Breaking the language barrier


Leach Buchholz
Focus on Adoption magazine

For many internationally adopted children, a part of adjusting to their new home will include learning to hear the sounds of English. They will then need to learn how to move their lips, tongue, and jaw to produce these sounds, and then put words together.

Language learning

Encourage language learning by creating fun  activities like Peek-a-Boo, singing songs, or other age-appropriate games.


Children who arrive home after the age of two will have spoken in their first language for approximately a year. One of their jobs will be to learn the sounds, vocabulary, and grammar of English. During this time children may be less verbal and more observational.

School age kids

School age children may experience “language transfer” whereby their native language may influence their speech patterns in English. When the child says “I have sandwich?” rather than saying “That’s wrong,” say the sentence again with all of the words (e.g. “May I have a sandwich?”) and then answer “Sure!” Accents and errors usually diminish as children develop their English.

Sound development

The approximate age range in which most children acquire different speech sounds.

SoundsExample wordsApproximate age of acquisition
p, b, m, n, w, t, d, hbat, pat, mommy, no, win, toe, daddy, house2-2.5
k, g, f, sh, ch, jkid, gum, fun, shoe, chair, jump3-4
Th, r, l, v, sthumb, read, lip, vest, soap8

Talking tips

  • One parent used a computer program to communicate with her son when he first joined the family from Russia.
  • Find someone in your community who speaks your child’s first language to help with the initial transition  process.
  • Try to learn key words such as food, drink, and tired in your child’s first language. This will make the transition
    period smoother.
  • Tell your child’s school about your child’s linguistic challenges and request language assistance classes as needed.
  • Avoid a formal language assessment until your child has settled into his or her new life and home.

Warning signs

Ask your doctor or school for a referral to a speach language pathologist if you notice the following in your child:

  • At the age of two, non-verbal or single word utterances.
  • Strong preference for objects and toys rather than people.
  • If all speech sounds are not present by the age of eight.
  • Stuttering, either words or phrases.

Information compiled by Leach Buchholz, Speech Language Pathologist and adoptee.