Grammar at 2½: a quick update

I enjoyed writing the post about my daughter’s mastery of Chinese grammar at age two. It wasn’t scientific, but it was an interesting study for me nonetheless.

This just a quick update, because I was wondering when my daughter would start getting into the “harder,” intermediate-level B1 grammar points. Well, I’ve got an answer now.

Soft Grub

Right around the time she turned two and a half, we had soft tacos for dinner, and she busted out with this sentence:

> 我要把它包起来。 [I want to wrap it up.]

This short sentence is significant because it features both:

1. The 把 sentence structure
2. The 起来 complement

[Mind blown]

From the original “cannot use” list, the only other one she’s picked up has been personal pronouns (which she’s still getting used to). I really thought it would be a while before I heard come out of her mouth. She’s definitely not using often, but it’s already in that little brain…


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. John.. I’m assuming you primarily speak Chinese with your wife. However, when speaking with your daughter, do you only speak English while your wife only speaks Chinese?

  2. How is her Shanghainese coming along?

  3. Lantian Says: July 4, 2014 at 11:27 am

    Thanks for the post. It’s a very interesting subject. As you know Japanese as well, the THE problem will be familiar to you. How’s she in her use of the English “the” ? As in, “I want THE car” vs. “I want car.”

  4. Lantian Says: July 4, 2014 at 11:45 am

    If other’s might indulge me here for wandering maybe off-topic, I’d like to talk about stroke recovery and our understanding about language acquisition. Many may wonder how/why it is that kids can retain so many words/sentences/language so quickly. In many ways, it has to do with their young brains.

    This can be understood in some part by what happens to the brain after a stroke. During a stroke, the brain is being damaged by leaking blood and/or a lack of blood supply. Then if this stops, there is inflammation and a repair response. When the inflammation subsides, the repair response floods the brain with various chemicals and is most “open” to learning and neuroplasticity. At the neuron level, things “stick” better!

    In my opinion, and some research, this is somewhat similar to the environment of a child’s brain. They do “remember” better/easier and more readily have neuroplastic change occur because the chemical, structural environment is different from an adult brain. I’d like to be clear that I think this period is longer and more open that what most past literature says, ie., like that you can’t be fluent like after 6 years old. It’s more like 15 years old if there is a general cutoff.

    This is not to say that in adults, neuroplasticity (ability of the brain to change) does not occur, it does. But it might take 10,000 repetitions of dedicated, motivated and active effort, while for a child it seems to “easily” occur. This is a very similar situation in post stroke recovery, where after the initial acute damage, there is a subsequent 3-month window when the brain is most open to recovering lost functions. After that critical window, although change can still occur, it is more challenging. As an aside, the healthcare community often gives up on a post-stroke victim after 6 months, which is a travesty.

    Doesn’t this sound like the difference between kids learning and adult learning of language?

  5. […] UPDATE: Grammar points at 2 and a half […]

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