Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Mandarin Chinese, most likely.
What if she has not yet uttered a single word? What if she is still just babbling?
The answer remains the same. Her primary language or L1 will be Chinese.
Think about it. At about 30 weeks (Gestation) when this child was still inside her mother's womb, she could hear; the muffled speech patterns, tone, inflection,the sweetly sung lullaby. That means that even if the child is only say, ten months old (and never spoken a word), she will have had the experience of hearing HER language for nearly a year.
Many people take this critical time period for granted. The first 8-10 months of a child's language development is almost exclusively receptive learning. They are quite literally "taking it all in". Most children that spend time in welfare institutions or orphanages have significant developmental delays in the areas of sensory, motor and speech. If you think about it, that makes sense. Without the stimulation, how can they gain experience?
The process of acquiring a second language at this point is as follows:
A. Child is exposed to L1 (Mandarin Chinese) for up to one year. He/She is learning language concepts that will build a solid language base. These concepts do not generally go away, but transfer to new languages.
B. The child may babble or say non-sense syllables in her L1. This part is very interesting. All children are born with the ability to create EVERY sound in EVERY language. As they hear a specific language repeatedly, the sounds of that language are reinforced. Those that are not heard on a regular basis will fade and no longer be available to the child. WOW!! Now, that is interesting. That explains why Asian folks speaking English have such a hard time with certain sounds. They don't exist in their language. (The scene from "A Christmas Story" comes to mind.)
C. The child is adopted and taken to the US where L1 disappears instantly. Many suggest that continuity can be achieved by playing DVDs of Chinese Mandarin Dialog or Music. This seems like an excellent idea. Hearing one's primary language L1 can help to calm and comfort them. It is during this transition to the US when L1 may start to fade because the child is no longer receiving daily exposure to L1.
D. The adopted child hears L2 spoken by family and in the world around them. This is the point at which I believe that sign language is a VERY VALUABLE tool. Sign is a universal language. It's amazing to be able to give children both visual and auditory information at once. Receptively they are gaining L2 as L1 continues to fade. Many of the valuable concepts learned in L1 will transfer to L2 as it becomes more familiar.
E. Eventually L1 fades completely and L2 becomes the primary language. We hope that this never TOTALLY happens. We want to learn a few phrases and words in Chinese to help our daughter hold on to a tiny part of her culture and language. But, ultimately this is the end product. The hope is that the child swaps out L1 for L2.
WHAT YOU MUST KNOW WHEN ADOPTING INTERNATIONALLY!!
Although many early concepts can be transferred from one language to another, there is still a significant delay in L1. When the child arrives in the US and is submersed in a new language and culture there is likely a significant loss of identity happening, much confusion and probably some fear. Imagine that this child is a "Newborn" in a sense when it comes to language. Her language development and skills will be equivalent to the number of months she's been in the US plus a few months to account for learned basic concepts (not lost) that will transfer to L2. ie: If she is 15 months but has been in the US only 6 months, then you should be looking at the milestones for about and 8-10 month old. This gap, will slowly close if the child is typically developing, but be very patient. It's quite an experience to have this HUGE life change.
Hopefully this has given some useful information on language acquisition and made a plug for using Sign Language with your adopted child. There will be more to come about Sign in future posts. Come back and visit again soon.