Language skills of internationally adopted children

Children adopted internationally (CAI) go through a period of interrupted language acquisition, where they must switch from a former language environment to a new one. Many of these children also spend some time in institutions, with a low adult-to-child ratio and few older children to provide social language examples. In this study, the authors review the literature to show that many of these children, though within normal limits, have delayed or slightly lower-than-average language skills. The findings of the current study were consistent with this. The internationally adopted four-year-olds in the current study... “…had lower CELF-P:2 (Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals–Preschool 2) core language scores for the expressive subtests than the U.S. nonadopted group,” but nonetheless, “… performed largely within 1 SD on the core language scores…” On average, these children had, “…lived with their adopted families for three years.”
 
The researchers, however, did more than just give the children a language test. They also examined their ability to perform routines that depend on cognitive and linguistic skills. They found that the CAI had difficulty with false belief tasks. These are tasks where you must recognize that another person’s perspective is different than yours, predict what the other person is thinking, and explain it (e.g. “What will your friend think is in the box?”). The children had the most difficulty with the more linguistically challenging tasks (e.g. answering “Why” questions). The variables predictive of performance on these tasks were the CELF core language score, and living with older siblings. This suggests that perhaps both the linguistic adjustment phase and the environment a child is adopted into have an impact on sociolinguistic outcomes.


Hwa-Froelich, D.A., Matsuo, H., Jacobs, K. (2016). False Belief Performance of Children Adopted Internationally. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. Advance online publication. doi:10.1044/2016_AJSLP-15-0152.