Foreign Adoption: The Language Barrier Issue

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Embracing childrens heritage helps their sense of identity- image via Wikipedia

There are an almost endless number of events and situations that can lead to the decision to adopt a child from a foreign country. Couples that have struggled with fertility issues, singles that have no plans to enter a partnership but do want to parent or social activists seeking to make the world a better place by improving the life of a child in need are among the rising number of Americans seeking to adopt on foreign soil. There are however, a few significant reasons why learning as much as you can about a child’s culture of origin and overcoming the language barrier in the country of your child’s birth is essential.

Ease of Travel

One of the first interactions parents will have with their child is likely to be on their native soil, as many countries’ adoption laws demand that American parents spend a predetermined period of time there to ensure that the child and the family are a good fit, to facilitate the beginnings of a familial bond and to complete the adoption proceedings. Though most adoption agencies will provide a translator and travel companion for visiting adoptive parents, being reliant on a stranger for basic communication and transportation in an unfamiliar country can be unsettling for many people. By taking the time to gain some semblance of fluency in the language of the country from which you will be adopting your child, you can help to ease the fear of international travel, sometimes to countries with a culture and customs far removed from your own, and also to start the process of getting to know the child that will be spending the rest of their life as part of your family.

Preserving Your Child’s Cultural Heritage

In many cases, an adopted foreign child bears little to no physical resemblance to their parents, which leads to inevitable questions about their origin and heritage as they get older. For many adoptive parents, preserving their child’s culture and heritage is an important part of their parenting style, leading them to make an effort to learn the native tongue of their child’s birth country and to explore the folklore, customs and culture throughout the child’s life. Embracing your child’s heritage is one of the most important ways to help them gain a healthy sense of identity and culture as they understand the concept of international adoption more and more throughout their childhood and teenage years. Adopting an infant or toddler that isn’t quite verbal yet can also present a great opportunity for the child to learn both English and their native language simultaneously, as babies are much more capable of grasping two languages than adults. For adoptive parents, the experience of learning their child’s native language along with them is a precious one; this can be a priceless opportunity to bond with the newest addition to their family while improving everyone’s ability to communicate and fluency in a second language.

Adopting older children that do not speak English makes learning their native tongue an absolute necessity; forming a strong bond or even becoming acquainted over a language barrier is sure to be difficult, especially if adoptive parents make no effort to meet their child halfway by learning their language as the child is attempting to master English. Being removed from the only environment they’ve ever known, even if it was a dangerous or destitute one, can be very upsetting and disorienting for children. Leaving home and being thrust into a foreign culture where there’s no one they can clearly communicate with and nothing seems familiar is downright traumatizing. By becoming as fluent as possible in your child’s native language before finalizing the adoption process, you can help them feel comfortable in your home and as part of your family.

Improving Your Child’s Future

Though it’s difficult to look at a small child and give serious thought to their professional future, it’s important to note that the vast majority of employers list fluency in more than one language among the most attractive traits an applicant can possess. By preserving your child’s native language and helping them to retain it while learning English, you’re also helping to improve their prospects for employment in adulthood while keeping them close to their cultural heritage. Also, studies have indicated that fluency in two languages makes it easier to learn a third language; by raising a bilingual child from toddlerhood or early childhood, you’re greatly improving their chances and abilities to learn others in the future if they feel so inclined. Helping them to retain their birth heritage while also accepting their new American culture can also inspire an appreciation for cultural studies around the globe, an asset in today’s growing global economy and accessibility to other nations.

Depending on the age of your child, helping them to become simultaneously fluent in English and their own language may be as simple as coaching them in English language skills and helping them to retain already-established skills in their own language. However, it will be much easier for your entire family if everyone makes an effort to learn both languages, as even teaching your newest addition English will be more complicated than necessary if you cannot communicate with them even slightly in their own language. Orphanages in some foreign countries are overcrowded and in such poor condition that many children who’ve spent an extended period of time in one display stunted growth, poor health and other factors that can affect their cognitive abilities and learning methods severely enough that learning a second language will be difficult for them under the best of circumstances. Adoptive parents and language coaches who can not communicate with them in order to help them through the learning process are also not what would be considered the “best of circumstances” to foster fluency in English. One of the best and most helpful things that an adoptive family can do to help their newest member become acclimated, comfortable and to thrive is to learn as much of their language as possible. By helping your adopted child feel safe, valued and secure, you’re investing in their future and dramatically improving their prospects for success as an adult.

In closing, the choice to adopt a foreign child in desperate need is one of the most selfless things that a parent can do. However, doing so means taking on a significantly larger task than one might face with a domestic adoption, as overcoming the language barrier is absolutely the responsibility of the parents. In order to properly bond with and care for your adopted child, you must make the effort to learn their language and help them to preserve as much of their heritage as possible; older children are likely to feel significant culture shock upon arrival in the United States and homesickness for their home country. Soothing them through this transition effectively relies largely upon a parent’s ability to communicate with them and calm any fears they express. By learning the language of your adopted child before you ever meet, you can help them feel secure and inspire a feeling of trust, which is the foundation upon which strong familial bonds are built.

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