Episode 9: She Speaks the Language of Birds

Apart from mild surprise when reading my mother’s entries in the baby book she kept for me, which lists the number of words I could say at 12 months and various intervals beyond that, I never really noticed too much that Allia didn’t speak words that could be recognised. Because she talked non-stop. She communicated incessantly with much enthusiasm and wasn’t shy.

She spoke a language tongue that we referred to as bird-talk, it was long streams of dialogue that went up and down in intonation which I was just on the verge of understanding if I listened hard enough, I was sure. Like listening to Italian or Arabic, languages that incorporate much body language and expression which communicate mood, tension and excitement without the need to understand their words.  It was very much like listening to the French language on the television or the radio in my early days of living here – somewhat familiar sounds with that feeling that surely if I did listen hard enough, it was just a matter of time before something in my brain clicked and “poof” I would understand everything.

It wasn’t until her brother arrived on the scene a year later and started using recognisable words in his rambled dialogue very early on that the contrast became noticeable – I think he understood the bird-talk because they would chatter away to each other and to us without hesitation. I wondered then if something was perhaps amiss, I say perhaps, because I am against making comparisons between children, they develop at their own pace and depending on what they are working on developing, other aspects can lag behind.

When people started suggesting we video her speaking like this, I realised it really was a little out of the ordinary, it was almost as if she had her own language, something like a twin language – but no twin. Unlike today when making a piece of film footage is child’s play, I wasn’t comfortable filming her as a kind of spectacle, I was more concerned with just interacting with her and giving her the freedom to express herself, waiting for her language to become something like one of the three languages she was hearing at home.

Next Up: in A Silent Education: Our Quiet Challenge in Provence

Episode 10: The Move Down Under and a Shocking Diagnosis

Previous Episodes

18 thoughts on “Episode 9: She Speaks the Language of Birds

    • Thank you Fransi, the alternative NaNo perhaps, write the story into your blog and by the end it will become a book. 🙂 And in this case, an illustrated one.

      There are some tough bits ahead, so necessary to recall the lighter moments.


  1. Wonderfully written Claire!!! So you better be joining me for the next NaNoWriMo. I really see an illustrated book too. Each page contains a part of the story along with the illustrations, but you can’t get the whole story until you read to then end. each page can also be a stand alone. I really do enjoy your writing. I’m on edge for the next installment. However concerning language, it’s a funny thing. Communication needs lots of social skills for it to come out “as we expect it to”. I have a friend who has 2 autistic children. They didn’t speak for the first 3 years but they can speak and understand both French and English. Patience is also a virtue when it comes to our children learning to speak and each one of them does it in a different way and at their own speed. Thanks for sharing this story!!!


    • Thanks Deidre, I love that this story also has a surprise element for me each episode, I never have any idea what Allia is going to come up with and I am constantly delighted.

      Yes, bilinguism is certainly a factor and selective mutism is as common as autism, just less well known, although becoming more so. Many children take their time and often don’t speak much in their first months or year at school. It’s when the silence endures for 5+ years that we truly learn what patience really means. 🙂


  2. Your story is unput-downable, but unfortunately we have to put it down, – or switch off in this case. I am awed by the way you face each step of the journey, and like everyone else, I’m sure, I’m anxious about where the next instalment will go !


    • I’m happy that I no longer have to keep track of all the bits of looseleaf paper this was part scribbled on and that its continuing to write itself in a form that can be easily retrieved. Thank you for your kind words Valerie, I’m a little anxious too about putting you all through this, the next one not easy I’m afraid. But Allia will lift it up for me I am sure, waiting on her now 🙂


  3. Language is fascinates me…verbs, tenses, words, conjunctons and dangling participles. It’s not easy and wonderful to have your own means of communication, Often I remember the first poem of W Szymbroska,,,,perhaps your daughter is too…”I seek the word”.


  4. Love this post. As a speech therapist I love to hear individual stories of language development. Yes, we all do develop when we are ready. You could always video tape her ‘just because’…someday she won’t talk like that anymore and I’m sure no one could possibly replicate her unique language!


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