Category Archives: Babies

On babies who say ‘Ne!’


The Comet has started to copy the sounds other people make. You noticed this when on a farm visit recently. There were pigs. Many pigs, many piglets, all happily grunting away. The Star was enthralled and the Comet tried to suck the fencing. As you snatched her up and carried her off, you noticed that she was doing an excellent pig impression. Since then she hasn’t looked back and so this week you have been entertaining yourself by seeing how many more animal noises you can get her to do. The horse is both your favourites. ‘Neigh!’ you whiffle, throwing your head up and flicking your mane. ‘Neigh!’ ‘Ne!’ the Comet counters sticking her chin in the air and sneaking you a look to see if she is doing it right. ‘Ne!’*

To be honest you nearly missed this development, because the Comet’s desire to have a good gossip definitely transcends her ability to form the actual words, and as a result you feel as though you have been having conversations with her for quite some time now. In addition to expert turn taking, she has also added perfect intonation, speaking eyes and descriptive hand gestures to her repertoire, and many times a day she will turn to you and ask what is clearly a question, tilting her head enquiringly, shrugging up her shoulders with her palms spread wide, raising her eyebrows and ending on a rising tone. Sometimes, if she feels you are being particularly obtuse, she points, but mostly she just listens intently to your answer, frowns a bit, makes a few comments, often asks another question, and you both can keep this going for quite some time. All in all you do wonder how her version of your little chats is going. You know you are enjoying your half.

You could do without the loud, high-pitched shrieking, mind. But to be fair to the her, she does it when she wants to get across, emphatically, that something is unacceptable. Usually, a lack of food.** It’s not easy getting your point across when you are the youngest in a house full of forceful personalities, but luckily the Comet is able to rise to the challenge.

She is also learning the gentle art of standing up for yourself. Does the Comet stand quietly aside when the Star removes all the toys she is playing with to his side of the room, tries to hug her once too often or steals her last strawberry? Does she heck. No, she marches crossly over to you, hides behind your legs and gives that Star a thorough ticking off.

Such language. Ah well.

*Diphthongs are difficult. They were difficult for the Star too. Interesting.

**Girl eats a lot. She is definitely her brother’s sister, because then she does not rest until she has run it straight off again.  It turns out that the Comet is pretty much as energetic as the Star. Yes, I am exhausted. No, I do not want to contemplate the fact that they are only four and one respectively.

On pain.


A mother is someone who becomes totally oblivious to the unpleasantness of many bodily functions, and so as mistress of poo, puke and piss you feel quite comfortable in inflicting the Internet with the information that last week you got your period again after an unbroken run of 20 months free of sluggish crampy bleeding.

The interesting thing about this (to you) is that it occurred two weeks practically to the day after the Comet upped and decided to give up breastfeeding. Which came first you would like to know. Was it the sudden shock to the system which restarted your reproductive cycle or was it the the egg which soured your milk?

However your interest is definitely taking a backseat to your upset. You were not ready to stop breastfeeding. You have always taken the view that since you were unable to manage exclusive feeding, that the least you could do is keep the milkbar open for a decent length of time. Plus, there’s something very soothing about settling down with your baby at the end of the day for a bit of a snuggle and a snack. You fed the Star well into his second year, just the once, at bed time, and you were looking forward to doing that with the Comet too.

But mostly, having her scream and arch her back as you brought her to the breast was hurtful. You felt rejected. Bereft. Empty armed. You feel rejected. Bereft. Empty armed.

And you felt pain. Thanks to the fact that the Comet was feeding quite often at night as well as in the evening, stopping cold like that meant that you got quite engorged. Owowowowow. OW! OW! OW! This went on for a good three weeks. OWOWOWOWOW! OW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Of course, you had sold the breastpump about two weeks before. So no relief there, or the possibility of carrying the milk production on in the hope that she would reattach, or even so that you could feed her real milk in a bottle. Not that you ever managed to get a breastpump to work for you anyway. No, hand expressing didn’t do much either.

However, life goes on and presumably she knew what she was doing. She’s 11 months now (good grief) so she can certainly survive without your milk. She’s also sleeping better at night, clearly deciding that being walked up and down, up and down, up and down and up and down instead of suckled back to sleep was unsatisfactory, and sleep is, after all, also important. And this means that you are now able to sleep more too.

Or you would be able to had you not bruised (or possibly cracked) your ribs in a bathroom accident while washing the Star’s hair. He objected, you moved sharply to protect your still extremely tender tits, skidded on the by then very wet floor and crashed, ribcage first, onto the side of the bath.

It’s a good thing you were also winded or both your children’s vocabulary would have been considerably enriched.

On the upside, since you are no longer breastfeeding you feel quite comfortable numbing the cracked (or possibly bruised) ribs into submission with back to back maximum strength ibuprofen, many paracetamol and very strong coffee. This has been working quite well as long as you don’t lie flat or bend, lift anything or laugh. It is unfortunate that bending, lifting stuff and laughing describes parenting in a nutshell, of course, but there you are.

Plus, you wish your husband would stop doing his impression of the Comet doing her impression of the Men in Black’s bug-in-an-Edgar-suit now that she is walking. It’s uncanny and very very funny.

Hahahahahaha! OW! Don’t make me laugh. Hahahahahahahahaha! OWOWOW! No really stop it, it hurts! Hahahahahahahahahahahhahahhahaha! OW! OW! OW! Oh god, no, don’t. Hahahahahahahahahahahaha! OW!

On the fear of fur coats mark two.


OK, so you’ve had your third blog post published by the BBC World Service, this time about the difference between the way your son and daughter have acquired sounds. This is a sort of follow up to the post you wrote about your son many moons ago, but also arose out of you making an amusing but ultimately totally wrong assumption, which you totally got called on on everybody’s favourite website, h2g2, a conversation which ended up being an interesting discussion of first words in general.

My daughter started making consonants sounds a while ago, which was, of course, very exciting. They were not very recognisable consonant sounds at first, and this was more exciting still as it meant I could play a second round of ‘guess what order my child will acquire sounds’.

My son’s first proper syllable went ‘Gagagagaga’ closely followed by ‘Dadadadada’. This was rather disappointing. We were using ‘Papa’ for the father-figure at this point, rather than the English ‘Dad’ or ‘Daddy’, but on the other hand I had been regularly chanting ‘Mamamamamama’ at him since birth.

In fact my son went on to produce ‘Babababa’ and ‘Papapapapa’ well before anything like an ‘Mmmmm’ crossed his lips, and I consoled myself by looking at the International Phonemic Alphabet, which I am sure is much more familiar to Russians struggling with the eccentricities of English spelling vs pronunciation than it is to British people. I noted that my son was working his way along the top row from right to left, and starting with voiced sounds.* I also couldn’t see that his potential bilingualism would have much to do with it, the top lines being much of a muchness for both English and Russian.

When my daughter’s first syllable turned out to be ‘Mamamamama’ I was, therefore, quite surprised and revisited the issue.

Of course, a friend of mine claims that first children tend to say ‘Dada/Papa’ before ‘Mama’ because mothers spend so much of their day talking about this exciting person who turns up just in time to read the kid a story at bedtime. The second child just hears the first child saying ‘Mama! Mama! Mama! Mama! Mama!’ all day.

That said, it turns out there is research on the order of consonant acquisition out there. And low and behold, across a number of different languages the top two lines of the phonemic chart seem the easiest for children to make and are therefore the first said.

Both Russian and British parents will probably also recognise that it is the group of sounds in the middle of the chart that cause problems, the sounds such as ‘th’ or ‘sh/ш’ or ‘ch/ч’ or‘ц’. Interestingly, and this is the point my son is at now, both the English and the Russian ‘r’ gives the most trouble, despite the fact that they are rather different. I am told that mastery of the rolled ‘r’ may not come until my son is closer to five than four, although he also has problems with ‘l’. Is the inability to say, for example, ‘la’ and say ‘ya’ instead also common for purely Russian speaking children too?

I ask because I am fascinated by the idea that their bilingualism could show itself at the most basic levels of their language. Because although the most definite results for the order of consonant acquisition are for groups of consonants rather than precisely which consonant will come in which order, most English speaking children at least tend to go from right to left, from the ‘Mamamamama’ to the ‘Gagagagagagaga’. So totally opposite to the way your son did it.

I find this interesting as the reason given is that ‘m’ and ‘b’ and are made at the front of the mouth whereas ‘d’ and ‘g’ towards the back. And I often think that Russian is a very back of the mouth language compared to English. In fact, the musical director for a British choir I used to sing with once suggested that when we had to sing in Russian, we should imagine that we were also trying to swallow a watermelon, and laugh all you want, my husband was actually quite impressed by our efforts to sound Slavic when he came to the eventual concert.

Of course, this does rather open the question of why my daughter seems to be following the classic monolingual English speaker route.

Perhaps my son was simply showing his innate perversity rather than his deep Russian soul. But then since my daughter is always with me, my son talks to me in English and my son talks A LOT, perhaps, this is just a version of the first child influencing the second child’s first sounds after all.

*Put your hand on your throat and say ‘vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv.’ Feel the vibration? That’s a voiced sound. Now try ‘ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff.’ That’s not.

On scheduling, for parents.


You’ve always rather resented the whole ‘women are better at multitasking’ thing because you are not. Your ability to tune out the world while you focus on one thing at a time is infinite. Your ability to type this journal in English, feed the baby, watch the news, do the washing up, get breakfast for the toddler, prepare for an OFSTED inspection at work and load the washing machine while simultaneously chatting in Russian to your MiL, taking the toddler upstairs for a poo, perusing the instructions to eliminate a particular type of punctuation from some Internet code, rescuing a climbing baby from the hi-fi separates, (or, possibly, rescuing the hi-fi separates from a climbing baby), reminding the toddler 26 times to put his pants back on, composing comprehension questions in your head and reading a book called ‘Sumita’s Pink Bicycle for the 3 millionth time is…

[Brief pause while you wash yoghurt off the back of the baby's head.]

[Another brief pause while you disinfect the high chair, sweep the floor, and take the rubbish out.]

["If you eat that all yourself, I'll read you a book."]

["Yes, sweets, that really is an excellent seagull impression."]

[Another brief pause while you muse on the fact that, having been forced to move to Salford, BBC Breakfast is gamely trying to make Manchester the centre of the universe. Although, to be fair, the fact it isn't raining there is news.]

[Less brief pause while you try to convince the baby that the computer is not a 22987v9c8g??????)(*&^%$£" toy.]

[Brief pause while you finish cleaning yoghurt off the floor.]

[My word, what a surprising number of towns conveniently situated for soundbites from the average punter in the Midlands there are.]

[Hang on, there's still yoghurt on the baby.]

[...reading a book...]

["Noooooo! Not the iPhone!"]

["Put you pants back on!"]

[What are we going to have for dinner tonight? *Much discussion in Russian*]

OK, I’ll finish this later.

Two days later


[Noises off]

Rather more days later

Anyway, it’s not just the inability to finish anything you start that annoys you, although you did realise the other day that the reason you like taking the kids out on trips is at least in part because it is one of the few activities which has a beginning a middle and an end all on the same day.

It’s the inability to schedule that quietly drives you insane. You may prefer to finish one thing before moving on to the next, but modern life is rubbish and that wasn’t always possible even before kids. But at least you knew how long, roughly, stuff would take, and you could create satisfying little to do lists and timetables in your head and, generally, win them.

Children, however, are frustrating to diarise. Something that lasted 15 minutes yesterday may take 2 hours today. Or 2 minutes. And their interruptions are unpredictable and, usually, unignorable. It is quite hard to resist a small girl who wants you to play ‘let’s put the (soft) building blocks on my head’, or the pre-schooler who can make the question why last all morning and go twice round your understanding of physics.

What to do? Concentrate on the childcare, the childcare and nothing but the childcare, interspersed by a little light housework? Trouble with that is that although sometimes you find you do not have whole evenings to yourself, sometimes you find that you do. Plus, your brain would dribble out of your ears.

And so life post children, especially post two children is, you have found, the art of throwing up lots of balls and dashing around trying to catch them all before they hit the ground.

When you start to drop too many of them, or stay up till 11pm on a regular basis* to catch them, that’s when you know it’s time to scale back.

*Ooooooh, the wild, riotous living.

On a blaze of light.


The Comet is now over eight months old, which hardly seems possible. Where has the time gone?

She has certainly not been wasting it. She went from rolling to sliding abut on her tummy to pulling herself into a standing position to cruising the furniture to occasionally letting go and falling with an audible thunk of her head on the floor in no time at all. And now she has started to crawl properly and sit up on her own too!*

In fact, you think she is going though a developmental spurt. She looks round when anyone says ‘Cometuchka, smotrii’,** Babushka has this week taught her to clap her hands, in response to a particular song no less, and you and she have just started to have head shaking conversations in the middle of the night. You shake your head, she shakes hers. You shake your head back, she shakes hers. This does not get old.

Her waking up three times a night every night, however, already has.

Quite exciting also is the Comet’s graduation to actual consonants. ‘Gabamadaba,’ she says as she potters about the house, the actual sound being rather indistinct as yet. This is somewhat later than the Star managed, but she has been making excellent communicative use of growls, raspberries and, when Grandad is about, snuffles, so you are looking at it as a quirk.

After all, she looks set to walk well in advance of his record of well over one.

However, the thing that is going to win her the CUTEST BABY IN THE WORLD award is that she has started to play along with peekaboo, or cookoo as the Russians inexplicably call it.

Not only will she giggle as you hide your face behind your hands and then pull the big reveal. Not only will she look quite worried if you fail to reappear quite as quickly as she expects.*** Not only will she do this, but she will also burry her head in the cushion to hide from you, or, and this is really going for the viral youtube moment, she will manhandle a book in front of her face and duck her head down behind it, before popping up, shyly but delightedly smiling, to make sure you noticed.

*Is she supposed to be walking before she can crawl? If not, you do seem to breed pig headed children. The Star is currently going though a phase of refusing to eat anything but chicken soup. Much wailing and knashing of teeth. Yours. He is not bovered. WhatEVAH, Mama.

**’Look’ in Russian. But everybody had guessed that, right?

***The ears, which are still very big, makes this extremely funny. She looks like a concerned goblin now, albeit a concerned goblin with what looks like permanently very large blue melting eyes.

On Jaws 2.


So having ridiculed it a few posts back (Christmas, all two of it, was basically good, thanks. You took the decorations down a couple of days ago. Just after Old New Year. You may never wash the smell of mince pies out of your hair), it appears that you are doing baby led weaning with your daughter.

This actually started at British-Christmas-at-your-parents-dinner, when in order to keep the Comet satisfied, you handed her a blini to chew on. She ate it. Then she ate another one. Then she ate some sprouts. And some carrots and parsnips. And half a banana.

For Christmas tea she had cucumber and lettuce. Plus another couple of blini. And to be honest, since all you had to do was sit there and scrape the mush off her face and the high chair later, you rapidly revised your opinion of the whole thing.

Thing is, it works because the Comet is a chewer. The Star was never a chewer. In fact, the Star has only really quite recently embraced chewing as a concept for regular use.

You can hear the baby led weaners saying, yes of course, if he was weaned on purees, of course he didn’t chew. But you can safely say that chewing is basically the Comet’s default state regardless of the stage of weaning, including ‘before’.

It’s amazing what a very mobile baby can find on the floor.

Let’s not go too mad though. There’s a certain level of mess into which you are not prepared to descend. So you are still pureeing anything which she can’t get into her mouth relatively cleanly.

Of course, the chewing frenzy might have something to do with the two small teeth poking out of her bottom gums. You are certainly hoping that is the explanation for the Comet’s complete and utter failure to sleep through the night the last few months.

Of course it could be the constipation. Poor girl’s bowels didn’t really recover after you introduced cauliflower cheese and she scoffed a rather larger bowl than was probably wise.

Prunes. What would you do without them?

On the whale vs the bowl of petunias.


You are beginning to notice how much more pleasant it is to be out and about with the Star lately.

This is perhaps because the Comet has learned to crawl, or rather, slither and you have discovered that her calmness was all a front. She has clearly just been spending the last five and a half months wisely, looking at things she couldn’t reach and making a mental note to head straight for them the minute she got mobile.

The last few days have been characterised by you tripping over a small body as she commandos her way towards another book or toy, or finding her wedged into the space between the sofa and the wall intending to gnaw on a power cable.

She also climbs. She has a good line in reaching up, snagging the edge of the coffee table with one hand, using that to gain purchase with the other and then hanging there, little legs scrambling for grip. Oh and she can damn near get herself into a sitting position too. She lists a bit, and eventually ends up with her nose in the carpet, but it won’t be long before she can do it.

She is, in fact, even more energetic than the Star was, and that was something you didn’t think was possible. Although you will give her the fact that she can be indoors in, say, an art gallery, without needing to shout as loudly as she possibly can, just because it is dark and quiet and she can.

The Star, in contrast, seems to have developed a bit of maturity. You like to think that the Star’s relative calmness these days is due to your water torture approach to discipline.

It seems that somewhere after the five millionth time you insisted on his holding your hand and did the whole right, now we stop at the edge of the read, check for cars, remember not to step out into the road randomly, you don’t want to be squashed like a bug, stop at the road, look there’s a car, it’s a road, stop, look, wait for Mama, it’s a road, there are cars, you might be squashed like a bug, stop, wait, look, wait, stop, stop, stop, SQUASHED LIKE A BUG, stop routine it has actually gone in. The Star will stop at roads now without you having to scream at him and lunge for his collar.  He even roundly told you off the other day for walking in the middle of a (temporarily closed off) road and insisted on using the pavement.

In fact, the Star is entering the age of reason. Or rather, the age where threats, bribes and shameless flattery actually work. Or perhaps it’s just that he’s now over his initial whalelike reaction to the world and is channelling the bowl of petunias*. It’s a lot easier to resist the shiny shiny when it isn’t also quite so new and therefore exciting.

It’s not perfect, of course, but generally his only remaining fault is his tendency to accelerate over the horizon in pursuit of a pigeon. Or a goose. Or a swan. Or any bird that is foolish enough to be big enough to catch a toddle’s eye.

So it is with a rather heavy heart that you realise that just as the Star enters childhood, where you can see the light at the end of the bum-wiping, spoon-feeding, clothes-dressing phase of motherhood for one child, you get to do it al over again with the Comet.

Well, of course you have already been doing it with the Comet, but there’s a big difference between a baby who stays where you put her and one who if you are in the slightest bit attentive will be investigating the contents of the sharps drawer before you know it.

Especially as she climbs.

On smug motherhood.


‘I wanna banana!’ said your son.

‘Sorry, sweets, no bananas today.’

The Star frowned. ‘Apple! Me have an apple?’

‘No apples either. We need to go shopping. How about a satsuma?’

‘Yes!’ Cherubic smile of satisfaction. ‘A sat-suma! I yike sat-sumas.’

There are times when you get to feel really smug as a mother, and when exchanges like this happen at top volume on a busy bus, that is one of them.

You feel justified in accepting the accolades that must surely have been rolling in upon you from your fellow passengers. You put a lot of effort into the Star’s food and eating habits. You do a lot of cooking. You do a lot of cooking from scratch.  Junk food in your house is pelmeni, Russian style ravioli. You even make your own hamburgers.

As a result you have a son who will refuse fish fingers*, can’t stand ketchup, has only recently discovered fruit juice is nicer than plain water, prefers the bitter dark Russian chocolate to the exceptionally sweet Cadburys  and whose favourite foods are apples,** brocoli, tomatoes and home-made chicken noodle soup.*** He doesn’t eat biscuits.  Or puddings. Not even with custard. He prefers fruit. He likes smoked salmon, steamed salmon, salmon and broccoli pasta and has never knowingly eaten a chicken nugget.

Of course, given that you can feel anxious about absolutely anything parenting related, you worry about this. Will he, you fret, rebel when he is thirteen, eat a Happy Meal and then consume nothing but McDonald’s for the rest of his life, die at 45 an obese blob as a result of your failure to desensitize him to fatty, sugar laden foods?

But the thing is, it’s not that you ban these things from his life. Every now and again you’ll make a cake and offer him some. He’ll nibble the icing and demand some grapes. You can’t even get him to eat sausages unless you hide them in toad in the hole, which is a shame as you like them.

In fact, it weren’t for the fact that he doesn’t really want to be adventurous, is steadfast in turning his nose up at stuffed peppers and adores ice cream, you’d be tempted to jack in the cooking and buy in a years’  supply of microwavable dinners to redress the balance.

Anyway. This is relevant because, as well as the fact that it doesn’t do to miss an opportunity for a good boast when you are a mother, you are about to wean the Comet.

Which means breaking out the baby rice and having at her with purees and not giving baby led weaning a chance.

Baby led weaning, for the child rearing fashion challenged amongst us, is where you cover the floor, the walls and any siblings in plastic sheeting, plonk a bowl of (unsalted but otherwise unadulterated) spaghetti bolognaise in front of a seven month old, stand well back and let them have at it. And then give them a bath and nuke the kitchen from orbit.

You would find it amusing, and as the Comet already has a good line in lunging for the nearest banana, or trying to face plant in the Rice Krispies, or flinging herself sideways to go after a piece of flying pasta, you doubt you will be able to resist giving her a spoon and a plate of cauliflower cheese sometime very soon, just to see what she makes of it.

But by and large, you don’t want to mess with the magic formula that has produced the Star and his disgustingly well-balanced attitude towards food.

Plus, there is the issue of the mess.

*Unless he’s at his Granny’s. For some reason he likes fish fingers at Granny’s.

**He ate four today. You are not sure this is entirely healthy. And nearly an entire bag of satsumas yesterday. On the other hand, surely this is better than him eating four lots of sweets?

***OK, and crisps. He doesn’t get to eat crisps very often though, so he has stopped asking for them. You save them for situations that call for really big bribes.

On Ooooooooooooooh Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!


You took the Star to his first fireworks display yesterday.

It’s not the first time he’s seen fireworks. You took him to the Ancestral New Town last year for rockets and Catherine wheels  in the back garden. He loved it, so for 2011 you decided that it was time to take him to the real thing in the Big Park Near You. Oh, and the Comet. The Comet really benefits from being a second child. There is no way the Star would have been out so far past his bedtime at her age.

You set off with a good half hour to go, thinking that you would just pop on the bus and get to the place you and B had decided would be a good one to observe from.

This happened to be on the other side of the river to where the display was actually taking place. You are cheap, you see, and didn’t feel like paying the £20 entrance fee (‘kids go free!’ Yeah. Right).

First snag. You had insufficiently considered that everybody else in your corner of London would be doing the same thing. You were eventually forced to walk an extra 15 minutes to the other bus-stop, miss another two buses due to overcrowding, muscle your way into the last seats on the top floor on a third, roar off round the corner, and then get promptly stuck in a traffic jam.

You got off the bus.

You began trotting towards the river, determinedly dragging the toddler. But at some point, you and B decided that you weren’t going to make the far bank in time and cut left through the houses in order to go and ooh and ahh from the boundaries of the park.

As it happens, when the display started, the fireworks marshals were too busy removing the fencing in anticipation of the exodus to come, and so you and quite a lot of other people ended up standing just inside the park, with a pretty good view of the bangs and wizzes.

The Star really enjoyed himself. He ended up on his Papa’s shoulders shouting WEEEEEEEEEEEEE! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! and DAAAVAAAAAI, DAAAVAAAAAI!* at the top of his voice throughout.

The Comet started stoically at the pretty lights. Very occasionally, she blinked. You had your hand over her ears, but still, you’d expected a bit more reaction.

Then it was time to go home.

You meandered back along your side of the river, watching the party boats sail by and allowing the Star plenty of time to throw leaves into the water.

Then you got to your bus stop. They’d closed the roads round the park and the traffic was pretty chocka, but your bus was coming so you weren’t too worried.

The bus was terminating there and turning round again rather than trying to force its way through the jam any further. They do that. It’s irritating. It’s especially irritating when you have an over stimulated toddler and a baby to get home. Eventually you decided to bite the bullet and just walk.

You walked and walked and walked. B carried the Star, but the Star is 20kg these days and he could only do so far before you both had to find new incentives to keep the kid on his feet a bit further. Sadly, pigeon chasing is impractical at night. There are no pigeons.

You made it to another, different bus stop after a while. The Star entertained himself, as he is wont to do in such circumstances, by commanding passers-by to STOP! As ever, a few revellers did so, which just thrilled him right down to his little socks.

Your bus came.

And went again. Too overcrowded to even stop.

You ended up getting the Inconvenient Bus and then Yet Another Bus after that, arriving home at 10.30pm.

The fireworks finished at 8.30.

Next year, you will probably be partaking of your parents’ hospitality again.

*’Let’s go! Let’s Go!’

On stress management.


So last Sunday, just two weeks after you wielded absolute power via Twitter over the BBC’s Formula One coverage, you were shamed on live international TV by the same commentator, Martin Brundle, who had previously accepted your correction of his pronunciation of the Russian driver PetROV’s name.

He’d asked PetROV how to pronounce his name, and come away with the impression that the way that he, Martin, and every other English speaker says it (‘PETrov’) was, in fact, correct.

‘After all he should know,’ he ended triumphantly.*

You can think of a number of reasons for the discrepancy between your understanding of the pronunciation and Martin’s**.

  • You are wrong. This is clearly not an option.
  • PetROV is wrong. Now he has been living abroad for a while. You strongly suspect that he has given up worrying about the mad things English speakers do to his name. If Martin said ‘Am I saying this right? PETrov?’ you can well imagine him thinking himself lucky that his name wasn’t being pronounced ‘Peters’ and nodding enthusiastically.
  • Martin is wrong.
Now you do not rule out option two, but in fact you are going for door number three as you would not be at all surprised if the truth is that when PetROV growled ‘PetROV’, Martin heard ‘PETrov regardless. And here’s why.

One of the problems people encounter with language learning, when learning a new language rather than acquiring more than one language as a child, is the amount of interference they get from their native tongue.

This is particularly pronounced when it comes to pronunciation.

Theoretically, babies are born with the potential to speak any language, although recent studies show that even in the womb they are picking up elements of what will become their native tongue. It doesn’t take long before babies are showing a marked preference towards what will become their mother tongue(s). Even babies’ babble is different for different languages.

This means that out of the full range of sounds a human mouth can make, sooner rather than later, they start to fixate on a really rather limited number. And it’s not just sounds either, but things like patterns in sentence and word stress and intonation. Babies quickly get used to a particular way of declaiming a language and, and this is the important bit, they start to lose the ability to really hear, let alone produce, nuances in the pronunciation in other languages.

People tend to think it’s the individual sounds they need to pay attention to in pronunciation. But while you can have a lot of fun discussing sheets with B on laundry day because Russians do not have a long/ short vowel distinction and tend to pronounce the ‘i’ and ‘ee’ in ‘trip’ and ‘tree’ the same, mainly all that mispronunciation of sounds does is tip other people off that you are someone with a charmingly other accent.

Word stress is important for comprehension, much more so than the pronunciation of individual sounds. There are some real WTF moments to be had when struggling to work out what somebody who has just put the stress on the wrong syLAble of a key word actually means.

Now stress in English is achieved in three ways. Firstly, a stressed syllable will be louder than other syllables. So far so obvious. But it will also be longer than other syllables and higher in pitch.

This is not the same in all languages. In French, for example, all syllables take the same mount of time to say, regardless of stress.

Russian has a much narrower pitch range than English. Their lows are not as low and their highs are not as high.

This is mainly a problem in intonation, especially as they also change pitch less often in any given utterance.

And what does intonation convey? Politeness, interest, emotion.  In particular, in English we show politeness and interest by starting really high, changing pitch often and swooping up to the full height or full low of our range.

Most Russians, then, tend to come across as flat, monotone, disinterested, rude.

It also means that English speakers sound tragically over excited about virtually everything when they speak Russian. Russians habitually think that English speakers are more tired, more excited, more angry, more everything than they actually are whether they are speaking Russian or English.

And that means it is harder for a native English speaker to spot, let alone reproduce, word stress in Russian. They are only doing two and a half of the three things the English speaker does.

It doesn’t help that in this case, English two-syllable nouns almost always put the stress on the first one.

Now spotting pronunciation nuances, including word stress, is one of those skills that comes with practice.

You are pretty good at it. You have spent 15 years in classrooms wondering why Kirill is virtually incomprehensible and trying to fix it. That’s a lot of time tuning your ear into mistakes.

Martin Brundle clearly isn’t.

Not that he should feel too bad about it. He can hear things in the note of an engine that you wouldn’t even with a pause button and the volume turned up high.

But given that he might feel a little dubious about accepting the expertise of some pseudonymous Internet weirdo, and because you, obviously feel the need to prove to the Internet at large that you are the one who is right, you have decided to provide him, and the rest of the Formula One presenters with some more, some many more examples of Russian people, commentators, newscasters and random fans saying ‘petROV’, sometimes quite loudly, in the hope that if it is repeated often enough they will be able to get their ear in.

You would also like them to pay attention to the fact that there’s a rolled R and the ‘v’ sound at the end is much softer, more like an F, than they are expecting.

But you will be magnanimous in victory and give them till the end of the season to get that right.

The video evidence***.

A feature on Vitaly PetROV on the news. His name is at 9 seconds, 50 secs, 1 minute 25 and 2 mins 34. Or thereabouts.

Another news item. With an interview! See 50 secs, 2 mins 5, 2 mins 42,  3 mins 14, 4 mins 52 and 5 mins 10.

Sports news reports this time. See 10secs, 21 secs, 50 secs and probably at points thereafter as well (and bask in PetROV’s podium).

PetROV is at some promotional event. See 30 secs, 4 mins 18, 4 mins 51, and especially 5 mins 40 – 6 mins where the commentator gets quite shouty. And 6 mins 30. Also, aren’t F1 cars loud?

Last but not least, PetROV is unveiling something in GUM. Organised chanting by the crowd before 1 minute.

*The race is till up on iPlayer for one more day if people would like to witness your humiliation first hand. The section in question is sometime soonish after the halfway point in the race. No, you are not going to be more specific than that.

**Now you are in an actually back and forth dialogue, you are even more sure that you are on first name terms with Marty.

***It is legal, apparently, for you to splice these videos together to make one long ‘petROVpetROVpetROVpetROVpetROV’ drone. Something to do with satirical purposes.**** You would appreciate any help on whether it is possible.

****Satirical? Someone on the TV is WRONG! This is deadly serious.