Fake it until you make it

One of my big worries with the speech delay was how it would affect Junior’s social interactions. Two year olds are quite forgiving, three year olds less so; by four and five the single arched eyebrow of disdain starts to be observed. Junior’s speech might be coming on leaps and bounds – but farmyard animals and knowing your colours don’t count for so much when you’re trying to make a friend (or not alienate ones you’ve already got). 

This was a project from when she was three and in nursery. At that stage she was linking words towards three/four word sentences. Very weak on verbs, grammar and the little linking words – but a great mimic. We made a crib list of a handful of sentences that we felt would most help her social interactions and drilled her to fix them like incantations. From memory, the key ones were “do you want to play?” and “my turn next” / “your turn”. These supported her main social difficulties at that time: initiating a friendship appropriately and participating in a shared game without inevitably either taking over or withdrawing. 

Junior is 4 now, and I’ve gone back to coaching some ‘magic phrases’ at a higher level. She’s a terrible loser (and not a great winner). I can see this being a social handicap. She’ll win and run around crowing her victory; lose and crumple and stamp around. Now I’m coaching her to squeeze out a ‘good game’ handshake. And actually – when she congratulates her opponent – it takes the energy out of her losers-rage – because she recognises the games as the social dances they are, not as measures of her worth and success.

Think back to when you learned a language. Lots of vocabulary, grammar. Cringingly bad voice acting of teenagers on crackly recordings discussing how they plan to go to ‘le boum’ on the ‘fin de semaine’. Then you grow up, get a job, and get casually told that you’re flying out the following week to a critically important conference abroad. Only thing to do under that kind of pressure is to dump the ‘learning’ and start the ‘cramming’ – cutting away everything other than the most useful phrases. ‘Bonjour’; ‘Ou est TOILET’; ‘Je suis VEGETARIAN. Non poison VEGETARIAN. POISSSSON NON.’; ‘Trop cher. Je-ne-pas MONNAY.’. It’s patent hacked together nonsense – but it gives you enough to demonstrate willing to your hosts. Leverage enough social charm that someone might invite you to ‘le disco cette weekend?’.

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