Angelina’s English has been growing by leaps and bounds the past two months. These days we get along with only little blips of lost-in-translation moments. She has even gotten to the point where she prefers we do NOT use “that other language” when trying to communicate.
Today, while I was singing in the kitchen Angelina rolled through, shot me an embarrassed teen eye-roll, and said “mom, chill out” before continuing her cool cruise into the living room. Later, when she accidentally bumped the dog with her wheelchair, she immediately bent down to console our pooch and cooed”oh poor Odin, poor little toes.”
Two months ago she knew “hello” and “goodbye”. That is not an exaggeration. She is now speaking in full English sentences.
When we first arrived home, a common question from people was “How is she going to learn English?” and they were often surprised to hear we were not getting a private tutor, not taking her to ESL classes, and not starting her in the local school. “But then how will she learn?” was always the follow-up question. They don’t actually wring their hands in the air, but they may as well given the horrified tone of voice.
Angelina’s brain isn’t ready for language lessons in a traditional classroom setting. In new environments her limbic system still reigns supreme which leads to panic attacks and dissociative behavior at the drop of a hat, or a pigeon walking past, or a cloud passing over the sun. You get the idea. When your brain is in fight or flight, it can’t waste energy on quibbly little details like language; screams and fists are fairly universally understood, and that is all a brain in a trauma-rut knows and needs.
The best way for Angelina (and any child) to learn language is through full immersion in a safe, familiar setting, with tons of repetition. Our home is her safe place. Having a four year old and 2 two year olds in the house takes care of the repetition! Kitty is in the
mind-numbing darling stage where she asks “what’s this” for every. single. thing. She can go through the silverware draw, pick up one fork at a time and ask “what’s this?” “That is a fork.” “what’s this?” “That is a fork”. We have 27 forks. Repetition.
Angelina has learned many of the sentences by route; we give all our kids scripts for basic etiquette. Phrases include “May I please be excused” “May I please have that”, “Mom, this food is delicious!”, “Thank you”, “You’re welcome”, “You are so silly”, “I am sorry, will you please forgive me”, “I forgive you”, and the first sentence for all our kids, “I will wait patiently.” ALL our kids learn to say these phrases long before they fully grasp the meaning. Occasionally Angelina still swears like a sailor in her mother tongue, but she is exceedingly polite when she speaks English.
If you have those ingredients: safe space, repetition, learned scripts – you are providing a solid foundation for language acquisition.
Of course, it helps if you and your spouse are also logophiles (lovers of words) and pepper your day-to-day conversations with words that lilt and linger.
For the past few days I’ve kept a running list of words I’ve noticed in our conversations or that have surfaced while reading aloud; they are vastly more satisfying than the endless drone of “yes” and “no” that you hear around the house much of the day:
miasma, staunch, arbitrary, lenient, aptitude, inquisitive, flaunt, foibles, scowl, sullen, weathered, wherewithal, indifferent, autumnal, instinctive, harmony, obscure, derelict, apiary, subtle, painstaking, vibrant, gloss, fortitude, indulgent, hinder, frivolous, decadent, slither, ornithology, anthropomorphic, somber, resiliency, cumbersome, flout, aghast, charismatic, bested, languid, beseech, turbulent, harrowing, frabjous, painstaking, lumbering, pummel, obscure, bleat, moor, theic, plebeian, antagonize, shrift, chivalrous, perennial, and chortle
I especially enjoy rolling the world “chortle” off the tongue.