I have been a little sad this week for Jingju, who can't communicate very well with her two good friends from her orphanage. I want to recommend an article, Abrupt Language Loss in International Adoptees, to any parents waiting to adopt or recently home. I'm not sure what more we could have done at the time to help Jingju retain her Chinese; she stopped speaking it almost immediately. In China, I tried to speak Chinese to her, and she would understand me, but reply by nodding or using what little English she had learned. She spoke brief sentences and mostly one word answers to our guides when they tried to talk with her. When we got home, we took her to Chinese restaurants and Asian groceries weekly, so she could talk with people, but again, she didn't speak much, and didn't always seem to understand people speaking to her. I purchased Chinese CDs and DVDs while in China, and Jingju watched and listened to them frequently for weeks after coming home. She even sang along with the Chinese children's songs I regularly played, and still play, when driving in the car. I also would try to get Jingju to teach me words in Chinese and she would refuse. She just seemed to want nothing to do with speaking Chinese. We think Jingju was mostly speaking a Cantonese dialect even though Mandarin is what's spoken in the schools. This may have been a big part of the problem. Her dialect is a completely different language from Mandarin.
At the same time, Jingju was learning English quite rapidly. The article talks about cumulative cognitive deficits that can worsen when language development in the native language was already weak. Fortunately, we don't think Jingju is having any problem of this kind. The article makes recommendations about how to foster new language learning and points out the responsibility schools have to provide special education services besides ESL alone. We have enrolled Jingju in Chinese school and she started last week. She now seems to very much want to speak Chinese. Perhaps she's motivated by finding her old friends from her orphanage. I'm hoping she can relearn her Chinese as quickly as she's learned English. It may even be like learning a new language, since she's taking Mandarin Chinese, and we're really not sure how much Mandarin she was speaking in China. Kevin and I are sitting in on classes with Jingju so we can reinforce speaking at home. The article doesn't talk about how to reacquire language once it's lost.
Textbook For Chinese School
Characters Jingju wrote in China. Her name is repeated bottom left.
Another friend from Jingju's orphanage has been found! Last week, my friend, Sandra, who adopted Tessa (Jing Huan) from Jingju's SWI contacted me with information about a little girl recently adopted through her adoption agency. The little girl, Yan Lan, was missing her friends who were adopted before her terribly and asked her mother, "how can we ever find them? We don't have their addresses." Through the power of the internet, and in a matter of hours, Yan Lan has been reunited with her good friend Tessa who lives just 2 hours away from her in Florida. In December, both Yan Lan and Tessa will come to New York City to meet up with Jingju. Jingju was very excited to speak with Yan Lan on the telephone. Jingju is really unable to speak any Chinese after 6 months in America, and Yan Lan, who has only been in the US a month, is still speaking mostly Chinese. Even though they couldn't really understand each other, Jingju was happy to hear her old friend's voice. Jingju started Chinese school last Sunday and we're hoping that with time, she'll be able to recover her original language.
These pictures are from the Half The Sky memory books of all three girls.
Jingju had her first day of school yesterday. She had been a little apprehensive the week leading up to school starting, but she got up nicely in the morning and put her school uniform on without a fuss. That was a little hurdle as Jingju doesn't like to wear skirts or dresses and she didn't much like the uniform in general. I was allowed to walk with her to her classroom, but parents were quickly dismissed by her teacher. When I last looked at her, Jingju had a bit of a shell shocked look on her face, much like the look I saw when she first walked into the room to meet me on Gotcha Day. When I picked her up, Jingju was a much happier girl. She came running out of the classroom with a big smile and almost knocked me over with a hug. I think she was very relieved to have this day behind her. Later that night, we went to a friend's house for dinner, and Jingju insisted on wearing her uniform!
One of my oldest and closest friends invited Jingju and I out for a boat ride today. The weather was sunny and clear, perfect for an afternoon on the river. Jingju just loved it; waving to all the boats passing by, bouncing over waves, and swimming in the cove. Jingju doesn't yet know how to swim, but does that stop her? Of course not. Give her a life preserver and a noodle, and she's all set. A funny side note, my friend had made a joke about swimming to China, and by shear accident we moored at a buoy labeled "China," which Jingju then swam to. My friend's with Jingju in the slides below.