You may have heard the terms “ESL” and “ELL”. ESL stands for English as a Second Language. ELL means English Language Learners. Most children adopted internationally enter into a family whose spoken and written language is English. This means your adopted child is an English Language Learner. If the child is learning English; however, still has access to his native language at home, then he or she will be an ESL learner – learning a new language while maintaining his original language. It is important to know the difference when you are speaking to your child’s new school to ensure your child receives the best instruction.
Many people who consider adoption wonder how they will communicate with a child who speaks a different language. This can cause anxiety before and after the child joins their family. The ability a child has to learn a new language is phenomenal and it should be noted that a lot of information, instruction and emotion can be conveyed between you and your child through gestures, faces, pointing and touching as your child transitions.
Here are some ideas shared by language teachers, adoption professionals and adoptive parents that may be helpful to you!
- Do not demand that your child speak but rather encourage them to use speech.
- If you use sign language, be sure to use words to go along with the signs.
- Name objects as you walk around your home.
- Repeat heavily used words in many different ways. “Do you want to eat?” “Let’s go eat!” “Are you ready to eat?” “I’m hungry, let’s eat.”
- Other children are the best teachers so allow your newly adopted child to be around other children to help learn new words through play.
- Allowing your child to watch you and him speak into a mirror will show him the motions his mouth should make to create certain sounds. This can be a fun game!
- There are lots excellent educational videos showing a close up look of how the mouth forms to make different sounds.
- Should your child have trouble with certain sounds, focus on those.
- If your child says a word incorrectly, play a game and have them try again. It is important that you not repeat this game to the point of boredom or frustration.
- Do not change grammatical structure to make learning easier for your child. For example: “Get ball.”
- It is okay to keep using or learn to use your child’s favorite words in his first language. Using them interchangeably with the English word will not confuse or hamper their language development.
- Learn and use some of your child’s native language. Most parents feel that mixing their language with a few words from the child’s language helps with bonding.
- Expose your child to people who speak his or her language. Specifically, native speakers from his/her country. It is okay to continue phone calls to people he/she knows in the country as long as it is a positive relationship. Most times, these opportunities should be limited.
- If your child insists on only watching videos in their first language, you may consider allowing this as a “treat” after practicing English or watching a program in English.
- For older children who can read, allow them to watch a movie or TV show in English with their first language in subtitles. By doing this, he can see on the screen what the words mean that he is hearing. It also forces him to read!
- Do not be sad at your child’s loss of their first language, likewise do not celebrate mastery of their new language.
- It is a normal stage of development for a child to reject their former language with a desire to be “American.”
Learning some basics of your child’s first language is important! Many have noticed that children under age six expect their parents to speak their language. They do not understand the concept of a parent coming from another country where they may not speak their language. The child assumes that if that is their parent, they should speak their language and when that does not happen, issues can follow. Many of the issues new families experience are due to miscommunication. Being able to speak, even the basics, can make a huge difference to a newly adopted child! Younger children do not feel so isolated and an older child feels respected that his new family was willing to learn his language to help increase the child’s comfort level on joining into their family. Be prepared, an older child may laugh when you mispronounce a word!
Here are some resources for learning your child’s language:
Here are some articles about language development in the internationally adopted child: