Wednesday, June 06, 2007

How'd you get here from there-Part V

Wow! If this wasn't a timely topic for me to discuss...I don't know what would be--language acquisition and adjustment.

A reader writes, "What issues did you have with adjustment and language for your eldest daughter (who by the way is stunning)?"

First, thank you, we think she's stunning, too! But, to answer the question posed, I should first point out that each child will have his or her own unique timetable regarding adjustment and language. This will be dependent on a number of things: age, emotional condition, ease of adaptability in general, and with regard to acquisition of a second language (in this case English) the level of acquisition of the native language (in this case Amharic).

Our children, for the most part have adjusted well to life in America an in our family. There is definitely a difference in the adjustment and language development between an infant (less than 12 months) and a school-aged child. For the purpose of answering the specific question, this entry will address the adjustment of an older child.

What is interesting to me, however, is that this particular topic comes up as we are currently working through some decisions related to language development. In the case of either language development or the adjustment/attachment process, one thing seems clear--the child's first exposures and experiences will affect the present outcomes. Now, this is not to say that a child who has poor literacy skills in their first language will NEVER learn a second language or that a child coming from a neglectful or abusive situation will NEVER attach/adjust properly. It only helps to show that the attachment/adjustment will be easier given a secure primary attachment in the child's early development and the second language development will be easier if a high level of literacy was achieved in the first language.

Towson University offers a very thorough look at Language Development in Internationally Adopted Children here and specifically addresses Language Learning in Older Adopted Children here. There is a great deal of information available for parents, but much of it takes some looking and it should NOT be assumed that the child's school will do it for you. If they do so, great; but be prepared to advocate for your child's needs from the start. We have been blessed with a good friend, who has a great deal of experience in ELL both as a teacher, writer and general super-genius! She has given us oodles of support for which we are most grateful and pointed us toward some amazing resources.

When H started school in January (about a month after arriving in the US), we were confident that our parish school would be the appropriate placement for her. Our main concern at that time, and still today, is that she "fits in" with her siblings and peers, feels accepted and *normal*, and is showing progress in her acadmic work as well as her language acquisition. Considering that when she came home, she and I poured over K-level books, focusing on letter identification and initial consonant sounds, we're thrilled to find that she is working on reading books such as the Junie B. Jones series. While she still gets stuck on some unfamiliar words (it's quite hard to know what a word is when you've never spoken it before!) or names (such as Beatrice and Gracie); it encourages us to hear her call out, "Hey Mom, m-i-n-u-t-e, is that 'minute'?" or "Hey Dad, k-i-t-c-h-e-n, is that 'kitchen'?" As we continue to discern what type of schooling will best meet her needs (both academic AND social-emotional), we will have English Language Proficiency testing conducted next week through our local school district. Through the Illinois State Board of Education, we also have found the ELP Standards posted, including a wonderful video series that can be viewed online using RealPlayer. The Overview of Second Language Acquisition should be 15 minutes of required viewing for all educators, not just those who work in the field of ELL, as it gives an excellent description of what Second Language Acquisition is and the differences between social (BICS) and academic (CALP) language learning.

Stay tuned as we proceed with the testing and pray for discernment on our school placement decision.


Kirsten said...

I more than appreciate this information!!! You are truly a blessing! In Him, Kirsten

patjrsmom said...

I'm glad this was helpful! Keep watching, I promise the second part is on its way!


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