Saturday, November 30, 2013

Communication, from the Beginning

On an unusually cold fall day last week, the afterschool director at Shekina's school told me S had come up to her and exclaimed "I'm FREEZING!" She seemed to think it was cute, and perhaps was trying to hint that S needed a warmer coat, so my reaction wasn't what she expected. "Good English!" I excitedly replied. The word freezing might not seem so exciting to you, and probably didn't to her, but to me, it was quite nuanced. Less than five months ago, we were stumbling through communication with an at-first clumsy mixture of French, Lingala, and pantomime. Cold was froid, hot was chaud. "No touche pas!" my mom would say as she was first turning on the shower in Congo. "Tres chaud!" (We were staying at Sunny Days, for those of you wondering where we had such hot water in Kinshasa!) I had studied a little bit of Lingala through the utalk iPhone app, and was so thankful I had. From the minute we arrived at the orphanage on the very first day, Shekina tugged at my arm with Lingala requests. "Mama, asumba." I filed through my utalk words in my head and realized she needed to go to the bathroom. "Mama, mayi." Water--she was thirsty. (To this day, I think she was checking to see if I would fulfill her needs from the very moment she met me, but that's an entirely different story.) 

We became more adept at our own special creole over time, Shekina teaching us Lingala, Koko Vickie and Shekina discovering Lingala/French similarities (French seems to comprise a good bit of their language). We slowly began introducing English words, and, of course, my mom, dad, and I spoke to each other in English, so Shekina heard it spoken all day long. To say that she was and is a sponge is cliche, but it's accurate. There were frustrating times once we got home when she couldn't communicate thoughts, wants, or needs she wanted to express, and there was one week when I felt we had truly stalled. But no. That was just me having too much time on my hands to analyze things. Now that we are all busy and Shekina has been in school for almost three months, I realize how incredibly far she has come. My daughter might not have perfect English--she especially messes up pronouns, which I have always found to be difficult for ELLs-- but she's understanding almost fluently! We have to spell things out or hide our conversations from her completely if we don't want her to hear because she will understand it all! And her English is nearly fluent! Her loving, nurturing preschool teacher has played a big part in her language development, as have her classmates. She mimics things they have said and comes home with new words every day. Last week, after her teacher taught teddy-bear-themed lessons for two weeks, Shekina told us all about hibernation at dinner! Unbelievable. We still have our frustrating times when she can't communicate the thought she so desperately needs to, but those times are generally due to a lack of proper enunciation, not vocabulary. It's unbelievable! We are so lucky to have this smart cookie and all the people who have helped her in our lives. 
With her class's mascot, Spot, who she got to bring home for the weekend. 

These days, we rarely use our Lingala/French creole, and I'm quickly forgetting it, so I thought I'd record it below, just for the memories. Please excuse the spellings if you speak French or Lingala! I'll keep adding to it as I remember. Thanks for following us on our journey!


P.S. You may be wondering how Goddy's English is. He tested as having a 40% language deficit about four months ago, and therefore has been receiving early intervention services. We knew it was likely that he tested so low because of his lack of English knowledge, and sure enough he has gained English words at lightning speed. Again, being in a classroom with excellent teachers and chatty peers has really helped speed things along. Today, he knows tons of words and speaks in multi-word phrases; our only worry is enunciation, but we're told that will come with time. 

Our creole dictionary:

Cold: froid
Hot: chaud
Water: mayi
Look!: tele!
Oyo: this (learned while watching TV: "oyo, te!" (This channel show, no!)
No: te
Yes: oui
Bread: lipa
Tea: chai
Milk: miliki
Nasumba/asumba: need to go to the bathroom (I'll spare you the details)
Car: carmeaux
Orange drink: Djino (after a Congolese brand of orange soda)
Chicken: soso
Rice: loso
Chicken and rice: soso na loso
Rice and beans: loso na madesu
Bed: mbetu
I love you: Na lingi yo
Sleeping: la la lingi (Shekina taught me this one, don't know if it's correct)
Wait!: zela!!!
Excellent or good job: Kitoko mingi
Shrimp: cossa cossa 
House: ndaku
Paper: papier
Pool: la piscine
Diaper: couche 

*Sure do wish I could remember more, and that I had recorded more at the time.  Shekina now knows our alphabet, many traditional American children's songs, watches American she doesn't know a bit of Lingala. She claimed that long ago. Her rejection of her language and her claim that she doesn't like Africa are perhaps a rejection of her former lifestyle, and/or a way of telling us she wants to stay with us. (Every other day, she also tells us she wants to go back to Africa to visit Papa Fils, Papa Jacques, Ma Blandine, and Papy, all people we worked with in Africa; again, another post for another day!) 

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