From Russia, With Love
We all have different roles we fulfill in our daily lives. Some of the roles we embrace, and others we try to avoid. I would like to share with you one of the roles I have embraced and avoided at different times. My husband and I adopted our youngest sons in 2011 when they were three and four years old. Our oldest son spent the first months of his life in a hospital due to premature birth and medical complications. He left the hospital and was placed in an orphanage due to abandonment. His younger brother, Pasha, was born 379 days later and spent the first 14 months of his life with his birth parents where he foraged for food in the trash due to being the youngest of seven children living in a shack with parents who suffered from alcoholism. Our sons were reunited in their orphanage where they remained until we finalized our adoption in 2011.
I did a lot of research while we waited to travel to Russia to meet and bring home our boys. We underwent both psychological and medical testing to be deemed fit parents. I connected with other adoptive parents online and read many books. I learned as many Russian phrases as possible to help communicate with the boys in the first months after their adoption. At the time, I had no inkling that I would eventually work in the ESL community. Raising the boys has lent me some great insight into the experiences some of our children in our classrooms may have when they are frustrated from trying to learn English.. The boys continue to experience occasional breakdowns in communication from time to time, which are usually related to a vocabulary issue or things like slang terms. My youngest son still refers to mice as “rats”. We live near a grain bin so every fall/winter have to deal with mice trying to come into our house. Imagine my horror when he told his teacher at school that we have been catching rats in traps! It is interesting to think about how the first few years of life speaking another language with different world and word knowledge can impact a child for many years to come.
The first year together we communicated with sign language, gestures (TPR!) and a mixture of Russian and English. Their expressive language skills in Russian disappeared quickly due to my inability to support their continued use beyond the few phrases I had learned to assist in daily activities. One of the things I learned that made a big impact upon improving their communication skills was my usage of prosody. Prosody is a subset of language in which rhythm, stress, and intonation is used to assist in conveying a message. This is one of the reasons why I enjoy using rhythm and music in my teaching. I am a mediocre singer; my own children ask me to refrain from singing in the car. I do feel that music allows me to make connections with my students while also assisting them in utilizing the rhythm, cadence, and intonation that is different in English. I look forward to continuing to connect with my students through rhythm, music, smiles, and laughter. Non-verbal communication can go a long way to develop rapport with our students and their families. A warm and engaging smile and welcoming tone can help our students feel confident when they enter our classrooms.
*If you would like to read more about my adoption journey, feel free to look at my blog at gipsonfamilyadoption.blogspot.com.