Traditionally, babies in the U.S. are expected to start saying their first words within the first year of life. Most American one-year-olds are capable of saying basic words like “mama”, “dada”, and “uh-oh”, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, language development experts are raising alarms that we must do more to teach our children to speak, as we are already falling behind the rest of the world.
In China, most infants are able to say their first word within a few hours of being born. Typically, a Chinese baby’s first word is “饿”. Pronounced “uhh” in Mandarin, 饿 means “hungry”. Since newborns need to eat every two hours, it makes sense that they would have evolved the ability to express such an important need at an early age. Shockingly, this word is spoken in Mandarin even in parts of China where that’s not the dominant dialect. This is truly a testament to the Chinese government’s approach to standardized language education.
Chinese linguists aren’t surprised about by their children’s precociousness. Dr. Mingxin Wang of Beijing University’s Linguistics Department credits his society’s high standards. “Chinese children must learn quickly how to express their needs for them to be successful in their lives. American children, spoiled by Western decadence, can simply cry. Even when they do start to speak, all they can do is ask their parents for help.”
China isn’t the only country where children are outpacing Americans in language development. In Italy, children are able to say “e” — which means “and” — within the first few days of life. This is the equivalent of saying “more”, helping them get more food when they want it.
Perhaps most surprisingly, even our neighbors to the north in Canada are leaving us behind. As everyone knows, newborns are confused by all of the new experiences they are encountering. They don’t understand what is happening or why they are feeling the way they do. Canadian babies express this existential crisis within hours of being born, simply by saying “eh?”.