Thursday, August 2, 2007

Learning English

When CrazyMom and I would talk to people about adopting older children from Ethiopia, it would eventually occur to them that the kids might not speak English.

"So, do the children speak English?"

"No. They speak their mother tongue and a little Amharic, the national language," we would reply.

For those who were already feeling a little overwhelmed by the whole idea, this was the last straw. We were now officially filed away in the admirable-but-misguided-friend file.

Well, learning English has not been that bad. Here is what we have experienced so far.

In the first few weeks, some things were tough and some things were surprisingly easy. It really helped to have other kids in the home so that F.G. and K.D. could just watch them. One of the first nights back, I walked into the family room and said, "OK everybody, time to go upstairs to take a bath." All of our birth kids took off to run upstairs for baths and F.G. and K.D. followed as well. Pretty easy.

There were also times in the first few weeks when we were desperate to communicate with them. They had something to say, something that was more significant than baths, mealtime, or getting dressed and the Amharic dictionary was not working for us. Pretty tough.

Within about two months the receptive language was so high for the kids that someone coming into our home would see them functioning just like our other kids. Their expressive language was at the point where they could communicate quite a bit, but it would definitely give away that they were learning English.

Their language was at the point where acquiring more language skills for daily life was no longer urgent, just important. With all that was going on, it was easy for CrazyMom and me to let natural daily life be their teacher rather than specifically working on English with them.

So we purchased the computer software Rosetta Stone for English. The kids work on this every day and it helps us to see gaps in their English that we might not otherwise notice. This gives us lots to talk about. Like the differences/similarities for the words girl, young woman, mom, lady, old woman, grandma, and grandmother.

There are some hurdles, however -- like getting Little Foot to speak English to K.D. When the kids first came from Ethiopia, there was a lot of talk like "me hungry" or "me go outside." Little Foot became enamored with this type of speech and still speaks this way to K.D. "Me done," he will say to K.D. when he is done brushing his teeth and it is K.D.'s turn. In fact, Little Foot now uses the word "me" so much I don't know how may years it will be before we will get K.D. to use the word "I".

Other than that, things are going great. It is a little too early to tell whether or not F.G. will retain an accent but it appears K.D. will not.

And by the way, K.D. has already picked up the selective English skill.

"Do you want to go out for some ice cream?" I will ask.

"Yes! Me love ice cream," he will respond.

"Can you carry this to the kitchen?" I will ask.

"Kitchen? What is this? Me don't know kitchen."


Anonymous said...

love that last quote. great post! jcn

mom2babybirds said...

I thought all kids have that selective English language skill. It goes with that selective

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. Communication is my biggest single fear as we are moving forward with our own adoption. I so want to be able to communicate with my children.
On a possitive note, I hope to have our home study back this week. (I've seen the rough draft so I know it is close.) Then I need the I-171H and apostilled all around and off to El Salvador. We are so close to having the paper work done and yet so far.
Little by little
Lisa M

Sophie said...

hilarious! I think kids have that issue all over the world :)