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Ghana Adoptive Families

Tips on communicating with newly arrived non English speskers

Hello: my husband and I are adopting two little boys (7 and 5) from Sierra Leone. I know it’s not Ghana but because its a neighboring west African country I hope that the members don’t mind me joining this group.
I was wondering how other families have done to communicate with their non English speaking children when they first arrive and tips for teaching them English. Did your public school offer ESL clases? Did you hire private tutors? Any software programs you can recommend?


I hired a professional English Teacher for 6 months of lessons i.e. 40 of them (3X week when possible) in my daughter’s home country. I set it up while visiting thru the orphanage, met the woman and paid some ahead, including bus fare, then communicated directly thru her, sending further installments thru my agency. I also made arrangements to Skype with my daughter once a week after the lesson with the English teacher translating. It was fairly inexpensive (about $9 for bus and 1 1/2 hour lesson) and invaluable. (Though her focus was more on grammar and less on talking.)

I paid for a translator at a University in the US to translate 300 words and print them in English and BGN in Large type. While in her country every day we spent time and stuck the words on cards with translations on back. They were available in a pinch.

In country I used Google translate, when the internet worked sporadically, (like a translator on drugs, I don’t recommend it). I also used the agency translator in person when necessary for important conversations.

I bought a number of excellent dictionaries (English to BGN) while in her country and taught her how to use them. (I had tried to find them thru Amazon and had no luck.) Many were picture dictionaries.

Once home a friend who is an ESL teacher volunteered to teach 2 hours per week for 10 months.

Very soon after arrival we ditched the google translate more or less and went to charades, and simple language. I found surprisingly it was not hard to communicate quite well.

I found a local person who spoke her native language and she helped in a pinch.

We home schooled and I had her translate children’s books using her dictionary.We also translated on line, songs and sang them together.

After several months she attended a learning center 2 days a week and I asked that they not use google translate. After a nervous start they found they could also carry on conversations fine most of the time with just a dictionary.

Eventually in public school they have an excellent ESL program. She attends 2 - 3 hours per day, and they also are mandated to make accommodations in all her regular classes while she is learning.

I did hear of two on line programs, but we never used them.

Hope this helps!

Posted by Happy Camper on Nov 02, 2016 at 2:18am
Posted by Happy Camper on Nov 02, 2016 at 2:18am

Very very helpful. How old was your daughter when she came?

Posted by Margeman on Nov 02, 2016 at 5:11am

She was almost 15. Do you know if the 7 yo has attended school at all? that would help. The good news is that young children (and teens) both learn very quickly.

I know one family that adopted two Russian children like the age of yours. The children picked up language very quickly, but they asked to talk to someone because of a problem. The problem was that they thought maybe their adoptive parents were mentally defective since they were so slow to learn Russian. smile

Posted by Happy Camper on Nov 03, 2016 at 12:20am
Posted by Happy Camper on Nov 03, 2016 at 12:20am

That’s cute. Yes both my boys attend school, supposedly in English which is the official language. But the reality is that they don’t speak much. I was just there in September and we couldn;t communicate much without help. But thank you so much for the advice. How is your daughter adapting? What state are you in?
I have been to Ghana twice because we are involved with a hospital in Accra. Love the country and the people.

Posted by Margeman on Nov 03, 2016 at 12:46am

Actually, that is where we met our seven year old.

Posted by Margeman on Nov 03, 2016 at 12:46am

Based on my experience of twin 8 yo’s from Eastern Europe who spoke Russian (which is not the national language of their country), they learn English very quickly when immersed.  Initially we did a lot of hand/face/acting language, but it was not long before they could understand quite a bit and speak in broken sentences.  They listened to it all day long, they love television (which is much more limited today) so I had them watching cartoons that held their interest and within a couple of months we were speaking rather easily with a basic vocabulary.  I was careful to choose words and phrases that they could understand.  I also discovered that while they had 2 years of school, they really were not able to read in any language so their first reading experience was in English which made it easier since they were not unlearning or relearning.  I held them back one year in school so that the academics would not be so overwhelming and we could work on social skills which were much needed and to accommodate the language barrier.  Today they are 11 yo, in the fifth grade, get mostly A’s and B’s (when they do not it is simply because they neglected to study or do an assignment - they are fully capable, just not always motivated), and people who meet them have no idea they were not born here - they sound just like every other kid on the playground.  I sincerely wish you all the very best - please do not stress about the English, it is the emotional adjustment and attachment process that will require your focus and patience.

Posted by Anne333 on Nov 04, 2016 at 9:39pm

Thank you so much for your helpful advice.  I had not thought of holding them backl, that’s a great idea.

Posted by Margeman on Nov 05, 2016 at 2:04am

“please do not stress about the English, it is the emotional adjustment and attachment process that will require your focus and patience.”

Very well put and so true, Anne 333 . I also enrolled my daughter in a grade younger, it was helpful as it is a better fit re school experience and emotional maturity as well. She’s doing excellently in school getting 90’s to 100’s so far!  (That’s with some state mandated accommodations at the school.) But on an emotional, level though she has made major steps in growth, more than expected given her past, she stillI has years ahead of her with very serious work on anger, grief, self confidence, learning to identify and show feelings, and major problems connecting and relating to friends and family.

I would expect it would not be anywhere near as bad with children the age you are adopting, but still the most important focus.  I’d recommend you read, take courses, and start going to support groups with others who have adopted children similar to the two kids you are adopting. Blessings to you all!

Posted by Happy Camper on Nov 05, 2016 at 1:36pm

Sorry, double post…I wish they’d fix their site!

Posted by Happy Camper on Nov 05, 2016 at 1:36pm

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