I originally started this blog in an effort to document our family life and our adopting of two new children. We are at a place now where our adoption and our family life are no different. Our children are just our children, and it is a blessed place to be. However there is more to the story. I am learning that the fact that two of my children are adopted never just disappears; it is part of who they are and who they are becoming. It does not define them, but this process of being adopted as an older child has shaped some of who they are. While there was a day that they officially became Americans on paper, they are growing into their new identities and new lives slowly. I don’t wish away their Ethiopian-ness; quite on the contrary it is with much grief that I think about the loss of their first language and their first culture. Yet I do long for my children to feel completely at home in their home. I do long for the old to be reconciled with the new. And even more so I long for my children to find peace and healing. So it is with this in mind that I am writing a few posts about our adoption experience, almost twenty months after our children arrived home…even though I intended to write this at the eighteen month mark.
Everywhere we go, people tell us that the kids are doing so well.
“Their English is perfect,” says everyone!
True, true! They have made tremendous progress, and they are doing so very well.
But their English is not perfect. As much as I want to believe that it is (and I am thrilled – THRILLED – with all of the progress they have made!), I would be remiss to just “let it slide” right now. My children are in a precarious stage of language development.
“The loss of the first language before the new adopted language develops leaves the internationally adopted child in a linguistic and educational limbo….Consider these facts: the typical six year-old understands over 20,000 English words. A five year-old child adopted from another country would need to learn and average of 54 new words every day in order to fully catch up in language comprehension abilities by age six. If the catch up time frame is stretched out to two years, the adopted five year-old would still need to learn an average of 27 new words every day to fully catch up by age seven. However, while the adopted child has been playing catch-up, his six year-old friends have also added and average of 5,000 words to their vocabulary. By age seven, the typical child understand 25,000 words. In order to fully catch up within a two year window, the adopted five year old needs to learn an average of 34 words per day. In summary, expecting older adopted children to develop proficient English language skill within one or two years of adoption is unrealistic.” -from “Language and the Older Adopted Child: Understanding Second Language Learning by Sharon Glennen, PhD, CCC-SLP” as published in Adoption Parenting
A few examples from real life:
Recently I read the directions on the page to Gus. The directions said, “Draw a line over the box.” She knows exactly what I mean if I say, “Jump over the rope” or “Hold your marshmallow over the fire,” but she couldn’t figure out “over the box.” It’s a little thing, but I am very aware that if we don’t pick up these little misunderstandings now she could struggle for a lifetime.
We also get some of the cutest little phrases; I wish I could remember more of these, because I just think they are so darn cute!
Dimples: (to Handsome who was about to cut up part of Dimples’ meal) “Can you please don’t cut it up for me?”
Gus: “It was looking blurry.” (meaning that her vision was blurry for a bit)
Gus: “Can I put the thing on the thing?” (She uses the word “thing” a lot!)
Dimples is suddenly a huge talker. He’s three and a half, and he is just now beginning to be full of words. For a long time we thought that he was going to be one of those kids who did use a lot of words. He’s the exact opposite; it has just taken him this long to find the words and put them into meaningful sentences in our language.
And the verb tenses! Oh, the verbs! They are so very tricky. We get a lot of, “I go-ed to the store.” and “I eated it.”
Lessons in phonics: Gus has been working with various phonics programs to learn to read. All along some sounds have been harder than others. She’s not used to making the sound that “th” makes; when speaking she usually substitutes some other sound – often “f” or “v”. When sounding out words, she not only has to figure out the sound that is made when she sees the two letters, but Gus has to actually work to form that unfamiliar sound. There are several sounds like this.
We (Gus and I) also just learned something else. Gus has been saying the “jr” sound instead of “dr” at the beginning of many words. Recently one of her little workbooks asked her to spell the words drop, drip, and a few others. She didn’t know whether she should write “jrop” and “jrip” or “drop” and “drip.” And it is hard to hear the difference between the two sometimes. We spent a long time that day feeling how our mouths make the “dr” and “jr” sounds.
And finally, after 18 months of reading to the kids, Gus is just now (in the past 2-3 months) getting to the stage that she can intelligently ask, “What does _____ mean?” when she hears a word she doesn’t understand in a sentence that is read to her. When she first go here, it was all just a jumbled mess to her, I would imagine. When we started “school” in August of 2008, she had been home 8.5 months; she didn’t enjoy oral reading at all. She tolerated it, and she enjoyed looking at the pictures. She could rarely answer questions about the story, unless it was something that could be figured out by looking at the pictures. By about January or February, she was listening most of the time…and she was beginning to answer questions. By April or May, she would beg for me to read more, and she was not only answering questions but she was asking questions about the story (she was able to think about the story and rearrange the words in her head enough that she could do more than just spit out answers). And just in the last month or so she has been fascinated with vocabulary, asking “What does _____ mean?” about any big word she hears in a story.”
It has been an amazing process to watch; sometimes I wish I could go back to that girl who started kindergarten in August and reassure her that she would love it by the end of the year!
This English language is so tricky! We are absolutely thrilled with all of the progress that the kids have made. I often think that I can’t imagine being taken to a place where I couldn’t speak the language and no one spoke my language and where I was completely out of control. I have traveled outside of the English-speaking world, but it’s always been on my terms; I could do what I want when I wanted. Thinking about that makes me realize that these children we have are so very resiliant and wonderful and brave!
And I’ll end this post with one of my current favorite toddler words, Dimples’ word for mosquito: squakeeto