Originally Posted March 7, 2010

SpellTalk (n): A language that parents use to hide the most important parts of conversations from their kids. Unfortunately, kids eventually learn this language so that they can spy on their parents, so parents must find a new and original way to secretively communicate.

When do you use SpellTalk?

1. When you’re talking about something fun that is potentially in your child’s future and are not quite ready to answer five thousand six hundred and seventy five questions of “Is it time to go to the Zoo yet?!?!”.

Example of the use of SpellTalk in this capacity: “Ali is going to go visit G-R-A-M-A-M-M-A and P-O-P.”

2. When you want to hide your emotions.

Me: “I’m so D-E-P-R-E-S-S-E-D today.”

Chris: “It’s not like she knows what depressed means, dear.”

3. When you want to call each other names.

Chris: (Makes silly joke)

Me: (laughs), “You’re such an I-D-I-O-T.”

Chris: “Well, you’re a D-O-R-K-Y S-P-E-L-L-E-R.”

4. When you want to keep your chocolate all to yourself.

…because you know that you don’t ALWAYS want to share all of your sweets.

However, this can sometimes be more complex than you expect.

Chris: “I got us some more letter-after-O letter-after-O’s for after someone goes to bed!”


Me: “P?? You got some pee pee???”

(Thoughtful pause).

Chris: “Okay. I got some letter-after-L letter-after-L’s.”

Oooooh. M & M’s.

(That story was from our early days of spell talk. Thank goodness we’ve gotten more proficient with the language since then.)

Complications to SpellTalk:

    • Sometimes the items that you need to talk about are not cloakably spellable.Example: The fact that Ali’s best friend’s name is AJ. Not exactly easy to spell subtly.Soluction: When we talk about AJ in SpellTalk, we use a code term – her first name, A-U-D-R-E-Y.Because we’re smart like that.
    • When words have two meanings. Yesterday, the following SpellTalk conversation occurred when Chris and I were trying to decide where we could park our car to have a bike ride:Chris: “We could park at the P-A-R-K…”

Me: “You realize that you just said “park” AND spelled “park” in the same sentence?”

Ali: so intently studying her breakfast that she never heard any of the mentions of the park.

(which proves that sometimes spell talk isn’t as necessary as you think it is.)

  • It is hard to remember to use your second language of SpellTalk when something happens fast, like needing to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting a car. It takes a lot of practice to remember to say “Oh C-R-A-P!!!!”
  • You must become proficient at picking the CRUCIAL word(s) to convert to SpellTalk in any particular sentence. Chris finds this especially complicated at times, which results in some funny sentences such as:Chris: “I think we should go to the Zoo today after B-R-E-A-K-F-A-S-T!”Me: “Um, dear…I don’t think you needed to spell Breakfast.”Chris: “I know, but you know what I mean.”

What to do when your child learns SpellTalk:

I have no idea. The thought scares me to death. Learn Finnish or Swahili maybe?

Okay – so two years later, we are now at the point where Ali is figuring out all of our secrets.


38 thoughts on “Parenting and the Art of SpellTalk.

  1. I just spelltalked the other night before going to sleep.
    My husband lovingly said, “Honey, our daughter has been asleep for over 3 hours in her room on the other side of the house. I don’t think you need to spell words. We’re in the safety zone.”
    To which I responded, “Okay.” and then he asked, “Did you just spell again?”
    “No. I said ‘okay’, as in o-k-a-y, not ‘OK’ as in O-K.”
    “Spelltalk is messing with our lives…”

    1. I think I just laughed for 10 minutes! My kids now think there is something something seriously wrong with me!

    2. That’s awesome!! Once you get into it, it’s a hard habit to break. But you can never be too careful…she could have your bedroom bugged.

  2. Lol, the PP cracked me up! We have definitely cut back on the spell talk since K has learned to read. Like, the other day, “Should we watch a M-O-V-I-E after dinner?” K – “Yes! I want to watch a movie!!!” We resort to using our limited high school Spanish if we REALLY need to say something in code. That can get humorous too. :)

  3. Pig latin ought to get you a few more years. Or you could resort to deliberate vagueness and hope your partern can get it from context. “So, are you ready to go to the place? You know, the place we talked about going yesterday? And after we can stop to get some of the cold stuff…”

      1. I second the pig latin. I was EXTREMELY fluent in it when I was a teenager so that my parent’s couldn’t understand what I was talking about! How’s that flipsy for ya! :D

  4. Too funny!
    I know ASL so I’m teaching it to my husband so we can talk when our kids are around. I would use Pig Latin but he just can’t grasp that.

  5. Spelltalk only works if the other adult in the house is a good speller. I usually have to repeat what I spell to my husband before he figures it out. My son is five and learning to spell already. I’m guessing it won’t be long before he has to explain to Daddy what I’m trying to say!

  6. Today, in fact, I have spelled out C-H-I-C-K for Chick-fil-a and used J-J for Jump n Jungle. But for the most part, we use Portuguese words (since I grew up in Brasil, and Jonathan lived in Portugal), because Abigail calls us out when we spell D-E-S-S-E-R-T or other words she can sound out. Maybe you and Chris could use Pig Latin??

  7. Ha ha, usually by the time they’re proficient at SpellTalk they’re old enough to think Mom and Dad are nerds and therefore not worthy of attention or notice (a.k.a. Middle Schoolers)

  8. Found you through Pinterest… had to reply to this one! We had to give up on SpellTalk when our girls (4 and 6 at the time) were picking up on what we spelled. I knew that as smart as they are, they would pick up on Pig Latin TOO quickly. A friend several years ago had tried to teach me Egglish so I looked into it. My husband can’t speak it as fluently as I can now (after using it the last 3 years), but he understands it well! The girls always try to copy us and say things, but it just comes out as nonsense. It comes in handy when I want to tell him something in front of his parents, too! ;-)

  9. you two are so funny. i find myself whispering behind my hand. i’m a very poor out-loud speller. i’m too visual!

    1. another language option: klingon. i’ve actually heard of people that teach their children *only* klingon! ka’pla! i like to call terry my cha’ditch.

  10. I’m not sure how long pig latin will buy you with Ali. What about memorizing a list of mutually agreed upon substitutions, like park = petticoat, Chick-fil-A = pterodactyl, doctor = Model T, etc… choosing words that will be obviously out of context so you know your spouse has switched over into substispeak.

  11. I had the ‘spouse not paying attnetion’ spelling problem the other day.

    Me: I think we left B-A-B-Y D-I-N-O-S-A-U-R on the boat.
    Hubby: Huh? Baby what?
    Kid 2: Baby Dinosaur! Where’s Baby Dinosaur? Mommy, I have Baby Dinosaur please?
    Me: C-R-A-P

  12. We spell-talked, then when Beege started learning to spell, we started speaking French… Now we spell-talk in French. I think we’re just going to start passing notes.

  13. So incredibly true! We have an almost 7 year old and we’re kind of at a loss right now. It usually involves some hybrid version of spelling and pig latin with silent motions and mouthing across the room. Good Luck.

  14. Try synonyms. Synonyms with fairly advanced words in them. And say them fast. So, you’re not “going to the park”, you’re going to “theplaceoff[name of road]withthecanineexercisearea”. See? To a 5 year-old, it sounds like gobbledygook. Very boring gobbledygook.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *