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Friday, August 6, 2010

ESL Challenge

How to most effectively communicate with two children joining our family that don't speak English? That's the question that's been on my mind for a while. Now that our family has passed court in Ethiopia, we will be bringing our Amharic-speaking children home soon.

I've been talking with other adoptive families, doing research, and trying to brainstorm ideas for communication. I know it's likely our children will pick up English pretty quickly, but there will be at least a few months where we're not speaking the same language. And from my experiences with our now 2-yr-old, I know how frustrating it can be to be to try to express a need or a want and not be understood (this happens for both Isaac and Isaac's mommy and daddy!).

A few things we plan to try:

- Picture communication cards for when we're in Ethiopia, and for when we're home those first months. Someone (can't remember who) also suggested making a book with some basic communication pictures in it that I can keep in my purse for when we're out. The idea of the communication cards is that our children can simply point to the picture illustrating what they need or want, and we'll be able to understand.

- For when we're in Ethiopia (and when we're first home too, I guess), someone suggested a list of phrases like, "I'm hungry," or "I'm tired," written in Amharic with the English adjacent to it. We're hoping at least one of our children can read and would be able to point to the needed phrase, and we would have the translation right next to it. Luckily for us, we have a friend that speaks fluent Amharic and can help us with this.

- We have an Amharic phrase book that we can attempt to use as well, though I've heard that this is only somewhat helpful. From looking at the phrase book, it looks like Amharic is a bit tricky, and I think the accent is a lot of it, like most languages.

- Once home, I've considered labeling items around the house (couch, refrigerator, lamp, etc.) to help them learn to read English. Not sure how helpful this would or wouldn't be. Any opinions about this are welcome.

- We will obviously be reading a lot of books. Thanks to Ethiopia Reads, I can bring with picture books that have English and Amharic text in them. I also plan to bring some "first word" type books, as well as just some regular storybooks in English with us when we travel.

Ethiopia Reads - Donkey Mobile Libraries from ReFocus Media on Vimeo.

Adoption creates a tricky ESL situation, because it's a subtractive ESL situation, they're essentially losing their native language while learning a new one. Typically ESL situations are additive, meaning the native language is still spoken at home, and is used as kind of a scaffolding to learn the new language.

Please help me out in the comments section with any ESL tips you might have!

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