Wednesday, November 26, 2008

WFMW: Learning His Language

A recent morning conversation between me and my 10-year-old Ethiopian son:

Me: Sent encoulat tehfalligalli? (How many eggs to you want?)
Minte: Yeh-teh-teh-beh-seh ena yeh-teh-kuh-kuh-leh? (Scrambled or boiled?)
Me: Yeh-teh-kuh-kuh-leh. (boiled)
Minte: Sent tefalligallio? (How many do we have?)
Me: Hulet (two)
Minte: Mmmmm, ...and tehfalligallio ( One, please)
Me: Eshi. (okay)

We're about 9 weeks into our transition home with our precious son, and since November is National Adoption Month I've been taking time on Wednesdays to post some things that have been "working for us" during our first few weeks home.

My first posts on this subject have been on my main blog, but since this one is sort of "homeschooly" I thought I'd bring it over here today! If this is your first time to visit either of my blogs, welcome! I'm so glad you are here! My previous posts on this topic have been about the benefits of establishing a routine, labeling the house, and how we have utilized afternoon movie times.

Today, as you can see from above conversation, I'll be discussing language. This has been a biggie! That's always been one of the first questions people have asked me, even before we brought him home, "Does he speak English?" The answer: "No." The language he speaks is called Amharic and is the primary language spoken in Ethiopia. It is a beautiful language, but bears absolutely no resemblance in sound or in written form, to English. He had very little English instruction in the school he attended while at the orphanage. It consisted mostly of copying English worksheets into a composition book. SO, I've started from the beginning with him. I listed some of our curriculum here, and I'm preparing to write another post on homeschooling ESL again soon. God is being so faithful to bring to mind ideas that are helping me... as I have no idea what I'm doing, and there aren't a lot of resources for teaching ELL's (English Language Learners), especially within the context of homeschooling.

As you can see from the photo, what has been "working for us" involves notecards. But hopefully, you noticed that there are two sets. His and mine. Every couple of days, we sit with his box of notecards and he simply names words he wants to know how to read. Sometimes he has had to point to an object so I could tell him the name of it, but frequently it's a word he knows (like "bike) but just doesn't know what it looks like. We pull the cards out every few days and he tries to read the words he has chosen. For the most part, he's successful because those words mean something to him: favorite toys, his siblings' names, our address. Even though he's really reading "word shapes" at this point, he's getting used to reading English print, which is a step. But that's not all this exercise is about.

You see, it's a two-way street. Mom has her notecards, too! Just about every day I ask him how to say something in Amharic (if he can give me a translation) or I get phrases from one of my three can't-do-without-'em resources: Talk Now Amharic, Lonely Planet Phrasebook, and Simple Language for Adoptive Families. He absolutely loves hearing me speak to him in his native language, and he loves the give-and-take of teaching each other. It is so sweet to hear him slowly pronounce things so I can write down what it sounds like on my card. Then I repeat phrases back and he corrects me, isolating certain sounds. I work on it (genuinely work on it!) and then use the words and phrases in conversation. His face absolutely lights up when I throw down some Amharic when he least expects it! He understands only a fraction of what he hears all day, everyday, and it's a welcome "interruption" when something familiar is spoken to him. He smiled SO big the other morning when I asked him in Amharic how many eggs he wanted! Such a small thing, but it meant a lot to him, I could tell.

What distinguishes these moments from other ESL/ELL teacher-student situations is that this is my child. Part of our bond is being able to communicate with each other. Learning English is an all-encompassing task for him right now, and I think it "spurs him on" to see that Mom is doing the same thing. When we're having an Amharic conversation and I have to dissect e-ve-ry sound and see if I'm tracking with him, for that brief slice of time, I can feel how he feels every other second of the day. I can understand why "bucket" sounds like "basket" and how "popcorn" sounds like "pumpkin." I botch phrases all the time and he practically rolls in the floor laughing... I love it! Being an active learner of his language has gone a long way toward how we relate to each other, and it's really working for me... and for him.

For more ideas that work, visit Rocks in My Dryer.

There are many more precious children like Minte who need a forever family (and would love to teach you Amharic!) If adoption, either domestic or international, is something you're considering and you need a place to start, you can visit our agency's website here.

Have a wonderful Wednesday!


Berji's domain said...

My husband and I are in the process of adopting from Ethiopia- I've really enjoyed your WFMW series- thank you!

Louise said...

I just love this! What a fantastic way to practice empathy. His English will always outpace your Ahmaric, which will be a source of pride for him, too. (Kids just learn language so much faster and easier than adults.)

Neat. Thanks for sharing.

abbiegrace said...

Your post is so touching. We are praying for God's direction in our lives regarding the possibility of adoption. thanks so much for sharing your story!


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