About two weeks ago, Ava’s English exploded. In the preceeding weeks I had begun to worry, just slightly, below the surface. I remembered what others had said about the words their newly adopted older children had learned in their first weeks. To be honest, a month in, Ava was still only speaking about eight English words, including Mama and Baba, big sister and big brother!
With hope, I held on to the knowledge that expressive language grows at only about 1/4 the pace of receptive. And yes, she did seem to understand more of what I said every day. I use the same recipe for language learning I have used with both my other kids. Speaking in my “preschool voice” quite often – more slowly, with fewer words and far greater expression. I repeat the same phrases often until they begin incorporating those phrases, then I add new ones.
And Ava is speaking English! One day she suddenly spoke a few new words all in one day. I praised her lavishly each time she used a word. By the next day she had added another ten or so and even some phrases, combinations of words. That night we wrote a list on her chalboard wall of all the English words she knew. There were a surprising number. As we lay in bed that night she kept telling me new ones she new. She would say in Chinese “there’s one more! And then tell me the new word.” Each time I faithfully got out of bed to write the new word on the wall. The results astonished us both.
And now, two weeks later, we’ve run out of wall space for the words. But she just keeps learning. She seems to understand a good 70% of what I say to her, though of course our normal conversations at meal times are all over her head.
Her “chinglesh” combinations are lovely. In Chinese “guan man” (sp) is close the door. She loves to shout “guan man de door!!” in the best accent ever, not really knowing exactly what she is saying. “Don’t touch” is a phrase she picked up from working with me at the stove . . . she says it with emphases on the final “ch” which is sung out. We have discovered how very many uses there are for this phrase – many unexpected ones! In the pool she loves to repeat “wu push ni, ni push wu” with the English “push” interspersed with Chinese pronouns. This is another of my tactics for language learning, to insert a single English words into a Chinese phrase. “Ni yao SWIM ma?” Do you want to swim?
Now that she understands more English we have to be more careful what we say in front of her. We have begun to spell some words instead of saying them out loud, especially “we’re going” “swim” “jump” “watch a movie”, etc. In fact Ava surprises me by complaining if I talk about her in a way she doesn’t like, repeating an apparently embarassing story for example. Just a week or two ago she would never have noticed.
Originally i was learning Chinese much faster than she was learning English . . . then she pulled even with me. Now she is speeding ahead and my chances of improving my Chineses are rapidly declining! Which is how it should be.