr” for nearly 4 seconds non-stop. Show him a picture of a lion, and he roars “Grrrrrrrr”. Show him a crow and he starts “kaa…kaaa”. And he started doing this even before he turned a one-year-old. Ask him what does his ‘Thatha’ (Grandpa) bring….he tells ‘Koa’ (Kova or Doodh peda). There are many more things he says.
When he was a 6-month-old, his ‘Ajji’ (Grandma) told this story of the ‘Baby and the Mongoose’. We were amazed to see his reaction each time she told that “…the lady threw the heavy basket at the mongoose and ran inside to see her son.” She didn’t even tell that the mongoose died. She would just say that the mongoose was hit by the lady and my son used to cry almost immediately. We saw that each time she said this sentence, it was the same reaction from him. We still don’t know for sure whether he understood the sentence and cried or whether he had anything else in mind which made him cry. But from then on, his Ajji stopped telling stories with sad endings.
I was talking to a friend who is a child psychologist the other day. Our chat gradually drifted from the real estate prices to the helmet rule and then to the head inside the helmet. I narrated the above incident involving my son and the Mongoose story to him and he said kids can easily understand what we speak. He told how a child’s brain works. It was amazing to know about our brain, how it develops as we grow and other intricate details.
It seems the greatest feat of memory ever performed belongs to a child – or rather to all children. A baby’s acquisition of language is an epic achievement of recall. Word learning, it seems, begins at about a year old, and experiments have shown that the average 18-year-old knows about 60,000 words. This means that every child picks up a new word every 90 minutes, storing it permanently in memory, i.e.10 new words a day, everyday without fail, right through childhood.
This work rate is truly remarkable since toddlers are not simply soaking up the separate words, they are simultaneously analysing the language, sub-consciously working out its grammar and making intuitive guesses about the exact meaning of words. This analysis is an astonishing intellectual undertaking, one that almost every person takes on and completes before the age of three.