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Two or more languages

(27 Posts)
Meita Wed 05-Feb-14 09:53:27

I was wondering if there are any adopters out there who speak a language other than English?
DP and I are both from abroad and whereas I grew up bilingually (one of the languages being English), DP is very fluent in English but it is noticeably a second language.
We have one birth DS who will be starting school this year. Currently we speak the other language at home, and English whenever we are out of the house/with other people. DS' English is already better than the other language, so we make an extra effort to keep the other language alive/develop it. Such as books, DVDs, spending lots of time with grandparents, trying to be very consistent about speaking other language at home.
One set of DS' grandparents speaks very little English.

We have been asked by SW to think about how we would deal with the language issue. We are looking to adopt in the age range of 0-2 and would consider concurrency as an option.

On the one hand, if a 2yo would join our family I suppose we could not keep on what we're doing, i.e. speaking the other language at home, as poor AC, having moved to a strange new home, would not understand a thing and feel further isolated, bewildered, estranged… So we would have to speak English at home at least initially.
On the other hand, it is important to us that all our children, by birth or adoption, can communicate with their grandparents, and we would definitely not want there to be a distinction such as BC speaks other language, AC does not. So in the mid- to long term, we would want AC to learn the other language.

Has anyone been in a similar situation? Any ideas how/when to introduce a new language to a child who may have some active speech already, and certainly some understanding of language?

The other issue is if we were to have a concurrency placement. Most likely a very young baby, with the possibility that baby returns home to BM. My initial hunch would be to do as we did with DS - lots of exposure to both languages, so, say, alternating lullabies, talking to AC in both languages, taking them to activities out of the house which would obviously be in English, etc. But DP worries that SW would frown upon this plan - if baby were to go home to BM, baby's speech development may be a bit delayed (as it can be in bilingually raised children) due to us confusing baby in the early months. Bilingually raised children usually catch up after a while, say by age 5 or 6, and the downside of the delay is more than compensated by their having two languages. However a baby exposed to two languages in the early months but then not anymore (due to returning home) might have the delay to deal with, without the advantage of having a second language.
I would appreciate any thoughts on these issues! I did do some research in bilinguality forums and journals but have found very little relating to adoption (except adopting from abroad), and what I found was mostly useless.

(There is obviously the similar but different situation of adopting from abroad, but I guess it is different in that a) babies tend to be quite young, b) there usually is no plan for them to keep their original language, and c) though they are confronted with a whole new language, this new language will be their only language, whereas we want/need to keep both languages going.)

Bonsoir Wed 05-Feb-14 09:57:34

It would be grossly unfair to your DS to change his bilingual heritage environment for a new adopted baby. The only possible course would be to do with any new child exactly the same thing as with your DS and bring him/her up bilingually.

NigellasDealer Wed 05-Feb-14 09:59:04

I agree with Bonsoir (for once grin)

Meita Wed 05-Feb-14 10:00:45

PS there is some research that indicates that bilingually raised babies' brains develop noticeably differently, noticeable at 6 months already, and at 12 months the pathways are laid - monolingual brain or bilingual brain so to say. Older kids will still learn a language very very easily up to age 5 or so, but they will have a 'monolingual' brain. Hence if possible we would want to avoid having to speak only English to a concurrency baby, preferring to enable them to have a 'bilingual' brain. But we're open to thoughts and suggestions and at the end of the day will do what is necessary!

Bonsoir Wed 05-Feb-14 10:02:45

I wouldn't worry about research - I don't think you have the luxury if choice here. Once you bring up DC number 1 bilingually, you must do the same for all DC.

Meita Wed 05-Feb-14 10:05:05

Yes, I agree! In no way would we want to permanently drop the other language!

I can imagine temporarily focusing on other ways of keeping the other language alive and developing for DS, rather than what we do now, using it mainly at home. So to bridge the gap.

The real question is how, and when, to introduce the other language to a maybe 2yo adopted child? So as that over time, the other language can become our main home language again.

Bonsoir Wed 05-Feb-14 10:37:54

I think you have to do it right from the start? What would your DS think and feel if you didn't? How would your new baby/child ever adapt to living bilingually if he/she knows it is strictly speaking unnecessary?

Middlesexmummy Wed 05-Feb-14 13:55:40

Hi , we have 2 languages in our house though English is primarily the first however the second language is spoken as well. My about to be 2 year old add seems to be picking up the words in both languages. For example she asked for water yesterday but said water and the other language word which I was pleased about . I think they adapt in whichever environment they are in which is in truth what we as children did as well growing up . Hope this helps

Devora Wed 05-Feb-14 19:41:27

I think your approach will vary with the age of the child.

If you concurrently foster a new baby, I would go for bilingual right from the start. If they end up back with their birth family, you may have delayed their language a bit but over time any disadvantage will smooth out and all will be fine. A price well worth paying.

If you adopt a toddler, I think you have to take a different approach. I don't agree that you start wtih bilingualism straight away - being adopted is an overwhelming, often traumatic experience and it will be your job to ease your new child in as much as possible. It must significantly add to the trauma of adoption to not understand what is being said. So there inevitably has to be some compromise here, even if it means temporary disruption to the wider family (as an analogy, I would expect a vegetarian adoptive family to accommodate a child's taste for meat in teh short term, with a view to family harmonisation in the longer term).

On the other hand, you will need a plan for introducing the second language as soon as you can. You will need specialist advice on this and I would ask your SW to help you think through where to get that advice. I imagine you will need to do some actual language teaching, rather than just expecting the child to pick it up themselves, as you would with a young baby.

Meita Wed 05-Feb-14 21:10:10

Bonsoir, at the moment we speak English at home whenever another child is present, so that would not be totally new, except that it would be all the time (except when new baby/child is asleep). Though you are right to point out to consider how DS would feel, and I wouldn't want him to start feeling that the new child is disrupting all his normal routines and set-ups. So maybe we would start adapting our language situation a little before AC comes home, so as that he doesn't link it too much with their arrival.
Regarding the 'need' to learn the other language, within our immediate family that would always be 'fake' as everyone understands and speaks English perfectly well enough. With our DS we introduce 'need' situations outside of the immediate family, and would eventually do so with the adopted child as well. However I feel that in early childhood, habit works to a large extent, and you only need a little bit of 'need' to keep the interest in the other language going.

Middlesexmummy, your ADD has been with you since babyhood, hasn't she? I imagine language acquisition in this case to be similar to for birth children, so it is only natural that they would pick up words in both languages. Good to hear she is doing well!

Devora, thanks for a very considered reply!
I agree with your thoughts on a concurrency placement, I just hope SWs would agree as well!
Regarding a toddler, I was thinking perhaps initially we would speak English, but quite quickly introduce occasional lullabies or other songs in the other language. Like that the child would understand everything that's going on in daily life but still would gently be introduced to the sound and rhythms of the other language. I don't think toddlers mind hearing songs in languages they don't know. Then after a while start showing TV shows/DVDs/YouTube Videos in the other language. Then maybe start reading bedtime books in the other language? So sort of, introduce the other language but only in situations where it doesn't matter if they don't understand.
Then maybe in time, move to an OPOL approach. DP who is at home less than me, and for whom English is the 'additional' language, to start speaking mainly in the other language, whereas I who would be the primary carer and around most of the time, to continue speaking English.
Then, depending on the child's age and how well it is going, for me to gradually switch to speaking more and more of the other language at home as well.

I'm not so sure about 'teaching' a toddler a language. Usually under-fives will pick up a new language within a couple of months purely through immersion. Or did you mean things like simply saying the words in both languages for instance when pointing something out, like, 'look, a car' then add the other language word for car. That would be fine of course, we did similar at times with DS.

But good point re asking SW to help with finding expert guidance. So far I've pretty much pulled a blank but I can't imagine we are the first prospective adopters in this situation.

Kewcumber Wed 05-Feb-14 21:33:49

the advice to do what is best for your birth child regardless of any trauma to a newly placed adopted child is shocking advice and should be roundly ignored. I tried to think of a polite way to say that but can't be bothered - too tired. I'm sure you already know that there are many occasions where your second child will need to come first partly because of the situation they have been subjected to.

In the long run your birth childs life will be immeasurably improved by having a normal attachment to an adopted sibling and the best most secure way to do this is unlikely to be excluding them from day one by speaking amongst yourselves in your own secret language!

That doesn't make bilingualism an impossibility.

I have two bilingual friends who have adopted - one adopted a toddler/preschooler (about 2.5 yrs) and didn't start her off speaking French until she was 5. At 8 she is now fluent and attends a french school in the UK - mind you they did kick start it with a summer in France before coming back into the french school.

Anotehr friend adopted at around 11 months from a non-English speaking country and started speaking both languages (English and Welsh) to them immediately. At 4 he now attends a Welsh nursery and will be attending a WElsh language school in September.

I really don't think you can be definitive until you know the child, their age and the circumstances. I think the social worker (as in so many other situations) just wants you to be able to process and work out for yourself that actually what is best for your first child could be the worst for your second and that you have to make the difficult decision to make the "right" decision for a child you aren't bonded to in preference to the "right" decision for a child that you love wholeheartedly. I'd be surprised if she's actually expecting you to come up with a solution.

If you can't make that kind of decision and carry it out with as much sensitivity for your first child as possible then IMO you're going to struggle. This is one of the reasons why SS like a decent age gap between older siblings and newly adopted child because hopefully your birth child is at an age where a degree of explanation is possible.

Of course nothing to stop you continuing speaking your other home language at bedtime stories or when a parent is alone with first child etc. Its not like you need to give it up totally and not forever, you just need to not make it a method of exclusion.

Kewcumber Wed 05-Feb-14 21:39:24

babies adopted form abroad aren't any younger than babies adopted in UK - in fact if you are considering concurrency you will get a child way younger than you could from overseas. Most "babies" from overseas are in the 9-24 months age.

Not that its relevant just wanted to correct the misapprehension.

Kewcumber Wed 05-Feb-14 21:39:39


Devora Wed 05-Feb-14 21:45:34

Meita, I think your plan sounds excellent and exactly the kind of problem solving your social worker will be looking for.

I also agree with kew. For a change.

addictedtosugar Wed 05-Feb-14 21:50:44

I have no experience of adoptions, so this may be way off track, but my thoughts, attempting to bring up kids in a bilingual environment:

It will be a massive change for both kids. You need some consistency for your oldest child.
We have always been OPOL. This could work.
Or you could move to doing everything in each language for a bit. So, "lets put our shoes on and go to the park" repeat in household language.

Whatever you do, moving to a new house is going to be strange and unnerving. I don't know how much worse it will be if there is a second language thrown in.

I disagree with bilingual kids speak later. DS2 was average, if anything advanced with his speech - DS1 was slow, but then suddenly got it. I don;t think growing up in a bilingual should would cause any problems if a baby was to go back to live in an English language household.

Is it also worth discussing with you SW if possibility of a baby born into a household already speaking your native tongue anywhere in the UK needing adoption - I realise this is a rare event, but might be worth considering. I know there are adverts asking for adopters from non white backgrounds. Is this worth investigating further?

Good luck with your journey and growing your family.

Kewcumber Wed 05-Feb-14 21:58:20

I don't know how much worse it will be if there is a second language thrown in.

IMO it could be massively worse. And adopted child isn't just moving house which as we all know is massively stressful.

Imagine waking up one morning and discovering the man in bed next to you is a total stranger who smiles at you nicely and pretends that he's your husband, then two children come in and pretend to be your children but you don't know them. You can't work out where anything in the house is, all the food is different to what you're used to, they think totally different things are funny and they take you out to strange places and all the time pretending that they are your family. You can't work out where the hell your previous lovely husband and children have gone and you're worried about them and whats going on. And this goes on all day and at night, the sheets feel strange and the room is scary so you can't sleep and the next day you're exhausted and it happens all over again.

Than imagine that where they're all talking a foreign language and you can't understand what these strangers are talking about and you want to go back to the people who loved you and cared for you and spoke a language you could understand.

drspouse Wed 05-Feb-14 21:59:54

You might like to read this blog

They are a UK/Spanish couple who adopted a little boy and they have been doing roughly what you suggest with a toddler (only their son is slightly older) - teaching him a little Spanish, children's songs, nursery rhymes, and in their case the cousins in Spain don't speak English so at least they can communicate a little. I imagine you have nephews and nieces or cousins' children that are similar?

I think for a toddler I'd suggest that plan.

Frankly, your language input to a baby under concurrent planning is going to be much more than in a potential birth family - because if the birth family was perfectly stimulating and talking to a baby, they wouldn't have had the baby removed at birth if they'd been able to care for and stimulate their baby. Nobody will notice the slight difference - it doesn't really count as a delay.

Meita Wed 05-Feb-14 22:51:12

Thanks Kew for taking the time to write all that out! I get the feeling that the SW is not ONLY making us realise that we will at times need to do things that are best for AC but which we wouldn't have done, for BC's sake, if AC weren't there. I think she ALSO wants to see that we have actually considered a path of action, rather than just hypothetically saying 'yes when the time comes, of course we will do what's right for AC'. Because thinking about the nitty-gritty details of what you will actually do and what it means for everyone in the family makes it a lot more 'real'.

I think it is important not to forget DS in all this, but that still means doing what needs to be done for AC. We can find solutions for DS. This might well involve enrolling him in Saturday School in the other language, and being very consistent in using the other language whenever we have one-to-one time, which we will be trying to ensure that we get plenty of anyway. We will try to minimise the risk for DS to grow to resent AC. Many things we will do are similar to what we might do if we were having another BC, where existing children might equally feel displaced by the new arrival; some things will be extra and purely related to adoption, such as the language issue.

Incidentally, the language question was one of the reasons we changed our mind from our original plan of waiting until DS is much older (ca. 10) and then aiming to adopt an older child (maybe 5yo). We just couldn't get our minds around how it could work out. We couldn't see how we could get a 5yo AC to learn a totally new language without the immersion effect, and we couldn't imagine adding the shock of total immersion in a new language to the trauma of adoption. Nor could we imagine having a family where one child can speak to the grandparents but the other can't. And finally, we couldn't imagine not teaching DS the other language, so that neither of our children would have that extra language. So realistically speaking, we had to come to the conclusion that adopting an older child just wouldn't work for us.

Thanks Devora, it really helps to hear that at least some experienced people think we are not totally off track smile

Addicted, I believe it has been shown by research that language CAN be delayed in bilingual children, but that by no means implies that it is always the case! Just that ON AVERAGE, bilingual children will be slightly behind monolingual children in terms of vocabulary, grammar development and such, but will catch up eventually (again, on average). Anyway, I'm not so much worried about this, but concerned that SW may be.
It is highly unlikely that there would ever be a child needing adoption in the UK who had been brought up speaking 'our' home language. Of course we would consider it a plus, but we won't be waiting around for an outside chance. But thanks for the suggestion and the good wishes!

Kewcumber Wed 05-Feb-14 22:57:11

sorry it was a bit of an essay wasn't it blush

I see no reason why you can't get a child under 4 (say) bilingual fairly quickly when the time is right, from my observation. Its just a case of deciding when the time is right whilst maintaining your DS's current language skills.

Meita Wed 05-Feb-14 22:58:53

Thanks DrSpouse. Am going to browse that blog a bit! Sounds really encouraging on the language front. Exactly what I was looking for!

And good point re the language input in a concurrency placement. I find it very convincing, now just to figure out how to get it across to SW without sounding insensitive/disrespectful/patronising towards BM.

Meita Wed 05-Feb-14 23:00:59

Kew I am prone to writing essays myself ;) as has been amply proved on this thread alone! blush

Middlesexmummy Thu 06-Feb-14 07:20:40

Morning Meita, yes we did concurrency and yes u are right we had her from 7 months so in that way it is like having a birth child who adapts to 2 different languages . I think I however it's only since she s been 14 months or so where she s begin recognising words etc . Thanks things are going great !

Bonsoir Thu 06-Feb-14 07:50:03

Hold back theories of bilingualism have been totally disproved - they are what cause the "delays" in vocabulary and syntax, not bilingualism per se. If you look on the language/bilingualism boards on MN you will see just how many families have trouble transmitting their own minority languages to the DC they have had from birth. Immersion in a natural monolingual style is what promotes good results for bilingual families.

namechangesforthehardstuff Thu 06-Feb-14 19:29:23

Yes but if that results in a bilingual-but-massively-traumatised child that might not be quite the success that Meita is after...

Bonsoir Thu 06-Feb-14 19:55:35

The child won't be traumatised providing the language in which he/she is being spoken to is a family language and that provides bonds between its members. On the contrary - excluding the new DC might be very traumatising.

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