Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Learning English

My daughter adopted from Ethiopia is 3 years old.  She's been with us 1 month and I thought I'd give an update on the language situation, both to document milestones for our own family history and to share with other adoptive families because I know language was always a big question I had relating to us adopting an "older child" from a country where a different language is spoken.

Before we adopted, I talked to many families who had adopted toddlers and a bit older kids from Ethiopia and granted they were all several months or even a few years into their adoptions, so maybe they'd forgotten the early days, but they all said the language barrier was not really a big issue, that the kids caught on so quickly to English and that they felt they were mostly able to understand each other.

I would say that has been our experience, too.  The language barrier has not been the hardest part (although it definitely complicates things at times) of our transition so far.  We mostly understand each other and not because we learned tons of Amharic before taking custody.  We learned a few very basic words like the words for hello, bye, good job, milk, water, ball, pee-pee, poo-poo, dog, come here, all done, thank you, you are so precious, car, etc.

One word we didn't anticipate being so important, but we quickly asked someone at our guesthouse in Ethiopia what the word was for "dirty".  Being that we've parent 3 other children, you'd think we would have thought about just how often little kids try to pick up dirty things and you have to point out, "No, don't pick that up, it's dirty!"  or in a public restroom with a small child, and they are touching everything, "Dirty!" is essential!  So, "ko-sha-sha" (Amharic word for dirty) has been used and is still used a ton!  In fact right now we have a "Ko-sha-sha wusha" which means dirty dog and my daughter loves to point out this very true fact -- the dog has an appointment with the groomer on Friday!

Here at month one I am really impressed at how much out new little girl seems to understand what we are saying to her in English!  However, she is speaking back to us still in mostly Amharic.  Sometimes she goes into these long paragraphs of conversation and I really wish I knew what she was saying!  But, for essentials like "I hurt my finger" or "I want a cracker" or "I'm tired" or "I'm thirsty", it turns out gesturing and tone of voice and facial expressions pretty well communicate even when I don't understand the words!

Two funny stories about language:

First, a week ago, we were leaving an activity for my other 3 children and got into the car, my 3 year old climbed into the area of the car between her car seat and her sister's booster seat and sat down.  I patted her car seat and asked her to get in.  Still she sat, smiling at her own contrariness.

I patted the car seat and said, "Nay", which means "Come" in her language.  But it was totally obvious that she understood exactly what I wanted her to do and was just choosing not to do it.  Plus, the car seat battle is a common one (But actually this week that battle has disappeared!  However, there are new battles that have come on the scene -- one step forward, one step back . . .).

Then, she looked at me patting her car seat, smiled at me and said, "Mommy's seat!"

My other 3 kids erupted into huge laughter and although I did have to get her into that car seat, I had to appreciate the humor in what she said, suggesting that it was my seat.  I mean to be able to make a joke in a language you've only been immersed in for a few weeks is really impressive!

She a stinker at times, for sure, but a CLEVER stinker!

As I buckled her into the seat I suggested that maybe in fact it was "Daddy's seat".  She cracked up laughing and then the whole 5 minute ride home she repeatedly asked me, "Daddy's seat?" and then burst into laughter.

The second funny language related story comes from my 4 year old English speaking son.  With young boys it seems that talking about poop becomes a fascination around age 4 and doesn't quit for a few years.  I've seen this lovely phase in my own boys, friend's kids, and even the little boys I teach in Sunday school.  I do not like it and so I always point out the obvious to the offending little boy, "That's gross.  That sounds like something we talk about in the bathroom."  And then, if he is my own son, I actually make him go into the bathroom until he's done with the bathroom words.  If he comes out and says them again, right back in the bathroom he goes.  Usually this curtails the words pretty well.

BUT, my smarty pants 4 year old has caught on to several of our 3 year old daughter's Amharic words and today while we were playing he started talking about "caca" and that is what our Ethiopian daughter calls poo-poo.  Yeah, I was still onto him, even talking about poop in another language, it didn't get by me!  But, nice try, Little Man, nice try!


  1. That's really funny that "Kaka" is spanish for poo.... so many languages going on!

  2. I'm so behind on blog reading that I didn't know she was HOME! Congrats, I'm so happy for you and I hope things continue to go well. I can't imagine how difficult and wonderful it must be, all wrapped up in one! Bless your family.

  3. Never a dull moment, huh? :) Language can be a hurdle; thank goodness you can still communicate.


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