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My native language is Russian and this is important in scope of the question: past tense verbs are gender-specific here, for example "I've made..." will be "Я сделал" if you are a boy and "Я сделала" if you are a girl.

So, I have a 2 year old son and he speaks really well for his age. But sometimes he uses the wrong form of verbs (as described above).

Should I be concerned and help him if he's confused about his gender or is it just a language issue?

Let me change the question a bit, so it might become more clear - Is this a grammar issue or a self-identification issue?

I have a feeling that this all sounds like I'd love him less if it's not a grammar issue - which is definitely not true.

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    This may be better placed on the Russian Language SE where people will understand the specifics of the language – lioness99a Feb 6 at 8:52
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    @lioness99a well, I don't know - since the question exactly is "is it a language issue" - this should be first asked here – k102 Feb 6 at 8:57
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    @k102, is there any chance that your son mostly interacts with women during the day? To my knowledge, a large part of children learning their native language is mimicking the adults around them. If he primarily interacts with women, then it would naturally follow most examples use female gendered language. – Bart van Ingen Schenau Feb 6 at 18:50
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    Anecdote from my own experience as a parent of a bilingual child: We mostly speak Mandarin at home with our daughter, but live in the USA. Since spoken Mandarin has no differentiation between the pronouns "he" and "she", my daughter would almost always use "she" when speaking English. This continued until she was almost 5, but she eventually figured it out. If your son is only two I don't think you need to worry—he's still learning, and will likely correct his usage as he gets older. – DaoWen Feb 7 at 2:25
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    @Strawberry Not especially: Part of "what should OP think" is "is this a sign of how OP's son thinks about himself?". If someone learning a language makes a mistake in first-person gendering, and you start treating them as though they identify as that gender, then you are misgendering them just as much as if they deliberately use a gender and you "correct" them. That is what OP wants to know how to consider. – Chronocidal Feb 7 at 14:36

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Important caveat: I don't speak a word of Russian, so I'm using Google Translate for my examples.

I own a cat. Naturally, we always refer to the cat by her name rather than as "cat", so my son has made the logical assumption that all cats are called [CatName].

So, when we are out and about and he spots some random cat and says "[CatName]", my response is to say "That's right [Son], that's a cat", because I know what he means, I'm just correcting him at the same time. Therefore I suggest you do the same with verb forms.

This is where my non-existent Russian knowledge comes into play: If you son says " я сделала..." ("I've made..." with the feminine suffix), you can respond with "That's right, ты сделал (you've made, masculine suffix)...". This way you affirm and praise him for what he did, whilst also providing an example of the correct way to say the phrase.

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    Thanks for the example. Yes, I'm doing exactly the same with correcting him. I've read my question again and it might seem that I force him - but actually I dont care what he thinks about himself, but I think I should be aware – k102 Feb 6 at 11:59
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    +1 for modelling the correct phrasing. Key is you only need to provide the correct grammar, you do not need to explicitly say that what he said was wrong. – David Hedlund Feb 6 at 12:12
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    Anecdote: our eldest was for a while convinced that he was “you” and we parents were “I”. We solved it by sitting in a small group of three and pointing at ourselves and each other, with the correct pronoun (and a bit of exaggeration, to make it fun). After a few rounds, the penny dropped. Can you do something similar and get a male speaker model the correct use? – Stephie Feb 6 at 18:52
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    Has OP considered how children usually pick up language? By following your example - speaking what he hears. Now naturally most children grow up closer to their mother than their father - so it comes likewise natural that he picks up the way you speak with female endings for those words - and uses that without too much thinking. Just do like @Kyyshak tells in his answer, affirm he used the correct tense and gently correct him for the ending - (by explaining the "small difference" along side) – eagle275 Feb 7 at 8:48
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    We have two cats. My daughter (21 months) calls both cats by the name of one of the cats. She also sometimes calls dogs by that name. – Michael Lugo Feb 7 at 14:43
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I think it's too soon to relate your child's use of gendered language to his own gender. As you say he is two, there's a good chance that he doesn't yet have a full concept of his gender identity. It is usually said to develop around 3 years of age, becoming fully realized closer to age 5. Of course he may be ahead of average, but I think it is more likely to be a grammar issue than genuinely about gender. For English speaking children it's not unusual for 2-3 year olds to use pronouns incorrectly, or not understand when to use he vs she, or me vs you.

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    I wish this answer was upvoted more. When I was younger I babysat a girl and a boy. When he was very young, the boy had thought he was a girl because his older sister was a girl "therefore I am one too". Children's brains are even more logical than adults' brains, they just don't know how to correctly weight information used to make choices. Children are also very good at imitating, and they imitate what they see the most. – CJ Dennis Feb 7 at 23:53
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Of course it's a grammar issue. He's just learning to speak and hasn't yet fully made the connection between suffixes and gender. Just a few more months, maybe a year, more interaction with other kids and his language will become normal and non-threatening for Russian society :)

To be sure, pay attention how he speaks in second and third person (ты/он сделал(a)). I'd bet that he makes as many errors there, but you don't notice because you aren't bothered by this as much.

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    That's the society that is threatening - its why I'd like to know whats this – k102 Feb 7 at 7:33
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In Bulgarian, we have the same verb-tense-gender relation (the language is closely related to Russian).

My kids (2 boys and a girl, all of them) did similar mistakes at early age. They later learned to speak properly.

The issue is pretty much grammar-related. The concept of coordinating the verb gender to the rest of the sentence only in some cases is hard not only to minors, but also to adult learners of these languages.

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His mother uses female verb endings, so he repeats her phrases. I suppose if you talk to your son more often the issue will be resolved.

  • Now that’s good advice - get involved and spend more time with your son. – Solar Mike Feb 7 at 10:01
  • Well, thats true that he mostly spends time with women, but that's not that Im not involved, there are just more them than me – k102 Feb 7 at 10:58
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    @k102 That's fine then. But he's going to learn some first steps from them, and repeat what they say. Further down the line, he'll pick up that men and women say the same thing differently, and everyone corrects him when he chooses the wrong one. That's just how it works when you're learning a language, for children and for adults. – Graham Feb 7 at 13:59
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Making mistakes while speaking is natural, for people of all languages, and not just for children, but also for adults! It is extremely common for children to make mistakes as they take the time to learn the rules of their language. For example children learning English will often learn the word "went", then changed to "goed" as they learn how to make past tense words with -ed, before relearning "went" some time later. Children are learning thousands of words in a very short time, and it's amazing to see how they do it. Why not document how they are learning to speak and how the mistakes they make change over time as they learn more of the rules.

I wouldn't be concerned about a two year old few misgendering a few words, but if you really are concerned, you can take your son to see a speech pathologist. For now I recommend that you do not make a big deal of it. The worst thing that could happen is that by trying to help them correct their speech you actually make them anxious about it, which could turn them into a life-long stutter. Again, see a speech pathologist if you are concerned.

Recommendations to "slow down", "take a breath", "say it again", etc., may increase the child's anxiety and fear, leading to more difficulties with speaking and, in the "cycle of stuttering," to yet more fear, anxiety and expectation of stuttering. Wikipedia

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This also happens French, both in toddlers and older people learning it.

Toddlers learn to speak by listening to their parents/caretakers speaking. Boys who hear their mothers or other women speaking more than their fathers or other men may develop this habit until they learn what word terminations imply, at which point they will correct themselves.

At two years old your son hasn't grasped all of the intricacies of the language and is either using feminine and masculine versions interchangeably or only knows the feminine version.

At two years old, it's too young to be about gender identity

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The simplest explanation is that he is learning the language from his mother/kindergarden teacher/nanny who may be female. If the persons around him in the majority of time use the female form, your son will learn exactly that.

When he hears more males it will go away. When i learned Russian I had the problem that a female teacher will obviously use the female form, and if that is the only person you are talking to, you will copy it.

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Growing up speaking Croatian, I used to make the same mistake from time to time. Even as an elementary schooler, when I already knew better. I simply misspoke and didn't care to correct myself. I also dressed up as a girl one time for fun. Neither of these were signs that I saw myself as female, though.

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I am Czech and I also know Russian well. I have a sister two years older than me. I learned a lot from her and also from my mother of course, who was with us much more than our father. Thefore I often used female forms of verbs and also adjectives. When Ï got older, about 3 or 4 I did it sometimes intentionally, because it was funny play as adult people either smiled it or they corrected me and I liked to provoke them. Children often perform something to gain attention. Once in a shop being 3 or 4 I stayed at at a big mirror and first did various grimaces, like all children sometimes do, and some people smiled. I noticed that and started to dance in front of the mirror singing "I am pretty, I am so beutiful." using female endings of adjectives (Как по-русски "Я хорошенькая, я такая красивая".), all people smiled, but they didn't understand that it is not a spontaneous play but an intentional performance for them. I am afraid that I could be "transgendered" now because I liked to tell nonsense, fantasies and lies only to confuse adult people or gain attention or avoid something I didn't like. Children are not innocent, they are often very cunning and tricky.

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