Chinese Language Learning for Adoptees

Do Adoptees have an Advantage in Learning Mandarin Chinese?

Lots of families with children adopted from China want their children to learn Chinese. It can be way of maintaining a link with their birth country. After teaching several adoptees from China over the years, I can speak to any differences in teaching this group of students. The truth is, there really aren’t any. While there is some evidence that adoptees* might have an advantage in terms of learning pronunciation of their birth language, the process for second language acquisition is the same for everyone.

Language Learning is Slow, Ordered, and Complex

The process of acquiring a language is slow, ordered and complex. If a child adopted from China starts learning Chinese in elementary school, she will go through the same language learning process as anyone else. If she does not have the chance to study Chinese until college, again, the process will be the same.

Tiger Hill Orphanage
Tiger Hill Orphanage and drawings from two kids who lived there when I was a volunteer 2008-2009. Note Tiantian’s Chinese language prewriting in blue.

*Caveat here is that the children in this study were adopted when they were very young. Findings likely would be different for a child adopted at the age of 8, for example.