English 101

Since the addition of the Colombian princess to our happy family, the English language has been under much scrutiny in my mind.  Our little girl, who only spoke Spanish when we met her, is now only speaking English.  I remember the adoption agency telling us that at four months she would be speaking English.  I hoped and dreamed that would be true for each of the 120 days leading up to the four-month mark. 

My eldest daughter and I had some grasp of mangled Spanish when we headed to Colombia, and with the addition of Google Translate (that speaks aloud for you!) we did communicate fairly effectively, I thought.  A year after the fact, I now believe that there was a lot of smiling and nodding going on without much comprehension.  But we survived those early days!  Whew!  What made me sad was that Nora’s daddy couldn’t talk to her at all.  My sweet husband simply spoke louder…. as if that would help the translation somehow.  My mother also was a bit uncomfortable being left with the care of a little girl and a big language barrier.  The sooner the four-month switch occurred, the better!

At three months, three weeks and three days, I was getting exasperated with the translation between our little Colombiana and the rest of the family.  It didn’t seem to me like she was understanding English.  She wasn’t using that many words in her new language.  What I didn’t realize was that her little brain was storing English words.  In little filing cabinets… that could be referred to later.  After four months.

Then four months ended.  And POOF!  She spoke English.  Spanish was gone.  English had arrived… the switch in her brain took place ON CUE at four months and she has not looked back.  I don’t think she even realized what happened.  It was as if the Spanish filing cabinets were closed and locked.  The English filing cabinets were opened and readily available for use.  Unbelievable how God made young brains to absorb language.  Unbelievable!

As she continues to experiment with the English language, I have had to think through a lot of her sentences, words and syntax…. to try to discover WHY we say things like we do.  It is confusing.  Tonight she told me, “You don’t have to fed the dogs.  I did.”  ‘Fed’ is past tense.  ‘I did’ is past tense. I can see how it seems right… sort of. 

One time I asked Nora to close the back door.  She stood still, eyes roving the room as her little brain tried to grasp…. something….  Finally she held onto her shirt and said, “I think this is clothes. How do you clothes a door?”  Made perfect sense to me.

And the -ed ending to words is so confusing.  Go…. goed.   I saw the bird…. I sawed the bird yesterday.  Eat… eated.  Run…. runned.  Sat… satted.  Drive… drived.  “Well, -ed is usually how you add past tense….. but not this time, Honey.”  Witnessing the transition has been a blessing and an awe-inspiring adventure!  Adoption stretches you in ways you never expected.  Ever.  And I love it!

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2 Responses to “English 101”

  1. krammeldr Says:

    You have a wonderful blog and a beautiful family! As an adult adoptee from Latin America, I was deeply, deeply affected by this particular entry. It captures both sides of the adoption coin: a loving adoptive mother, who wants to communicate right now, dreaming and hoping for the day when they can finally speak in English; a daughter in her brand new world, who is on the brink of losing her final link to her past, the ability to communicate in Spanish as her mother tongue. It captures a transcendent moment in time that most international adoptees cannot actually mark on a calendar b/c they were too young to remember it. I really can’t explain why your entry hit me so hard, but it sure did!

    For me, as an adult adoptee, the loss of both the culture and language of my birth country in exchange for English/ American culture has been painful. It’s been worth it to have parents, but it’s pretty darn painful! However, I have encountered plenty of other adoptees who, frankly, could care less about this loss. They’re just happy to be “regular ol’ Americans” – let’s forget the past! I suppose it’s only the adult adoptees who try to reconnect with their birth countries on a deep level who feel the pain so deeply and acutely. I feel it when I seek to engage with my latino friends and when I travel to my birth country. For whatever reason, reading this entry makes me want to cry. I wonder how your daughter will feel as she reads these lovely entries one day. She’s a jewel! Blessings.

  2. rixgal Says:

    Thank you for your wonderful comments! It’s assuring to hear from an adult adoptee about these issues. We plan to wait about 2 or 3 more years until our girl’s English is more solid, then we will start her on Spanish again. We loved Colombian SO MUCH we will visit many times to come. I cannot wait to take our Princess back to see her country with older eyes.
    Blessings to you too.

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