I am so, so glad that we were able to learn some Amharic before the boys came to us. Many adopted older children experience months of frustration when they are unable to communicate with their new families. Having been in situations myself where I couldn't communicate with the people around me, I know how disheartening it is. I am so thankful that our boys haven't had that frustration. Not that we are having deep conversations in Amharic or anything, but we can cover what the boys want and don't want, what the many strange and new things around them are, and what's coming up next in the day. I find myself circumlocuting a lot and oversimplifying a lot, and I am doing unspeakable things to the grammar, but I can get basic messages across.
Many people have the misconception that mixing languages will hinder a
child's second or third language development. It's not hard to see why that isn't
true. If you are relying on the new language only, the child is
figuring out meaning based on context, maybe what you're pointing at, or
the way you're gesturing. But if you can offer the word in both
languages, it's easy to make the meaning clear, and for more abstract concepts, too.
Dinosaurs were scary for the kids until I
could say in Amharic, "They lived many years before. They all died. Now
there aren't any."
"No dinosaurs in this country?" the kids wanted to know.
"No dinosaurs in this country. No dinosaurs in other countries. They all died."
Now the boys like dinosaurs.
little things like that. They can tell us that they want the shirt they
wore yesterday, or ask why there are so many cars parked somewhere, or
tell us that the white van reminds them of someone in Ethiopia except
his van had more windows, without having to struggle to get their
meaning across. I can explain used car lots, disabilities,
nontraditional families and Barack Obama in simple terms that satisfy
their curiosity. The only thing that has stumped us so far is space and
photos of the Earth.
Of course all this communication
means that we know when our kids are saying unflattering things in
Amharic too, such as their backseat commentary, "You're going the wrong
way. You don't know the way. This isn't right," or A to T, "You're
hairy and fat," or A to me, "Your underwear is big like a grandma's."
Overall, deciding the learn Amharic was one of the best decisions we made during the adoption process.