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Older Child Adoption

Language Barrier

If you adopt an older child from India, will there be a huge language barrier? How much English did your child know when you first met him or her?


I am not sure about India, but I often coach others to not stress about language.  My children (twins) were adopted at the age of 8 from Eastern Europe and knew almost no English.  Language was the least of our issues, children learn languages much easier than adults.  Keep the child immersed so that they hear it constantly.  This plus lots of body language and facial expressions, within a month or so while their vocabulary was not at age level we were communicating quite well.  If I were to do one thing differently regarding language, I would have focused more on reading much earlier.  They are very intelligent, but their vocabulary and literary analytic skills are still behind grade level and I am convinced it is because they HATE reading = boring.  The earlier that you can cultivate this interest, the better.  Please do not worry about language, that will come.  Best wishes and enjoy the experience.

Posted by Anne333 on Dec 08, 2018 at 6:11pm

Often the children can speak better than they understand. Think about being the best Spanish student in 10 th grade and going to Mexico. It would be hard not knowing as rich a vocabulary, idioms, slang. Often the children speak English well but don’t always comprehend as well.

As usual it depends I am horrible at language so if I was adopted into a foreign land I would have a lot of trouble, others learn more easily.

Posted by Regina on Dec 08, 2018 at 9:34pm

My child (a teen when I adopted her from Bulgaria) knew no English. So after my first visit, I paid for 40 (?) English lessons with a professional,  (recommended by her orphanage) ie several most weeks, spread over 6 months or so. It was surprisingly inexpensive.

Biggest benefit was being able to Skype her with an interpreter (the English teacher) weekly after her English lessons! As well as communicate with someone who had contact with her. The lessons unfortunately were more about grammar than speaking. But still they were helpful.

However when I picked her up she virtually could speak no English other than yes or no.. I do think she understood more than she could speak.

She is very bright, and so we were surprisingly able to communicate from day one with only very few words and pointing or charades most times! We sometimes used Google translate when the internet didn’t go out, and I would characterize it as really really poor….like a translator on drugs! Don’t depend on it!!

One other note of importance. In BG the gestures made with ones head for yes and no are opposite ours in the US! So just check with your agency or other parents adopting from the same country to make sure you know about important gestures.

Most important, I recommend you line up someone who can speak with you in English and with your daughter either in person or over the phone in her native language in case you run into a serious problem. Though we only needed this a handful of times it was important to have.

I think for us language was the least of the problems. The psychological issues of never having had a mom as a teen ager and rage about this, plus serious physical and attachment issues were much much more difficult.

Hope this is a help.

Posted by Happy Camper on Dec 10, 2018 at 3:41pm

If you adopt an older child from India, he or she may or may not speak or understand English. English is one of the official languages of India—the other is Hindi—but there are 22 recognized languages in India and many, like hundreds, more that are regional.Many people speak neither English nor Hindi. It just depends on the region and the education the child has been able to access.
So yes, there may well be a language barrier. But as others have said, that’s one that’s fixable. Others are likely to be bigger issues to address.

Posted by NoraT on Dec 24, 2018 at 1:50am

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