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Internationally adopted children and language acquisition

June 10, 2014

*this is in relation to language acquisition when NO special needs that are associated with hearing/language are involved.


When we adopted our youngest at the age of 2.5, she was speaking in full sentences in Cantonese.  She was fairly fluent, and fluent enough that the guides wanted someone with us in case she said something inappropriate that would get us looked at funny.  You know the whole 2.5 year old and newly adopted after living in a VERY loving foster family for 2 years…yeah.

So, in addition to her fluency in Cantonese, she is also incredibly stubborn.  Incredibly.  She decided that she would just not learn English and refused to communicate with us.  She lasted 6 months without really speaking ANY English words.  This meant that she really didn’t start speaking English until she was 3 years old.  We took her at that time to be evaluated by a speech therapist, and their response was that she was just stubborn.  She had GREAT receptive language, just was refusing to actually speak for us.

We waited 18 more months.  2 years home.  She was speaking but NO one could really understand her.  We understood her about half the time, and all others struggled.  I’m not talking about sentences, I’m talking we struggled to understand her say “water” or “juice” or “hurt” or “I want Mommy.” She would be dropping first and last sounds repeatedly.  She also tended to form sentences in very odd ways, going with a description of a word than an actual word which lead to difficulty in understanding her when combined with the articulation issues she had.  I attributed the description of a word in place of a word to a language acquisition problem where she didn’t quite have the vocabulary yet.   At this point we had her evaluated, and this time she was definitely behind in speech but not super bad.  She JUST made the cut off, and since it was us paying for it, they’d give her therapy.  In a school situation or early intervention they would have told us no.   After about 6 months of therapy she was doing great, and we really could understand her a LOT better.  She LOVED going to speech and working on it.  She still could not pick out a picture of a tiger for the picture that started with the sound of “t”…but we could understand her better.  Her speech therapist left, and she was moved to a bilingual specialist.  What followed was an education for me.  Our daughter was STILL dropping sounds at the beginning and ending of words, and had improved speech but was still not where I felt she should be.  The speech therapist told me that the sound errors she was making were a direct result of her being bilingual and it was her Chinese accent.  Thus, the speech therapist found it morally wrong to correct the accent.

I argued that it was NOT the accent, and that she was NOT bilingual.  No one was still speaking Cantonese with her.  She had not heard Cantonese for 2.5 years at this point.  Her speech at the age of 5 was that of a 3 year old.  I was concerned so I questioned the therapist and asked her to RESEARCH internationally adopted children and language acquisition and what was appropriate for that.  She promised, but the next week she reiterated what she had said previously and dropped our daughter from speech.  I was furious because she admitted she had NOT looked up anything regarding speech and internationally adopted children and how THAT is different from bilingual children’s language acquisition.

This led to my education.  Our children have what is called interrupted language or disrupted language acquisition.   It means that they were hearing one language exclusively for a period of time, and suddenly they are now hearing another language 100% of the time.  They have to STOP learning the first language and learn another first language.  They are not considered ESL, because for these young children English is NOT a second language to them because they do not remember their original first language.  The following links (and short blurbs) are the things I found most pertinent to internationally adopted children with speech language issues.

Regardless of the child’s birth language (Russian, Korean, or Chinese), research studies, clinical reports and case studies have provided evidence that children between the ages of 1 and 5 years old who are adopted from different countries demonstrate similar phonetic and phonological development with little first language interference (Glennen, 2007, 2009; Pollock, 2007). If a child demonstrates poor intelligibility or delayed articulation or phonological development, they should be referred for assessment by a speech-language pathologist familiar with research on internationally adopted children.


So, my Mommy gut was spot on with what I had looked for in my daughter’s case.

Practically all adopted children will learn to speak English without an accent: there is solid scientific evidence that keeping or losing one’s accent is related to the developmental stage in language acquisition, where puberty (the period of becoming first capable of reproducing sexually) is the dividing line. Those who picked up a language before puberty tend to lose their accent, while after puberty the tendency is to keep an accent.

In this respect the majority of adopted children are not truly bilingual. Or they may be bilingual for only a short period of time. They are monolingual at arrival (Russian only) and after several months they are monolingual again, this time English only. There are exceptions with older adoptees (age 10 and up) particularly in twins and sibling groups, but only a few. It is my experience that a child between age four and eight will lose the bulk of her expressive Russian within the first 6 months in this country. Her receptive language for the purpose of simple communication may last longer, but eventually all functional use will disappear within the year if not in a few months.


So, my daughter at the age of 2.5 should LOSE her accent (as cute it as it was and even though I didn’t mind her having the accent).  By this point she had been home for 2.5 years.  She definitely should have lost all accents, and should definitely NOT be bilingual!

I can’t copy and paste the part on Speech/Language Development

Children who are internationally adopted as preschoolers encounter a language learning challenge that is similar to that of an infant: they are exposed to child-directed speech in the context of daily routines and must learn the new language to communicate with their families despite little access to bilingual informants and limited metalinguistic abilities (Gombert, 1992). However, these children are more cognitively advanced and physically mature than their infant counterparts and have already started to learn one language.   Our research compares language acquisition in internationally-adopted preschoolers and monolingual infants (Geren, Snedeker, & Ax, 2005; Snedeker et al., 2007; Snedeker et al., in press).

Our research differs from prior work on child second-language learning in two critical respects. First, we are  examining a population—internationally-adopted children—who are placed in a language-learning situation that more directly parallels that of infants.  Like infants they learn English in the context of playing, eating and arguing with their family members.   Because the children in our studies are being raised in monolingual English-speaking homes, they have little or no access to bilingual informants and no other language that they can use to meet their communicative needs. Thus, unlike the children in most second language studies, they do not maintain their birth language.  In a prior longitudinal study, we found that after two months, most adopted preschoolers were speaking entirely in English (Snedeker et al., in press).   Most of their parents reported that, by one year in the U.S., their child knew fewer than five words in their birth language.  By adulthood, internationally-adopted children do not have any conscious access to their birth language and show no cortical responses that distinguish it from an unfamiliar language (Pallier et al., 2003).

(I didn’t copy any paste any parts from this one as it reiterated some of the above)


This next one was the big one to me.  We were there when she was 5 years old fighting for speech therapy because there were still issues. – Language developmental chart for children adopted when our daughter was adopted for language acquisition.

Children adopted at 30 months of age should catch up by age 5.  Preschool children who do not seem to be learning English quickly enough to close the gap by these ages should be considered language delayed and referred for speech and language services.

Our daughter should be 100% caught up to same age peers born to their parents here in the US.  She was exactly 30 months old at adoption, and at that time she basically stopped hearing any Cantonese.  She was language delayed, and showed it on the tests.   I knew that it would interfere with learning to read because it already was interfering with learning the sounds of letters.

Great blog post by a speech pathologist that also has internationally adopted children that goes over what to expect in language acquisition for parents adopting internationally.

If your little one who was adopted internationally arrives home after the age of 24 months:

  • She will probably lose her birth language quickly, within about three months home.
  • You can expect a period of no language proficiency, where she is no longer fluent in her birth language but has not yet mastered her new language.  Both of you may experience frustration during this time. Prepare for this, expect this, and work through it. It will pass.
  • She should start to develop a significant vocabulary in her new language within 3-6 months.
  • She will likely acquire what is called Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) within one year home. This means that she’ll be able to use language to interact with others fairly well within one year home.
  • Her Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP), however, will take longer to emerge. CALP is the language she will need to succeed academically; it includes the more sophisticated vocabulary and language skills that allow her to work with written and spoken language to do things like compare, contrast, analyze, and infer. Depending on the age your child arrives home, it may take her up to 5-9 years to develop CALP.  This is an important point to remember because it suggests she may need extra support during her school years, even if it seems like she has mastered her new language during informal interactions with her family and her peers


I was fighting for speech therapy, and the speech therapists that were available to me who saw my child and assumed she was bilingual refused to work anymore with her.  It was so frustrating.  I was told she was 100% caught up.  At the age of 5, after being in our family for 2.5 years this was a story I related to the therapist:

Just this weekend, Princess1, who shares a room with our youngest daughter screamed in frustration, “Faith I can’t understand you.  Say it again!”  She repeated that twice.  I never heard Faith’s responses.

When you have a sibling who has LIVED in the same room as your struggling to speak child for 2.5 years, who often translates for us, and the therapists say it’s okay…it’s NOT okay.


Older siblings in China

December 2, 2013

Clone1 went with us to China, and had a truly wonderful trip.  He had the undivided attention of my camera, poor thing.  But he did okay and put up with me.  At least until Princess2 joined us that is, then my focus shifted and my newest child LOVED having her picture taken.

He loved seeing Beijing.  He loved the Great Wall, found the Forbidden City got a little “old” after a while, and the Summer Palace was really pretty.  He enjoyed the Hutong tour (though he thought parts smelled funny).  He ate fairly well, and tried all the dishes we ordered for him, and he used chopsticks (shocking a few people around us).  He thought the Kung Fu show was “just okay” though.  His favorite part?  Riding the toboggan slide down from Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.   I would totally do this part with any age child, and I think Beijing is a GREAT experience for children on a tour.

In Nanning though?  It was tough.  The days were long, the grieving was intense…the sights?  Not as exciting as Beijing,and having to do the official paperwork steps?  BORING.  Needing nap times?  BORING.  He also got really tired of eating Chinese food at this point, and honestly, he made it about 8-9 straight days before he was done.  8-9 straight days of eating Chinese with very little Western style food thrown in there.  We found him a hot dog at the hotel restaurant and he said a hot dog had never tasted so good.  :)

By this point he was tired of sleeping on a folding cot bed, tired of being stuck in the room with us and not having an escape from being around Mom and Dad (and a new sister).  While we visited parks, and went shopping, everything was so different, smelled so differently, and people stared…a LOT.  He was getting to the point of sensory overload.  He needed time to decompress, and honestly, there really wasn’t anything we could do about it.

Then we got to Guangzhou.  He liked Guangzhou, and I was looking forward to possibly more tours here…but well…it was mostly shopping which he doesn’t care for.  The Zoo?  Well, it’s just not a great zoo.  The Botanical Garden was beautiful, but it wasn’t something he was particularly interested in (especially after 2 other gardens we had visited the week prior).  He would have enjoyed some museums, or the Safari Park, or other outing.  He was TOTALLY over the Chinese culture by this point as well, and totally over how different things were.  We’ve never eaten so much McDonald’s.  We tried to think of new experiences for him.  We let him visit with friends we had made in Beijing, and play ping pong with them.  We tried to shield him from Chinese culture at this point because it had gotten to be TOO much.

Overall, I’m glad he had this experience, but honestly I wish we had waited and just taken him along with his siblings on a heritage tour.  A trip when we we could plan LOTS of sight-seeing that I know he’d enjoy.  I wish I had researched things to do in Princess2’s province a little more so we could have avoided so many parks.  LOL

It was nice to have him there for Princess2, and their bond today?  Super strong.  He KNOWS where she lived, what conditions were like, and how she would have likely grown up.  He was able to SEE with his own eyes the love the Chinese people have for all their children.  He was able to gain an appreciation for all we have here in the US, but also to see that life in China isn’t horrid and backward…just different.  He does greatly appreciate the EPA now though.


November 28, 2013

I’m doing the 30 days of Thankfulness on Facebook this month, and I’m reminded of the time I tried to do the 1000 blessings in a year. It’s easy to come up with the big things you are thankful for, but really finding something different you are thankful for each day can be tough. It helps build a spirit of thankfulness in my heart, and makes me realize how incredibly blessed we are.

So, I’m thankful…for my G*d, my family, my friends. I’m also thankful for my warm house, my warm van, modern appliances, modern technology that allows me to be in constant communication with a friend while one of my kids is participating in a robotics tournament and I’m not there…I’m thankful for being able to homeschool. I’m thankful for food and resources and medicine.


Updated photo of the kids.  November 2013.  ;)

sometimes I have a small mind….

November 26, 2013

Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people. – Laurence J. Peter

I will admit it, I do talk about people sometimes.  I don’t like that about myself, and I do try to discuss ideas and events with my friends.  I’m actively trying NOT to do this, and have a friend who is helping me.  Sometimes I have to “vent” about someone, but it’s mostly just getting over my irritation with them because I have to interact with them again soon.  Better to be over the irritation than to let it fester…


But still.  I do NOT want to be a gossip, or talk about people…I hate that about others, and so I’m working hard to eliminate it in my own life.

Why Swim Team?

November 23, 2013

18 months ago I had a friend suggest we should join the summer swim team, and because I had seen the advantages to it from another friend, I thought sure!  It will help my kids become better swimmers.  That was all I thought about it.  Swim team = better swimmers.

I was unprepared for all the other advantages.  I did not know.  I had NO idea.  To participate we have to have a physical for each child, and when I mentioned it to my pediatrician, sort of hesitantly, he was enthusiastic.  Not just so the boys could learn to swim better, but because swimming helps kids with asthma.


They build lung strength, which helps their asthma.  Sure enough 18 months later my child that had issues with asthma seems to have much better lung function.

That first summer was a learning experience for all of us.  The amount of food the kids consume was shocking, sharpie markers are awesome, and you really do need a LOT of towels were all lessons learned.  But what stood out to me was the dual nature of swimming.  It’s both a team sport AND an individual sport.  My kids are in charge of themselves, how they perform is solely their responsibility.  No one can help them out to finish a race, or mess a race up, or do a stroke correctly.  They alone do it.  They are racing against their own times, hoping to improve their times.  The team aspect comes in the overall rankings at meets.  If you mess up a race, no biggie, someone else (hopefully from your team) did not.  It all works out.  Thus, if someone messes up NO one is sitting there yelling at them for messing up.  The other team mates are there encouraging the child saying “next time it will be better” or “that was tough luck that your goggles malfunctioned…I hate when that happens” or something else.    When a child is the LAST ONE IN THE POOL for an entire lap, you will hear their team mates cheering them on…and helping them out of the pool.  Everyone celebrates every swim…from those who are setting records to those who are so painfully slow in finishing that you wonder if they will finish.

So, this year, we signed up the kids for summer swim team again.  Only this time we put our first little princess on the team.  She could barely swim 25 yards freestyle, and only then with some “rest” on the lane lines.  Honestly, she had only been able to even swim for 9 months…and most of those were winter months where she did not get in a pool.   But you know, everyone cheered her on.  The older kids that helped with her age group would swim across the pool with her…encouraging her and giving her (and me) the knowledge that she had help if she needed it.  But she didn’t.  Nope, my amazing little swimmer made it across….and across and across.   She LOVED swimming.

My boys this summer started placing and earning points for the team.  They even earned points during the big championship meet.  As a result, they fell in love with swimming.

I sat there stunned.  My 3 oldest kids can officially swim better than I can, and for longer lengths.   They asked to swim year round.   ::gulp::  Year round?  Swim on the club team?  It’s serious stuff.  It’s INTENSE.  It’s long practices.  8 weeks into the season, and they are tired.  So very tired.

But, my little girl?  She is swimming twice as fast on her freestyle as she was during the summer.  Twice as fast.  For those wondering, that’s less than a 40 second 25 yard freestyle.  She is 7.  Her 50 yard freestyle (and yes she can do that one too) is 1 minutes 30 seconds (or there about).  My almost 15 year old boy?  His 25 yard freestyle is 15 seconds (which is no where near the fastest times for his age group…those were around 10-12 seconds).    Look at a football field, mark off 0-25 yards on it.  Think about swimming that in 15 seconds!

The camaraderie we experienced in the summer league?  It’s still there.  However, they have less time to chat during practice because they are swimming something like 3000 yards in each practice.  Which translates to lots of muscle build up, lots of fat loss, and many many calories consumed.  They’ve learned to only drink water, and room temperature water at that before swimming and during swim practices.   I am truly amazed at what they can do.

My youngest?  Little Miss “I’m not going to learn to swim because you have to put your face in the water” told me a couple of weeks ago that she wanted to learn to swim so she could be on the swim team.   I think the candy handed out at the meet had something to do with that.  ;)


November 20, 2013

I did it to myself.  But this fall, I’m incredibly overwhelmed and busy.  Life is full.  It’s overflowing actually.  I’m struggling to keep things together, to keep things running, and complete all we have on our plates.  I’m juggling many different balls, and dropping some.  I am trying to figure out a way to “un-commit” to things.  But nothing seems to be something we can stop.

I think though if non-scheduled activities would stop cropping up almost daily, then we could get caught up on the things we are behind on…and maybe, overwhelmed wouldn’t be true.

I’ve read the books, the blog posts, the articles on keeping margins.  On saying No.  On not being overschedule.  How being overscheduled is bad.  But honestly, I think I know our culprits and I’m not willing to compromise on them.   I have 3 kids on swim team, in 2 different groups.  Then I have 2 boys on 2 different robotics teams.  If we dropped either one, life would feel less busy.  But both of those activities are needed – one for required P.E. credit (he’s willing to do it so swimming it is) and the other is preparation for future college and career (bonus is that it is a favorite).  ;)


So…yeah.  Overwhelmed.  Incredibly so.


November 15, 2013

Recently, my youngest child did something that shocked me.

I’ve been bugged by the girls to teach them how to tie their shoes.  I told them, repeatedly, “Not now.”  Understand that when I taught the boys it took them forever…like what seemed like YEARS to figure it out.  In fact, I think my 2nd child only really learned the skill in the past 2 years (he’s 11 by the way).  I tried all the tricks.  I explained it over and over.  It never seemed to click.

The girls?  7 and almost 6.  I knew it was time to teach them, but honestly, I didn’t want to deal with the frustration of it.  Plus there was NO need.  They still have all velcro shoes due to the fact that their shoe size is still in the toddler sizes.  Seriously, the girls have the smallest feet.

I told them NO.  All summer I told them NOT now.

About a month ago, my youngest figured out how to tie a knot.  Joy.  Can we discuss how many knots I’ve been asked to untangle?  Okay, so, she knew how to do that.  My oldest girl asked her younger sister to show her how to tie a knot.  Why?  I think to give Mommy MORE knots to untangle.

2 weeks ago I go to tie the soccer shoes, and I hear “Mommy, I can do that now.”


I watched my oldest daughter tie her soccer shoes.  I asked her who taught her that (thinking maybe her coach or her Daddy).  She replied, “my sister.”

Her YOUNGER sister taught her?!

I asked my youngest, “Who taught you to tie a bow?”   She promptly took me to her room and showed me the strings she had tied to various things (with knots) and told me she figured it out.

My 5 year old taught herself how to tie a bow…and then taught her sister.

Alrighty then.


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