A common concern among families who are adopting older children internationally is how they will communicate with their newest addition. This was often the focus of our dinner table discussions in the months prior to meeting Tekle. I can't imagine going through such an enormous transition and being unable to express myself. I was very blessed in that I had a friend who spoke Amharic in my English class. He patiently taught me about 10 critical phrases. My accent was HORRIBLE because I kept pronouncing the words as if I were speaking Spanish. However, he worked with me until it was comprehendible.
When we met Tekle we were pleasantly surprised at the amount of English he already knew. It was mostly colors, numbers, animals etc... but he also knew a few random phrases. One of which was "Do not touch anything" with an emphasis on the ANYTHING. I'm sure he heard that a lot ;) Tekle would giggle and giggle when I attempted to speak Amharic, but he understood what I was saying!! I would tell him that I loved him, and he would say "amesaygenaloh" (thank you). Tekle learned an impressive amount of English in the single week we spent with him in Addis. I fondly remember him pacing around the room saying "Wherrrre arrre you shoes??" rolling all the "r's". It was the cutest thing. He was even translating for us by the end of the week. One of his friends would yell out "Makina, makina!" and he would look at me and say "Makina, Car".
Within less than a month of coming home, Tekle had enough of a vocabulary that he could understand most of what we said, and could communicate all the basics. He was very determined to learn English and I would often hear him practicing a sentence under his breath before saying it out loud. There were still times when it was obvious that he really wanted to tell us something but couldn't find the words. That was hard to watch, but he handled it very well. His accent was the most precious thing I have heard in my life. He rolled all his "r's" and I could definitely hear the Italian influence in his voice. Unfortunately, after seven months his accent is almost gone. We took some video of Tekle shortly after he came home, so at least we have it on tape. He watched the video about a month ago asked "Kels, why am I talking so funny?" I told him that it wasn't funny, it was CUTE!
Tekle still gets confused once in awhile with English phrases. The other day my mom said "See ya later alligator". And Tekle was like "Mom, why are you talking about alligators?". Even more recently, I told Tekle that I didn't have a clue about something and he responded "Janaya doesn't have any clues either. Why don't you guys have any clues? I think you need to find some. What are clues?".
In conclusion my advice is to:
~Learn the basics to the best of your ability (I love you, do you need to use the bathroom, etc...)
~Show more than you tell
~Don't underestimate the power of hugs, kisses, and tickling to communicate :)
Just one more little anecdote...
The word for 'socks' in Amharic is "kal-see" (phonetically spelled). Tekle came to the conclusion one day that "kal-see" was pretty much the same as "Kelsey" (me). He thought that was HILARIOUS, and called me socks for weeks! I told this story to my Ethiopian friends at school (smart huh?), so I got a new nickname there too...