I’ve lost count of the times, when posting my dad’s credit card down a crack in the floorboards, or generously covering my little brother’s face in lipstick as a little girl, that I was called a little monkey. But new research suggests that our ape cousins and toddlers have a lot in common. A chimpanzee and a child of exactly the same birth date were studied in the USA over 18 months from age one onwards, and their learning patterns were recorded.
Human gestures, such as a desire to be held by a parent or need for food, brought about scarily similar gestures and sounds. Repetition and recognition of shapes by forming sounds was also so close that maybe we really all were little monkeys in some way!
What is clear is that the sponge effect—young minds soaking up education faster than my dad could clear up all the cups of his coffee I was knocking over—is a massive benefit when it comes to language. Children have no fear, as is clear when you see a little one speed past on the ski slope as you weep into your scarf. There is no embarrassment or fear of looking stupid. As a result they are the perfect candidates to pick up language. Speaking to kids in a language you already know is the most common technique, but language learning as a family is a great way to practice communicating, and means that next time your little one drops your phone in the toilet you could try “Mon Dieu!!” instead of “Agggh”. After all it sounds so much prettier!