Sunday, September 20, 2009

Language Loss





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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.

More characters.

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