Bgcenter logo
Center for cognitive-developmental assessment and remediation
Psychological services for internationally adopted children
Site Map Psychological
Dr. Gindis
Articles Directory Questions
& Answers
Publications of Dr. Gindis
Contacts &
Q: I am an ESL teacher who needs help. The administration is now saying that my adopted ELL students are not ESL because they are not bilingual. According to them, only bilingual students are ELL. Now, I know how to answer them and I have tried. However, I am not getting anywhere. Most of my students are International adoptees. I know how desperately they need my service but my district is concerned about money. They would rather label them as having a learning disability than actually help them. What can I do?

A: The answer to your concerns is not as simple as it may appear. First of all, the internationally adopted children are certainly the English language learners and they will be for a long time (depending on the age and circumstances), but they are not bilingual indeed in most cases. Let's look at an example. A typical international adoptee of a school or pre-school age will normally arrive with a native language, which:

  • Will not be supported in the adoptive family
  • Typically limited in vocabulary and developmentally below expected level
  • Delayed in cognitive/academic aspect
Naturally, there is no prier knowledge of the English language in existence too. All that makes adopted child an ELL. And as such, any adoptee is eligible for ESL automatically based on the federal law.

On the other hand, any adoptee is normally not bilingual, because their functional native language is lost within weeks in the younger children or in several months in the older ones. Due to this abruptness of the language loss and inadequate native language base, there is nothing there practically to build upon: they have to start almost from scratch in learning the new language. And they normally (excluding the cases of language disabilities) do this very fast, because the new language is necessary for their survival and because they experience total immersion, including support from the family, which can offer proper and intense modeling of conversational patters in the English language.

"Do these children need any help at school with learning English under these circumstances?" you may ask. Oh, yes! They do need a lot of help with the cognitive/academic English, which does not necessarily come to them easily because of their background. Do ESL programs specifically address the cognitive English learning of internationally adopted children? Not really! But they need to do that to be useful for such a specific category of ELL as internationally adopted children, otherwise these children are better off in a regular class studying school subjects and concentrating on cognitive/academic English there. You may need to reinforce specific cognitive/academic language training part of your curriculum and show the school that your approach is not only necessary for international adoptees in this case, but will be helpful and proactive in terms of preventing much greater trouble these children may experience in the next grades--the Cumulative Cognitive Deficit (CCD), if left without any help.

Here are a couple of links to my articles that may be useful. You can always print them out for your colleagues, if necessary.



Psychological services for internationally adopted children. Copyright ©1998-2018
Last update on May 8, 2018