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Thursday, March 16, 2017

T-6 and Does he speak any English?

SIX DAYS until we leave! Oh my! I think I'm having equal parts heart palpitations, giddy excitement and a bad case of the nerves. I'm happy and worried and nervous and excited and ready to go and so far behind all at the same time. I wonder if Ru knows we're coming so soon. I know at least one of the girls in his orphanage is leaving for her forever family on Monday. I wonder if he's scared. I wonder if he has a picture of us or if he's getting sad thinking of saying goodbye to the only family he's ever known. 

So here's one of the many things that's swimming around in my head these days. The good, the bad and the ugly. 

One of the questions we've been getting a lot is Does Ru speak any English? The good news is that our brave wonderful boy is bilingual! Ru has grown up speaking Cantonese. When he started school he started learning Mandarin, the national language of China, and it's the only language used in his school. (I think that's a thing where he lives, to use a different language than what the kids speak. Go figure, but it works for them, so what do I know!) He's currently in 1st grade so we know that at the ripe ol' age of 7 he's had at least a couple years of Mandarin under his belt. I don't assume he's fluent by any means, but I do think he's probably well in the direction of learning his 2nd language. The bad news, as you've already deduced is that neither of those languages are English. Nope, he doesn't speak any English. Except it would surprise me if he knows Justin Bieber. I hear he's pretty popular there. 

After folks ask me that question, the inevitable follow up questions is asked... 

Do you speak any Chinese?

Nope to that one too. Have you seen that language? The letters aren't even... letters!  They're drawings for crying out loud! No. With the exception of I love you, Hello, and Thank you, I don't speak Chinese. None of us do. We're trying to learn some key words, but seriously it's a tough tough language to learn even when you're just aiming to learn just a few key words. 

At first this seems like a daunting scenario. A scared and angry 7 year old stripped of everything he's familiar with under the supervision of new parents he doesn't know and who cannot share a single word between them. Except I love you, HelloThank you and Justin Bieber that is. Because I love youHelloThank you and Justin Bieber only go so far. One can foresee a scenario where one might need to say things like, We don't stand on the toilet. And Yes, you do have to hold mama's hand when crossing this busy street. And I'm so very sorry that this world is scary and unfair, but I promise to walk beside you through it from now on. More words will definitely be needed. 

Surprising to many, we're not really all that worried about this lack of a shared language. Are we trying to educated ourselves and avoid possible frustrations? Yes! But worried? No. On the day we get Ru, he will be entering a totally all-inclusive 100% English immersion program. Us! We are the immersion English-language immersion program. It's all we speak! It's sink or swim, and we know Ru will swim... eventually. It will be frustrating on both our parts. I wish this wasn't the way it had to be. Unfortunately Ru will lose both his Mandarin and Cantonese as quickly as he learns English. It's almost impossible for an adopted child living in a family that speaks no Chinese to keep their native language. So sadly he will lose his native tongue as quickly as he gains a new one. I wish he didn't have to have the additional hardship of learning a whole new language on top of the loss of this country and culture, but he probably will. Adoption is full of loss and sadly the loss of native tongue will be another in a long line of losses for our brave boy. 

Also very important, even if we don't speak each other's language, it doesn't mean we won't be able to communicate. We remind ourselves that communication and language are 2 different things. There are translation apps, modeling and pantomiming to name a few of the methods a that we'll rely on to communicate with him. While in China we hope that Ru will follow Mimi's lead when we're out and about and help him learn to do things like holding hands, brushing teeth and eating. (We hope but we're not necessarily counting on it.) We will also have a translator for much of our trip in China and are looking to hire one to visit us frequently when we get home. Once thankfully once we're home, there will 3 more littles for him to model after. 

We are learning that the brain of a child is an amazing thing. From the experience of those who have adopted before us, we expect that Ru might know and use a few key words in English by the time we get back home. We're hoping these words might be bathroom, hungry or help. And after a few months time we think it's very possible that we'll be able to "communicate" even if it's not in English. In 6 months we hope that we'll be able to converse in English well enough to get by. And in a year's time it's very possible that Ru will be fluent in English. I don't know about you, but in a year's time I don't think I could be anywhere near fluent in anything. Did I mention how amazing our boy is? 

So that's why we're not worried. 
I might change my mind about this whole lack of language thing later. That happens a lot these days.
Right now my mind is worried about packing all these t-shirts. This is only about half of them. Surely a boy doesn't need so many t-shirts for a 2 week trip, yet I can't seem to get rid of any of them! Thankfully I have 6 days to figure it out! 


  1. we had our sweet girl here from china for 3 weeks-- Google translate--- though not always accurate- was huge- and we got along fabulous-- she picked things up super fast-- and the language of love needs no words :)

    1. Thank you, Emily! We're praying the language transition is easier than we think. We've heard the older the kiddo the more frustrating they my find it. What is that saying... Praying for the best and preparing for the worst. That's us right now.

  2. Dear Nancy,Don't you have a chinese school near your home? Or a chinese people who would speak to him regularly? Maybe it woulb be much easier amd he could keep his first language.

    1. No Chinese schools near us. And unfortunately Cantonese is not a common language even among Chinese. Most speak mandarin. But we're looking for someone!

  3. Hi Nancy, Our most recent adoption was a 5 year old boy. He talked constantly and to everyone we met while in China--on the subway, in the bank, at the breakfast buffet, to our interpreter and government officials and on and on, he has not one shy bone in his body--all in Mandarin of course and I had not a clue what he was saying. All I could do was smile nervously as he chattered his way through our adoption journey. Almost everything he said was met with gales of laughter by all those who could understand him and this made me even more nervous. When we got home I thought to myself, "this guy is a talker and obviously very fluent in Mandarin at a 5 year old level." I immediately enrolled him in Saturday morning Mandarin class. Taking him is not terribly convenient as it is a one hour drive each way and he is the youngest of my 8 kids, but I do it because I believe it could be important to him both now and in the future. I am not under any illusion that it will develop his Mandarin skills greatly--3 hours once a week is quickly overshadowed by the fact that every other hour of his week is spent in an English only environment--but it is my hope that it will maintain his 5 year old Mandarin skills so that he can build on them if he ever chooses to in the future. Mandarin class has also linked us into an amazing Chinese community. If possible, I would encourage you to find that for Ru. And if there is any question that it will inhibit his ability to learn English, that has been a complete non issue for us. Within 6 months there was nothing that our little guy could not say in English. He does talk CONSTANTLY so that certainly helped, but little brains are so malleable and equipped to learn a new language. I agree with you completely, there is no need at all to be concerned about his ability to learn English, especially with three close in age siblings to help him along! I wish you many blessings on your journey to Ru and the even bigger adventure of becoming a family with him.

    1. Thank you for your guidance and first hand experience! It's something we've thought a lot about. I've investigated a Chinese school available in our area. There is only one in our city that I've found, about 40 min away without traffic. That's a 2 1/2 hour commitment each time without no traffic (we live in a big city that does have traffic) and what mostly keeps us from from thinking the Chinese school isn't going to work is that our local friends that have adopted older children, and done the same Chinese school, their children still couldn't keep their current lng skills long term. 3,4,5,10 years into the process. Not to mention that Ru's native language isn't mandarin, but Cantonese, and there is no Cantonese Chinese schools that I can find in our area. Now strangely coincidentally there IS a Chinese (mandarin) immersion school (regular ol' public school, 5 days per week) starting in our area next fall. I don't know how much of his Chinese he will have lost by that time. And he'd need to start 2 years back, back in kindergarten. That's a definite consideration. But it's a call we'll have to make in August and see how things are going.

    2. You do not have to afraid of how much Chinese he will lost by the time the scool started. He could continue easily. My daughter learnt English when she was 2-5 years old. Now she is 13. She didn't speak a word in English from 5-13 y. She started to learn again and almost every words came back her mind. The children brain is fantastic and very flexible.

  4. Nancy~~

    Exciting times ahead! Travel mercies.

    Cantonese is a spoken dialect~~I grew up speaking Cantonese ~don't think there is a written form. Dialects are peculiar to where one lives in China and I think there are at least 80 dialects in China. Unlike "Mandarin" which is used academically in schools and universities, and is the official written Chinese language worldwide. To be able to speak and read Mandarin will be useful. Maybe Mimi and Ru together can learn to write and speak Mandarin.


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