You’re in America, You Damn Kid…Speak English.

There are times that we newer, less experienced parents come to you, the wiser and more knowledgable moms and dads. We come humbled, on bended knee, begging for you to lend us even a modicum of your expertise. This is one of those times.

I can’t understand my 13 month-old daughter.


In her langauge, dat, dat and dat seem to mean CAT, THAT and DOG. Respectively.

Thithhhhhhh I think is THIS, but it also might mean DISH, LIZ and I LIKE LOOKING AT THE LITTLE BOY ON THE YOBABY CARTON.

I used to think that nye-nye-nye-nye was some sort of term for rejection. Then I realized that she also employs it when she wants to pet the dog. Or grab my necklace. Or gleefully stick her fingers in her own poo then wipe them on Pat the Bunny.

And then of course, there’s Thalia’s new favorite sound, chhhhhhhhhhhh. While it doesn’t seem to actually mean anything, I pretty much assume she’s got a paper clip lodged in her throat, oh, about 19 times a day now.

I’m a fan of language. Sometimes I read random pages in the dictionary for fun. I’ve been known to buy the Sunday Times solely for the crossword. Hell, I chose WordPlay as my one movie theater outing in the past six months. So it’s frustrating to me that the only phrase of Thalia’s I can admit to understanding with any sort of confidence is dadadadada.

(In case you’re wondering, it means YOU THERE…YEAH, YOU HOLDING MY BOTTLE. GIVE ME THAT.)

All of this has made me come to realize that “so, is she talking yet?” is a terrible question to ask the parent of a thirteen-month old. Of course she’s talking.

The better query would be, of course:

“So, are you understanding yet?”

Eeep. Op. Ork. Ah-ah. That means I love you.

90 thoughts on “You’re in America, You Damn Kid…Speak English.”

  1. with a face like that, who cares what she’s saying? give her <>anything<> she me, talking is SO overrated. once my son learned “no”, our lives went to hell in a diaper bag… i say enjoy what you’ve got while you’ve got it!(oh, and speaking of “communication”, nice use of the multi-syllabic terminology in this post… your Flesch Keebler Kincaid Whatever Score just jumped a whole point!) xoxo

  2. Have you thought about teaching her to sign? I know it sounds new-agey, but I’ve heard from other parents that it greatly reduces the frustration of not being able to communicate, for both baby and parents. I think you can buy a book or a DVD to get started.I agree though, what a sweet face! Give her cookies!

  3. Just assume it ALL means “I love you.” Or “You’re a great mom/dad/other helpful caregiver, I am in awe of your phenomenal parenting skills, though I may choose to demonstrate my awe with my angry face and shrieking.” Or occasionally, “Aren’t I cute? Now give me a nap.” And I’m with elizabeth, signing does help some.

  4. Total. Cutie. Vivian only had about 4 words by 15 months, but then she went on a word binge and was talking sentences around 18 months. One of her first words was “Otter pop”. Yeah, gold star for parenting there.

  5. Kids learning to talk definitely has its good and bad points. When you hear “Mooooommmmmmy” in a whiney voice 300 times in an hour, you start to long for that jibberish baby talk again. But I agree, signing did help with my daughter. My son wasn’t all that interested in it though.

  6. Jetson’s reference. Very Cool.P.S. The sign language thing is kind of cool. We just did a few words with our daughter, More (palm to face), Hungry (finger to mouth), Thirsty (thumb to mouth). It helped. It is pretty funny watching the evolution of sound come out of their mouths. It took us forever to realized that Na-Na was our daughter’s way of saying Colin, her brother’s name. Eventually, she started calling him “Nonny” and after a long while, she got to Colin. P.P.S. One thing I notice about comments is I tend to hijack them to talk about myself and my life. Sorry. 😉

  7. Otter Poop! Amy, if Thalia’s first phrase were Otter Poop, Nate would be the proudest daddy that ever lived.

  8. Mary: 1) Hijack away. (And that was hardly a hijack. Signed, the queen of hijakcs)2) If you’ve learned anything from watching I Want to Be a Millionaire, it’s always go with your first instinct.

  9. Yobaby! The yobaby baby became known in our household as “num-num”. I hate to be the bearer of less than steller news, but at 20 months Moon still tells us about “wa-bum” and “mah-bum” (water and milk, and God help you if you misinterpret and bring the wrong substance).

  10. Little Guy doesn’t talk much either. His only word is Dat (for four-legged animal), and he’s been saying for a couple months now. But that’s it. I keep waiting for more…but nuttin. I guess they’ll talk soon enough and we’ll be thinking back to the “good old days” when they didn’t talk and writing posts about that!

  11. Ok, your 13 month old is so totally almost as cute as my 13 month old! And yeah, mine has all sorts of nonsense words too. It’s not all that flattering when the same word for “Mom” is used for one of the dogs too!

  12. I only did sign with my daughter. It did work though.I found that my kids began speaking more when I finally stopped talking. Now when I see parents trying to understand (I swear I’m not judging here) I hear them speaking a lot of options to their kids like… water you want water…no uhm…oh bottle you want a bottle…no uhm….rattle you want the rattle. I started saying, “show me” It seemed they got frustrated enough to show me and then I could say …Oh…a cup yes let me get it. Actually, Thalia sounds like she has a lot to say and her brain obviously works faster than her mouth. By the time kindergarten roles around…I am sure she will already be able to tell you what rss means and stands for.

  13. All I can say is that it does get better! Becca is talking so much better and her pronunciation is amazing! Hang in there and repeat back to her how you would like her to say it!

  14. Liz, enjoy it while it lasts. I wish I didn’t understand my 5-year-old half the time, but unfortunately, he’s a very astute and succinct (and relentless) arguer!

  15. She looks so much like you in that picture. It’s her eyes, and her smile, not that you smile like a baby, all gap toothed and open mouthed, but there is something in her smile, or maybe in the way the smile takes over her whole face, that is exactly like yours. beautiful.

  16. plllleewwww neh, neh, neh, nehhhhhh!!I too have a 13-month old and I swear its like having a drunk Yoda in the house. Some words she speaks like having some intense conversation, then the same words can sound like an angry drunk.

  17. “Are you understanding yet?” Indeed, that is a much better question!Q’s first word was “nana” for banana. He doesn’t actually like to eat bananas all that much, so it wasn’t a very useful word. He’s progressed to other words though. “Mama” is for me, but “Mameeee” means “I want that.” Go figure.

  18. I didn’t have to worry about interpreting much. My kid didn’t say a word until he was three. I did worry about him being, mentally challenged though. ;?)Loved the Jeston’s reference, but now I will be humming that in my flippin sleep!

  19. Look at that beautiful smile!!!Don’t worry, you’ll learn to understand soon enough, and then the real fun with words begins! A little preview for your entertainment: my daughter heard her older cousin say “friggin'” one too many times, and now she gets much joy out of saying “friggin’ is a bad word”. I am beside myself. I need help.Carrie

  20. OR, similarly, what I love, is when my 13 month old says, amidst the dogadogadoga, and the tikitikitiki- a perfectly elocuted sentence like: “I go up the stairs” It’s usually a complete fluke I realize , mere luck with consonent assembly on his part, but I am left completely amazed and comvinced he’s genius.

  21. It does get better. Give it a few more months. If you think you know what she is trying to say, repeat her but use the correct word. Eventually, she’ll get it and start repeating after you. Yesterday, I went to make my 17 month old some lunch. She went over to the fridge and started pulling on the handle and saying, “Bottle, bottle, bottle.” (Yes, I know I need to ditch the bottles.) She’s been saying this word for a while now but it gets clearer every time.My son didn’t start talking until he was about 2. Girls are supposedly faster with everything. I don’t know if this is true or if it’s just the second child syndrome – monkey see, monkey do.

  22. I can hardly understand my three year old daughter. I suppose I love that broken wierd language she has so much that I hate to correct her. “Me ouchy on head, you sorry me.” So cute, I hardly want her to speak properly…

  23. My conversations with my 18-month old consist of her pointing to things, and me questioning, “Do you want THAT? Do you want THAT?” And she has perfected her version of yes and no: “Uh huh” the affirmative with some hand clapping and “Uh uh” the negative with a head shake. This post just reminded ME I should check out sign language!

  24. 13 MONTHS!?!I don’t think The Bird uttered an intelligible phrase until 18 months. I still say tell all the progress inquirers to shove it.

  25. Seriously, I miss that part.Now it is all “No, Mommy! Don’t sing anymore!” and “I DO IT MYSELF!” and “No SHIRT! NO SHIRT!” and “No way, no way, no way”.(sigh)Sometimes I think it was easier when I <>didn’t<> know what they wanted.

  26. Oliver babbles at us and it’s not so much what he’s saying as the tone of his voice…it’s so funny. *He* knows what he’s saying…we just smile and nod. And go, “Oh, yeah? You don’t say!”Julia had a few months there when everything was “Izza.” We had no idea what she was trying to tell us, ever.

  27. I have what I call a “mama ear”. It seems only I can decipher ,<>duck, bird, ball, cup, I love you mama<>. Papa only hears <>dat<>.

  28. You do remember laughing loudly at the post on wrote on this right…? Yeah. It’ll come. And then she’ll be saying you have a stinky bum and you’ll be like HUH?🙂

  29. I saw it mentioned, sign is HEAVEN sent for the basics like eat drink sleep dirty hurt play. As far as teh talking goes I have lots of experience in this arena. Mira is 4 1/2 and I am only now truely starting to understand her (she has speech issues). One thing i noticed is that one sound can mean 20 different things, the meaning is in the tone inflection and gesture.

  30. Ruby is 11 months and the only recognizable utterance we have is “uh-oh.” Usually said after she throws her bottle half way across the room.

  31. Beautiful baby!!!!I can sympathize with two toddlers in speech therapy. My almost 2 year old and almost 4 year old. Try sign language. I took a class since I’m hearing impaired myself and tend to leave my hearing aid at home (i must be learning disabled too). Lots of books and tapes out their for baby sign since it is so “hip” now. It has worked wonders for us and their speech therapists say it actually helps develop speech.

  32. Haaaaaa! Great post. Great kid. She has you right where she wants you: confused. That ought to last quite a few years ;^)

  33. Kids are idiot savants. So she can’t talk now. You just need to find out what she CAN do. Set her in front of the piano, maybe she’s another Mozart. Oh, maybe she’s good at hula hoops. Can she bend spoons? Come on Liz, focus on the positive.

  34. We use our 5 year old as an interpreter. Our 16 month old will say something we consider to be unintelligible and he’ll calmly say, “She wants to go into the dining room and have a snack and then play with the play doh”. He leads her away as she nods energetically. He then turns to us and says, “See?” Apparently, we are just a bit dense.

  35. Oh the photo of beaming Thalia. I love it.I’m of no help. Tacy talked like a three year old when she was 18 months. Now she talks like a thirty year-old (albeit one obsessed with SpongeBob).CJ, on the other hand, doesn’t. Except for “no” which she perfected this past weekend, delivered along with a stellar backhand.

  36. I was ready to call the doctor about my very thirsty 14 month old son whose vocabulary (and diet) consisted mainly of <>JUICE!<> until I figured out that juice also means food. As commented previously, it’s all in the emphasis and body language. Ain’t nothin’ easy about any of this, but as far as I’m concerned, at least they develop so fast, you’ll be on to the next stumper before you know it.I tried signing with my daughter, and she caught on quickly, but then her language skills exploded and we let it drop.

  37. I have to admit, after about four months I could understand my 13-month-old. Now I’m a skilled translator. It really gives me hope that if immersed in a foreign land I <>could<> learn a new language.

  38. At least you can’t tell if she’s cussing you out. I looked at it as an opportunity. I could vent my frustrations, as in, “Gabe you’re driving Mama mad and I’ll take you with me!” but said in a sweet voice. I know I couldn’t get away with that forever, but it made me laugh through the frustration and pretty soon he was saying, “Dooce!” not in reverence to the almighty Heather B. Armstrong but for juice. And it got better. Now I can’t get him to stop talking. His voice is his favorite toy.

  39. Yeah, it’s not a good question to ask the mother of a 15 month old either. ‘Dat’ also means fan, light, car, cup, and ‘what is that horrible red blemish on your face, Mother?’.I’m thinking of going back to school to learn Mime. My daughter and I will just pantomime things to each other for a few years instead of speaking and then we’ll take our act on the road.

  40. “Eeep. Op. Ork. Ah-ah. That means I love you”Totally off topic but, I have to tell you it took me a minute to remember where I had heard that phrase before.The Jetsons, the rock star that Judy won the contest and she came up with the song , but it was Elroy’s secret code for him and his friends.Sorry, had a major flashback all of a sudden and had to share. My memeory usually sucks

  41. I heart you immensely for your Jetson’s reference. I sing that song all the time around the house! And such a cutie-pie picture, too. There definitely does come a lot of frustration with the understanding of the verbal from baby. Hugo has a broad vocabulary, but it is in his contract that he can stop saying things at any time and never say them again. Ever. I’m sure that one day soon she’ll be rattling off whole sentences and you’ll catch yourself actually understanding what she is saying.

  42. LOL- that is so cute.. you’ll figure it out and then you’ll be A GENIUS because only you will know what she means when she says something like “pattttta poodhjsldk”…

  43. You just said everything I’ve been thinking lately. I worry secretly that Eleana, almost 1-year-old, is behind in language development because she hasn’t said any “real” words yet. But reading your story brings comfort to me…I’m sure once our younglings do start talking they’ll never stop!

  44. Cordy has lots of words now, but still can’t put them together much. So I get a lot of nonsense with a word thrown in here and there.Her current is Oobi, and that means not only the TV show on Noggin, but also TV in general. If she wants the TV on, she gets right up in your face, with her eyes wide and glassy, and says in a trance-like voice “OOooooobbbbiii.” It’s kind creepy, honestly.

  45. She’s so cute! My 17 month old daughter is on the “shaking/nodding head” stage. She looks like a puppet doing that constantly.

  46. I couldn’t wait for them to start talking and they haven’t stopped since, usually all at once, so you inspired me with nostalgia for the days when sweetly replying “That’s nice” and “Yeees” in a thoughtful manner was enough to satisfy them. Right now just the fact that you’re responding to her, whatever you say, is enough to keep her working at it. Soon you’ll be begging for silence!

  47. It sounds like your daughter and mine would be able to communicate just fine. Tolby’s sporting the “dat,” “dog,” and “duck,” to date. I am most proud of the “duck,” because she uses it to mean “bird,” and I think that is darn astute of my daughter. As astute as a child who only uses “d” words can be. The sad part is that she had no vocabulary at all until she spent the weekend at my mother’s house. Apparently I’m not very stimulating. Anyway, I love hearing your stories about Thalia since my daughter is the same age. I relate that much more and laugh that much harder because everything you write about is at the top of my mind, too. Thanks!

  48. My youngest spoke a nonsense language with such gravity and determination that I almost felt like an idiot because I DIDN’T understand what he was saying.

  49. I would write something witty and brilliant, but the cuteness of that child is rendering me incapable. Be still, my beating ovaries!

  50. Mine talks all the time, but she didn’t say a dam thing at 13 months. Now she even speaks in full sentances, but she does sound like a furby. Thalia will pick it up fast.

  51. You know, after a couple of drinks all of those simple, repetitive consonant-vowel combinations start to make more sense. And I’m certain that BA-ba actually means ‘high-ball’…I’m just sayin’.

  52. Well, now that I’ve seen all those pictures of you at BlogHer, now I know from whom she gets her adorable smile! I am cracking up thinking of you reading random pages of the dictionary.

  53. My cousin has twins and they have created their own language so she NEVER knows what they are saying. DId I mention that they are 11? LOL

  54. mine only speaks french. He is 18 months old, says “au revoir” because he refused to say “bye” and that was the only one of the 6 options I gave him that he would repeat. His drink is a “la,” please is “bwa.” Ugh!

  55. When my twins were thirteen months old, they said “Doot” for everything. They are 2 1/2 now, say a lot more, but I still don’t understand half of what they are talking about.

  56. Judy Jetson!!! hahahaha!!!Well, I’m afraid I have little insight to share on this topic. I do know that I find it awfully cute when my friend’s 20 month-old yodels, “Odie-odie-odie-odie-o!”Also, that picture is breaking my heart! Oh, the adorableness of it all! 🙂

  57. If my sixteen-month-old is any indication, you’ll be putting up with a foreign language in the house for AT LEAST three more months. Although, judging from the adorable picture, things are moving right along in the teething department!

  58. Do you believe in arranged marriages and does she like younger men? I’ve got the perfect 10 month old for her. Sounds like they have lots in common, speak the same language, etc.

  59. Once again you say exactly what is happening to me in my life — in a way that is immensely more entertaining and fun to read. Do you want to write for my blog too?

  60. She’s so cute! I don’t have much advice for you, since mine is only 10 months. But what I do is lie to myself and everyone else. If it sounds even close to anything, waaalaaa she’s saying it. =o)p.s. I emailed you today, hope you get it.

  61. In my world talking means full sentences. Burst of real words, or attempts at real words are classified as communicating.Whatever it is Thalia is trying to say, she sure is cute. Suck up that babyness, funny words and all, while you can. It goes so fast! At least she hasn’t learned the word “no” yet. That’s a tough stage.

  62. omg she’s cute. love the teeth!and i swear that my babe is speaking a language from another planet, made up entirely of either 1 or 14-syllable words. but she does say ma-ma-ma-ma… (x14)who could ask for more?

  63. Eep Opp Ork Ah Ah. Dammit, another unavailable woman I have a crush on! Why must you rock so?

  64. Eighteen months here.And she STILL says “Dah Dah!” when she sees my picture.On the other hand, she can say “shadow” with great gusto and glee, and she knows exactly what it is.Go figure.

  65. Oh, what a cutie pie she is! Don’t feel bad, my 19 month old son (who has an incredible vocabulary already) still manages to spew long sentences of unintelligible baby babble and then he gets ticked that we’re not smart enough to understand him!Hang in there, it will get clearer than mud someday, then you’ll just wish she’d stop talking non-stop. 🙂

  66. Don’t worry, soon she’ll be able to communicate <>everything<>, and you’ll wish she couldn’t.After all, you don’t really want to know exactly how passionately she doesn’t want to eat that broccoli, or how much her friend doesn’t like you, or all about the tiny little invisible injury on her toe that won’t feel better until you’ve applied ten sticking plasters on the trot, do you? Nah, thought not.

  67. i totally understand what you;re saying. I swear that it’s a cruel joke to give them the power to speak but not to form words…or for us to understand what they say. It’s frustrating and I feel bad that she is trying to tell me something but I just don’t GET it.– Jon– Daddy Detective–

  68. holy fucking moly–i am 78th commenter! yay, liz!!!! the talking thing–in a few months you’ll be writing posts along lines of “holy fuck, thalia’s speaking in full sentences” and “holy crap, thalia said “I love you mommy..”for now, you can only aproximate understanding and piss her off with your apparent ineptitude:-)

  69. I actually used to love that stage. I’d take great pleasure in offering funny translations for his gibberish. Now my friend’s daughter does the same and my son has appointed himself a translator and makes up meanings for her chatter.I once had woman in an elevator say this to me…”you spend the first 2 years of your child’s life hoping they’ll speak and the rest hoping they’ll shut up.” I certainly don’t feel that way but I do long for the babble on days he’s telling the neighbours how much I weigh and that my underwear has a monkey picture on the bum. Thanks hon …how about some nye, nye, nye instead 🙂

  70. 80 comments! Good Lord woman. #81, now calling #81.Yes, hi, I’m #81.#81?(knodding)You may now have the floor.I was going to guess the nye, nye, nye meant she was tired and ready to go night, night. I can remember when my daughter was that age. I would get so pissed off b/c my mom? could totally understand what she was saying or what she wanted but I couldn’t. Me, the person from which she came, had no clue what she was saying but her damn grandmother did. That only lasted a short while though. Now, she is two, and while I think she speaks perfect English, others? hmmmmmm, not so much. Just the other day, an uncle came over and I had to translate what Silly Girl was saying. He was amazed. It was fabulous. I have mad skills. And you will too, just give it a little time.

  71. Just wait until she is four and illogically trying to convince you that you really should drop everything and give her another cookie and then take her to the playground and that little bananas and big bananas do not taste the same and she will not eat ever again unless you give her a big banana for a snack right now.I have days when it would be lovely if my kids couldn’t say anything again.

  72. Oh, man, I wish sometimes my kids would just shut.up.already.But, I know what you mean. My youngest has an autistic spectrum disorder and it’s been hell getting her to speak. When she does, it sounds like she has a mouth full of marbles, speaking underwater.

  73. I invite you to see your future – the video I have posted of my 21 month old reveals that there is still a lot of translation ahead of you, even when they are actually talking. Check my site to see the video and turn the sound on 🙂

  74. Whitney, are you trying to trick me? Is this like that internet thing where you turn the sound up and suddenly a werewolf jumps out at you?

  75. Somehow I completely missed this post, but not to completely destroy your hopes – There are times when I can still not understand my 6 year old, and no she is not in speech therapy and probably really doesn’t need to be (at least none of her teachers seem to be having the same problem that I am), but evey now and then there’s a word that I just can’t figure out. It happens less and less frequently now, more so with the 3 year old.And the 19 month old – well she’s started in to sentences, which is so cute, but she’s also very close to realizing that big people don’t speak in short little sentences so she must need more words in there, even if they are made up words only she understands. Today, I can undedrstand most of what she says, but in the very near future she will again become a mystery and the frustration level in my house will skyrocket.

  76. Yours didn’t come with a decoder ring? Mine did!My niece, who is 2 and 1/2 and just starting to talk in sentences was looking for her “hovel”. I impressed the hell out of my BIL by informing her that her shovel was on the porch. He thought no one could understand her but her parents. Nope. Having decipher four different children’s early speech patterns I now count myself an expert.Enjoy where you’re at. In a year the constant flow of “what, how, why and when” questions will make this time seem bucolic.

  77. One day very soon you’ll be able to decipher most of what she says, and it will be a hoot and a half. My 22-month-old speaks in 3- to 4-word sentences now, always referring to herself in the third person. Occasionally she will say “pretty Mommy,” although a couple of times she said “Mommy fat,” which was not quite as charming. She also sometimes says, “I love you.” Just wait until the first time you hear that!

  78. Our 20 month-old has many more words in his vocabulary now; the only problem is, they still all sound the same. “Lolo” could mean “water” or “Toyota”, depending on the context. “Momo” could mean “more”, “watermelon”, “banana”, or “BMW”. Yes, I have actually screamed, ENUNCIATE! PLEASE GOD, ENUNCIATE!

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