Adopting a child whose primary language is not English can be a challenge, but a rewarding challenge. Integrating them not only into your life, but into life where English is the primary language for most, will require patience, understanding, and help from an array of experts (especially teachers).
This process doesn’t have to be a burden for you, however. Instead, it can be a bonding and learning process for the entire family. Here are some basic concepts to keep in mind as you take your journey down the road to language integration:
Make Them Feel Secure – It’s proven that children learn better when they feel secure, safe, and confident. Provide such an environment for them, and one that is free from shame for any language difficulties, and they will acclimate to English much faster and with greater skill than if you are pressing too hard.
Begin With The Practical – As native English speakers, it’s easy for you to zoom right past the basics and try and instill advanced English to your child. That may be moving too fast, however. Begin with basic, practical language that will actually be useful on an everyday basis. Asking to use the bathroom or for a glass of water. Exchanging pleasantries. Asking for assistance with something. These basics allow your child to actually use the language, which instills confidence and encourages them to use it more. They can’t integrate otherwise.
Have Conversations – This seemingly obvious piece of advice is often one of the most overlooked. Having regular, meaningful conversations with your child is not just a way to make them feel at ease and comfortable with the language, it provides an important bonding experience for you that will last a lifetime.
Give Attention To Their Native Language – You want your child to become a proficient English speaker and to comfortably integrate, but you neither want them to lose their native language nor do you want their birth country/culture to feel devalued. Doing so sends a message that they are being devalued, too, and you want to avoid that. Therefore, indulge in their language at times, especially through songs, stories, movies, and other cultural entertainment, while still focusing on English for practical, everyday communication.
Make English Essential – Children learn languages quickly when they have a need to learn. Even if you are bilingual and speak your child’s native language, make it a point to ensure that they need to speak English in their day-to-day life. This means no speaking for them when you are out.
Understanding and Speaking Are Two Different Skills – It’s often difficult to remember that communicating in a language involves several sets of skills. This means there may be times when you child understands what is being communicated to them but they may lack the skills required to clearly communicate back. That’s okay. It’s a natural part of the process. Just remember that an inability to respond clearly does not necessarily mean you weren’t understood.
Finally, relying on the advice and education of others can be a big help. This extends beyond just relying on the teachers and instructors who will work with your child. We urge you to visit our bookstore and read several of these works. Even when they are not specifically about language, they will be packed with insights and advice that will help you bond with your child and ease their transition towards a new life.