When kids mangle language we all benefit

Helping a tiny baby to learn your language is like building a bonfire with words for twigs. Nothing happens for ages. You keep putting the bloody twigs on and trudging back and forth in a cold, damp field. You may have a faulty pelvic floor and much rather be watching something on the telly with a towel under your bum, but bonfires don’t build themselves, do they?

But there’s a problem. No matter how many words you pile on, nothing catches. At first, you try to build it properly, sentence by sentence, with full stops and proper pauses, but by the end, you’re just flinging random words on top of each other, sweating and slightly mad. You stand back. It’s taken more than a year or longer. You now have a huge pile of impressive but slightly useless wood. You try singing nursery rhymes to it, but it stares blankly back before doing a poo and crying.

You give up and are about to put the kettle on. Then you hear a roar and a crackle behind you. The fire has caught. Everything you piled on that bonfire, even the words you thought didn’t go in, is playing its part, burning brightly with the sheer exuberance of language. You stand back to bask in the heat and the magic and the wildness of the flames, rubbing your hands and telling all your neighbours: “Yep, I built that. Oh, it was nothing. Just love and patience, really.”

From that moment, the fire burns for ever.

Read more: The Guardian

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