Orevwa, Creole

People often ask me how Kembe is doing with learning English.  I have been absolutely amazed with his progress.  He has picked it up so fast.  About a month ago, he stopped speaking Creole altogether.  (Of course it was right about the time that we were starting to feel comfortable with it).  I started noticing that when I would ask him a question in Creole, he would answer it in English.  I even noticed that when he was playing alone and "voicing" his toys, that they were talking in English, too.  He's still learning, of course, but he is one determined kid, and he obviously wants to be English-speaking.  He's very talkative and would like to rattle off long paragraphs at the speed of his siblings, so sometimes he just repeats the phrases he knows, with different intonations, until it is the equivalent length of a little conversation. 

"At preschool, playing with Benjamin, I play basketball.  And basketball with Benjamin.  At preschool?  Basketball.  I like basketball"

The other day, I tried to get him to talk to me in Creole, and he refused.  I'm thrilled that he has picked up English so fast, but I'm also a little sad that he is losing his Creole.  I thought we might continue learning together, and end up a bilingual family.   But it's gotten to the point where if I used a Creole phrase, he will correct me with the English words he knows.

The Creole has become my fall-back if he's not listening.  It has become the parenting equivalent of using the dreaded middle name.

"Kemba, it's time to eat, come sit down.  Sit down and eat.  CHITA AK MANJE!"

Jafta, on the other hand, takes glee in learning Creole phrases.  But like a typical big brother, he also takes glee in getting a rise out of Kembe, and talking in Creole is a sure way to do that.  For example, tonight, when he repeatedly told Kembe it was "tan pou dòmi", to which Kembe shouted, "No, it's SLEEPY TIME!  Not domi-time".  As if they were fighting over an invisible line in the backseat.  (Remember that?  No?  Just me with my sister?)

So, just to wrap up:  Kembe has denounced his native tongue, I now use Creole as a disciplinary technique, and Jafta uses it as a way to annoy his brother.

Somehow I don't recall this being what the international adoption book recommended.


  1. Dorie Lawson3:21 AM

    Hi Kristin:
    We're still waiting to bring our daughter home and I wonder if you could share your method for learning Creole? Thanks. Dorie

  2. The exact same thing happened in our household with Korean!!

  3. Too funny! It also reminds me of my Russian prof who as a single mom moved to the US with her daughter about Kembe's age. Within a month, daughter absolutely refused to speak any Russian, and she was around many native Russian speakers. So, I guess not just with adoption and integration into a family of non-native speakers, but with any process of acculturation it can happen.

    PS LOVE the right sidebar pics! Is Karis seriously breakdancing? What a prodigy!

  4. that is great, nothing like an older brother to annoy the hell our of ya.

  5. I don't mean that losing the language is great, the story is - just to clarify

  6. i am impressed with kembe's determination! he's only three??? children are so resilient. btw the imaginary line thing happened in our house too. with my sisters. and not just in the car. :0)

  7. Sarah P6:44 AM

    Love the wrap up...hilarious.

  8. We didn't have an imaginary line in the car, but we DID have a blanket down the middle of the bed when we shared one at our grandparents house. As far as your experience NOT being the textbook progression of how things SHOULD be...when is it EVER that way?? I have a bone to pick with the Super Nanny, What to Expect When You're Expecting and a few others...there's no "normal"! But I'm sure you knew that ;)

  9. We speak Kreyol when we don't want the Haitian kids to know what we're saying. In our house, only the white people still understand it (including the 14 year old). Sad but true.

  10. I have awarded your blog with the Beautiful Blogger Award! Pop over and check it out :)

  11. This is exactly what happened with us in the language department.... even the part about the annoying older brother. ;o)

    I've heard that it is common for internationally adoption children to intentionally reject their first language. We've seen it with friends who adopted children from Russia and a family member who adopted a little girl from Guatemala. We have so many Haitian friends who try to speak Creole with our son; I know and use enough Creole that he could have easily kept it. We REALLY wanted it to stick and made such an effort. But he truly, flat-out rejects Creole to the point of being rude to Haitian-Americans who try to converse with him. And that's just a tad embarrassing. We're really fortunate that he has mastered English, though - I love that he can express himself.

  12. My 10 year old (Esther) speaks English really well; my 5 year old (Zoë) spoke very little. I've been so glad Esther has been able to translate. Zoë's English has been improving (and just as quickly, my homegrown Charis, also 5, has been learning Creole). I finally heard Zoë ask Esther a question in English yesterday. Progress! But, I too will be sad if they lose their Creole altogether.


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