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How to Maintain Your Adopted Child's Native Language, or Teach Your Child a Second Language

Updated on June 2, 2016

It is Possible

Several years ago, when my husband and I began embarking on our adoption process, we were intending on adopting internationally (but after about a year, we switched our process to domestic adoption through foster care). During the time that we were still going the international adoption route, we attended a gathering through our adoption agency, where we both noticed that many of the adoptive parents said that their children no longer remembered any of their native language. One couple said they had attempted to enroll their kids into classes of their first language, but it proved to be too hectic, but at the same time, the adoptive father was fluent in the same language! My husband and I discussed this with each other (privately), and wondered why the adoptive father did not just speak that language to the children. We were going to adopt from the same country as that couple, and we do not speak that language, however, we had planned to help our future child maintain his/her language. It is possible. I have seen it before when I taught Spanish to elementary students; I taught a kindergarten student who spoke fluent English and Spanish, but her parents only spoke Spanish. When her father came into the school one day, I asked him in Spanish, "How is it possible that your child speaks so much English when you do not speak any?" He replied, "TV and books." This father, and our current adoption journey, have inspired me to share some helpful ways that maintaining a first language, and/or learning a second language, are able to be done.

First, I will share some ways that I have seen bilingual parents raise their children bilingually. I knew a couple who had the mother speak only one language to their child, while the father only spoke the other language to the child. My aunt raised her daughters bilingually in Spanish and English. Living in a Spanish-speaking country, I believe she did this by speaking Spanish and English to them, while also enrolling them in schools that offered English classes. I have also heard of speaking one language at home, and speaking the country's (where you live) official language outside of the home. Another idea would be to speak one language on certain days of the week, and the other language on the remaining days. These ideas could also be incorporated into procedures for monolingual (speaking only one language) parents to raise their children bilingually.

For monolingual parents who wish to raise their children bilingually, my best piece of advice is to learn with the child. Also, acquire the necessary media and/or materials (books, headphones, microphones, software, flashcards with pictures and/or words) to help your child learn. If the language is not a common one, and you are adopting, plan to buy this material in the country from which you are adopting. The second piece of advice is to stick to a "language learning" schedule rigorously. Try your best not to skip any language lessons. For instance, you could set aside 30 minutes to an hour or more each morning and/or each night to watch an animated language video, or listen to songs in the language of choice. Not only is this quality learning time for your child, it is quality time between you and your child. Next, use what you learned with your child to reinforce what he/she learned during the lesson. If you are a traveler by car, and/or drive your child to school, or other activities, the time in the car is a great opportunity to practice the language, whether it be singing songs in that language or just using basic conversation in that language. Through these activities, you and your child are learning, and your child will likely begin valuing this quality time with you. It is important for you to realize the importance of either maintaining your child's native language because that is part of your child's being, or helping your child learn a second language to help them become more successful in the future job market.

Whether or not you speak the language that your child speaks, or that you want your child to learn, it is important to help him/her maintain his/her language, especially if he/she is adopted. Should the child ever have the chance to meet his/her biological family members, he/she should be able to communicate with them. This will be important to your child, and it will mean so much to him/her that you helped him/her maintain his/her native language. Also, if your child is not adopted, it is still beneficial to help him/her learn a second language. It is currently quite important in the job market right now, and in the military. Remember, it IS possible to teach your child a second language, even if you don't speak it!


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