Q:I speak Spanish (native) and English,
my husband speaks only English, and the children (siblings)
we are planning to adopt will speak Russian and would be
3-8 years old.
I understand that if I only speak Spanish
to the children and my husband only speaks English to them
that they will learn both--however these children already
speak Russian and we don't. Should I ignore that they
speak Russian--teaching them the two new languages, or should
I get a Russian language tutor for them and drop Spanish?
I would like to do what is best for them in the long
run. I am aware that they may not want to "experience"
Russian due to sad memories, but in my experience, children
who lose their first language and replace it with another
don't always do well academically.
A:You have quite a complex situation in terms
of language acquisition of your adopted children. Again, a lot
depends on the individual circumstances of each child, which have
to be assessed on arrival, before the native language is gone,
and while the picture of their cognitive potential and the level
of native language development (which is the best predictor of
the future progress you have) can be established.
start with the known things first.
1. It's absolutely
impossible to save a 3 year old child's native language, if you
do not speak it in the family all the time. Even with the immigrant
families, where all the members still speak the native language,
it normally takes a lot of efforts on the part of the parents
and the child himself to save the language at least on the level
of casual conversation. So this is not an option for your younger
child. Pretty much the same will go for the older one. He (or
she?) will forget it, no matter what you do. It will just take
a little more time than with the younger child. Any tutoring in
the native language will only add to the Language Confusion situation.
And I do not even mention their native language as a possible
trigger of post-traumatic stress - quite often internationally
adopted children just do not want to hear it any more.
Given the fact, that your children will have to stop using the
native language and start learning a new one, they will automatically
be thrown back in their language development and everything else
based on language skills. They may not do well academically from
the start, as you have pointed out yourself and they will need
an intense remedial help with learning language-based skills and
their academic application. That's a very difficult task in itself,
because their peers are not going to wait while these skills are
advanced in your children, they will continue developing at a
normal pace, and so will the school requirements. So your children
will compete against time.
3. With the institutional
background and developmentally non-stimulating environment, it
remains to be seen if the children are developmentally on target
at the start, not overly delayed in the native language and do
not have learning disabilities. So, given all these circumstances,
it will be prudent to suggest that one and only one language should
be used in the family at least in the beginning (the one they
will be using in school), while the children need every support
they can have to catch up with the peers. And only then (several
years later) and only if everything is going well, I would introduce
the 2nd language in the family - it will probably coincide with
the school curriculum too.