Adoption Adaptation: Language Loss and Learning in Internationally Adopted Children Part Two


Welcome back to part two of this series. Part one can be found here.

Should I just have my child assessed for speech-language problems upon arrival?

Because your child is not strong in either language initially, assessment of your child’s true language abilities can be difficult. If adopting a child who is three years or older, try to gather information regarding their language development and language abilities before you have completed the adoption. If concerns arise before adoption, you can have your child assessed in their first language shortly after arrival. An assessment of their first language will be invalid after four months, so there is a very small window for this route. Any other time, they can be assessed, but in their new language. Such an assessment would look to see if they were following the same developmental achievements as their peers. Standardized scores would most likely be invalid until an adoption age of two years. Rather, assessments would be looking at what your child can do and what they cannot do. A school may want to assess their language abilities in their first language, but most likely you will have to advocate for your child and educate the school that your child does not understand or speak their first language anymore and that testing should be completed in English.

What can I look for in a child adopted at __ age?

Adopted at age 0-12 months— Your child should make eye contact and attempt communication. By 7 months old, you should hear them making different sounds and syllables, whether those sounds and syllables carry meaning or not. By 12 months old, gestures, such as pointing and waving, should be seen. By 24 months old, you should hear them say more than 50 words and put 2 words together.

Adopted at age 13-24 months— Your child should understand new words quickly for the first few months after arrival. By around 28-30 months old, you should hear them say more than 50 words and put 2 words together. They should also pronounce words like their age-peers.

Adopted at age 25-30 months— During the first few weeks after arrival, your child should begin saying a few English words. By 31 months, you should hear them say more than 50 words and put 2 words together. They should also pronounce words like their age-peers.

What can I do to help my child learn their new language?

Go unplugged—turn off the TV; get off the computer; stay away from your cell phone and I-devices. Make your time together quality time no matter what you are doing. Save the electronics for when they are sleeping. TVs and movies, even educational ones, do NOT teach language, though they may be advertised that way. Real-life people that are in-person teach language, because language needs a key that electronics do not provide—social communication. We need eye contact and turn-taking and imitating, for example, to learn language. Infants and children need this key factor. Many of these children have already been deprived of the social communication key in orphanages and need extra quality time in order to catch-up.

So besides not having a TV on, even in the background, how can I help my child learn the new language?

Talk about what THEY are doing and what THEY are interested in. Talk about what you and other family members are doing. Make sure your child is paying attention to what you are talking about. Use nouns, verbs, adjectives—they will associate what they hear with what they are experiencing through their senses. Repeat the words within and across activities so that they have multiple opportunities to learn the words. Be a good model—speak clearly using appropriate words, not made-up words or repeating a word incorrectly because your child says it “cute.” That is not to say that you would correct them, however—instead, simply repeat it back to them in the correct way. So, for example, if they say “goggie” for “doggie,” acknowledge what they have said while using the correct pronunciation, such as “yes, I see a doggie too!” rather than modeling the incorrect pronunciation “yes, I see a goggie too!” Read them books—reading the same books over and over is such a positive activity, because it helps with their language and pre-literacy skills.

Any last thoughts?

Remember, an engaged child is a learning child and if you are not having fun, then they are not having fun. Show interest and be enthusiastic, even if you’re tired. Enjoy your time with your child while using appropriate language in a variety of contexts and activities. I am a pediatric speech-language pathologist because using play to help children learn to communicate is fun and fulfilling. I cannot wait to play with my own child and give him or her all the attention and opportunity that I can as a mom.

Photo Credit: ASilentNoon

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MLJ Adoptions is a Non-Profit, Hague-Accredited adoption service provider located in Indianapolis, Indiana, working in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Isles. We are passionate about serving children in need.