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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Academic English and the Foreign Child

Adopting an older child from abroad, or bringing your own bio child from a foreign land, can prove to be challenging when it comes to schoolwork.  Put them in an ELL (English Language Learner) or ESL (English as a Second Language) class these days, and they’re liable to come out speaking Spanish, instead of English.  Put them in the regular English language-track classes without “accommodations” (and we’re not talking the Hilton or Marriott here), and they’re liable to be stuck in Sixth Grade the rest of their lives.

Scholars tell us that kids learn enough academic English to compete with their peers in about seven to ten years.  Umm… we don’t have that kind of time.

That is why many adoptive parents practice the sneaky Art of Cramming:  every film, every TV program, every label on each everyday item is intended to take their English to the next level.  Dictionaries are strewn about the house, car, and stuffed in the backpack.  Moms and dads become hoarse, quizzing and reviewing lists of spelling words, rhyming words, compound words, synonyms, antonyms, and homonyms, particularly those of us who are homeschoolers and feel the weight of their entire future upon us.

“Omitted,” I toss out one of our new spelling words.  “Who can tell me what ‘omitted’ means?”

“To decide to do something,” Mashenka tries.

“Close,” I acknowlege.  “You may be thinking of ‘committed’, but this is ‘omitted’, which means ‘to leave out’ or ‘neglect to do something’.”

The kids love to use two or three spelling words in each sentence in their daily diary, quickly picking off ten a day.  None of the sentences make any sense at all, even though I give them thumbnail definitions each time.  And there’s always the dictionary nearby, if not a thesaurus.

“The dinner was vicious and began with salary soup,” reads Pasha from his diary after dinner.

“Do you mean ‘delicious’ and ‘celery soup’?” I ask, since my husband mentally excuses himself during dinner times, preferring not to see elbows on the table, food being slurped up, napkins snatched from the lap by the dogs, and poor English being used.

“That is vhat I said,” the pale and skinny Pasha asserts himself.

“No, you said ‘vicious’ and ‘salary’,” I correct.

“YES,” he insists, “vicious and salary.”

While thoroughly enjoying these verbal volleys (right), and restraining myself from inflicting wounds to my head, I try two words of my own, not out loud, of course:  “Mama omitted informing you that she will be committed to the insane asylum later today.”

Omitted, committed:  neat and nice.  Double word score.

I can only imagine the type of English required for university-level study:  comparing, classifying, synthesizing, evaluating and inferring.  Most English-speaking adults don’t have those kinds of skills, particularly those condemned to living in the South where verb conjugation, agreement, 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person singular or plural are all up for grabs, depending on whether or not someone has sipped enough sweetened tea for the task at hand.

Try to describe to English-language learners some of the words that crop up on spelling tests and I have a feeling that we are in a free-word association game, except that I have to play all by myself.

“Putrefy”:  Your socks inside your tennis shoes.

“Ukelele”:  a Hawaiian guitar.

“A balalaika, Mama?” they note with interest.

“No,” I shake my head.  “Tiny Tim was not Russian.  As a matter of fact, he was not Hawaiian, either.”

They probably wonder why their mother is referring to the Ebeneezer Scrooge story, when in fact, I am not.  We press on, plowing through their daily spelling words and I discover that several of them describe my children:  incredible, irascible, inadvertent, ingenious, irresistible….

When it comes to their learning enough English to navigate the halls of higher education, I try to avoid thinking about that other word:  impossible.



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8 Comments : Leave a Reply

  1. avatar Kathleen says:

    Love this post! I have taught ELLs for many years. You should add persistent and determined to your list of characteristics.

  2. avatar Greg says:

    Very humorous….I just wish it wasn’t so true! The words with multiple meanings wear me out. For example, our dog loves it when Natasha gives her a “treat”. Then, when I tell Natasha she needs to “treat” her teachers at school with respect, you can just see the confusion on her face. “Dad, my teacher not eat treat!”

  3. avatar Sybil says:

    My daughter was horrified when I spoke of the odd smell of moth balls.

  4. avatar meant2be says:

    While still in Russia I taught the girls to say “thank you” and “you’re welcome.”

    And what did everyone who met them for the first time say? “Welcome!” And they were expected to respond with “Thank you!”

    They just looked at me with confusion. But two years later it is incredible at how fluent they are … most of the time :O)

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