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Bruce Flanagan

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My wife and I are adopting 2 children next week. One is a new born, the other is a two an a half year old boy who was raised in orphanage in rural Vietnam since birth.

My wife speaks fluent English and I speak Vietnamese well. I intend to use OPOL with the new born son. However I am unsure what to do with the two and a half year old.

He half hardly speaks Vietnamese because of the basic conditions of the orphanage and their model of raising the children there. So if I only spoke English with him it may be difficult, especially when everything will be new, new parents, new house, new environment.

I want to know what you suggest for him. should I speak Vietnamese with him untill he is comfortable with me and his new family and situation or should I start straight away only speaking english with him?

Thank you for your help.



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Dear Bruce,

First of all, congratulations on your adoption!! This is a subject that is very close to my heart as we are expecting a new member through adoption to our extended family any day now. The child in question will not have a common language with his / her new parents and as the mother of two bilingual children I am very interested in trying to find advice for them in the situation.

In your situation it seems very positive to me that you speak Vietnamese so that you can at least understand what your son is saying even if he doesn’t speak a lot. You say that your wife speaks fluent English, did I understand correctly that Vietnamese is her native language (and that you’re planning OPOL with these two languages)?

We are an OPOL family (French / Finnish) and based on this experience and the research I have done on the subject it seems that the main thing to consider is how you will feel about switching languages with your son once you’ve built your relationship with him in one language. There are parents that can do this very well and studies seem to show that up to about 5 years of age sequential bilingualism can give just as good results as simultaneous bilingualism, especially if you live in a country where that 2nd language is the community language (otherwise, knowing that you speak his stronger language there might not be sufficient need to speak the new language, English in your case).

All the best, it would be great to hear how that all works out!

Annika Bourgogne
[email protected]


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