Friday, November 02, 2007

Speaking Amharic (Attempt 1)

Some good friends (we think) of ours anonymously ordered us beanbags with Amharic numbers and colors to help with the girls' retention of their language. (By the way, there's a great kid's Amharic book on this site too.)

Kailey and I cracked the beanbags out and lined them up. We began counting from 1-10 in Amharic thinking it would spark Neti and Meke's interest. We expected that they'd come over and help us count. They heard us very plainly but remained content to continue playing, almost determined not to hear (or to pretend they didn't hear).

I took a more direct approach. "Neti. Ahnd...Hoolet...Sost." ("one, two, three" in Amharic)

She looked up. Unmoved she went back to playing without interest. I sensed it was more than a lack of interest. Her body language spoke loudly. She was determined not to engage in this conversation at all.

I pressed a little more to see what would happen.

"Neti. Ahhhhnnnnd...Hoooooooletttt..." ("Onnnnnnnnne, Twwwwwwwooooooo...")

(Long pause)

Nothing. They didn't finish the equation. They kept playing.

We've tried without success to engage them in their native language. We've repeatedly asked Neti "What's this in Ethiopia?" (pointing to something). The most common response is a shrug. A while back we put Neti on the phone with an Amharic speaking friend of a friend. Normally, she'll chatter away with anyone on the phone. The minute she heardAmharic on the other side she withdrew and wouldn't respond.

Not sure exactly what's going on. Maybe it's confusing for her to mix both languages. Maybe she associates bad experiences with the "old" language. Maybe she feels no need to use Amharic because everyone here speaks English. The ESL teacher at her school tells us it's normal for kids to reject their language for a period only to reengage later.

Meke's become a little more open to Amharic - as long as Neti's not around.


At 8:35 PM , Blogger I WOULD GATHER CHILDREN said...

I find this interesting as this is how our 4 year old is. She has been home just over 2 months. We took her to an Ethiopian Church and she would respond to them when they spoke Amharic and said her name was Birtukan (her now middle name). We let her call herself whatever she would like but within a half hour, after someone was determined to hold her and I took her back she no longer said her name was Birtukan. It was now her American name Aleena. And when an Ethiopian asked if she spoke Amharic she would responsed with no, sevearl times. They would say she just wants to be American. I felt it was much deeper than that, like you too. And it was also interesting because she had no interest in the other Ethiopian children, just her siblings. We have decided not to go back until she is better adjusted to us. Not sure what it all means.
jen in mi

At 8:39 PM , Blogger Holly said...

I have 4 cousins who were adopted from Russia a number of years ago. At the time of their adoption, they were 4, 5, 8, and 9 years old. They too would speak their native language at first and then gradually did less and less, seeming to "forget" how to. To my knowledge, they have never picked it up again (they are now late high school and college aged), but I don't know how much their parents encouraged them to?

At 9:20 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

We came home 4 months ago with a 6 yr old daughter and 8 year old son. She will engage fully and tell us story after story (it's how we discovered there were other siblings) about Ethiopia. He shrugs, doesn't want to talk about it. And the other Ethiopians/African adopted children that are at our church hold no interest for our new kids. We expected an immediate connection...not so much!
Charlene Ruff

At 4:55 PM , Anonymous Katie R. (awaa) said...

Some friends of ours adopted twin 5-year-old boys from the Ukraine several years ago & had similar experiences trying to get them talking around Russian speakers... The parents eventually figured that they were scared that they were going to have to go back or something like that...

Interesting, though. There seems to be a pattern here...

At 6:20 PM , Blogger Tricia & Steve said...

Well, glad the gift made it, but sorry it wasnt a bigger hit with the girls. Actually, sorry-er that I didnt think about the impact it might have. I was responding via gift to your blog looking for Amharic and found that great site for kids. I'm sure that Neti and Meke have a lot of emotion connected to their country of origin and their language. Could be a sense of loyalty to you that they want to express since you are giving them such a wonderful family. Well you and Rhonda can play with the bean bags ;)
Miss you guys.

At 1:05 AM , Blogger mom2twoboys said...

Totally unrelated to adoption, but I live in HK and know a little boy (5 y/o) whose father is German and his mother is Chinese and has a Filipina helper. He can speak English, German, Cantonese and Tagalog, but he almost totally refuses to speak in Cantonese. There are some attachment issues with his Chinese family, and the only time he'll speak Cantonese is if he's translating for his German grandparents in a shop or something. His grandparents have talked to me about it a little, and we think it's because of emotional reasons. So your hunch about emotions seems to be right on, especially if they went through garbage before (sorry, I just found your blog through a friend, and am not up on the background of the girls, though I will wander through the archives).


At 9:25 PM , Blogger Amanda said...

Yes, this is very common. They have a new identity now with unconditional love and a home. They want to "lose" their old identity of an orphan and honestly forget the grief and pain. the people, smells and language bring these memories back. Almost all adopted orphans will do this. Even toddlers from China, Once they know who their new mommy and daddy are, when around other chinese people will not look them in the face and will run from them or not answer them or speak to them. This is a good bonding thing. Maybe as they grow older they will become interested in their heritage again..but sometimes, much like our own salvation and adoption into God's kingdom, we too do not want to be reminded of our past. There is pain, abandonment and rejection there where now there is acceptance, love and healing.


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