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Study Finds Language Difference in Kids Adopted From Abroad

By Madeline Holler |

adopted in china, language development

Compared with like socio-economic groups, there's a language gap between adopted and native-born kids.

Even though plenty of studies have shown that young kids adopted from abroad develop language skills comparable to the rest of the population over time, a new study has found that they don’t master the language as well as their native-born peers.

The study looked at China-born children adopted by French-speaking families in Quebec and found that when compared to peers from similar households, the China-born kids didn’t master the language as well as. The difference wasn’t huge, but it was statistically reliable.

There’s good news though:

Fred Genesee, psychology professor at McGill University and the study’s director, said as in all other studies, these kids fared just fine compared to the rest of Canada.

What makes his and doctoral student Karine Gauthier’s study come to a different conclusion is that they compared the adopted children to children from middle- and upper-middle class families. Genesee explained that families adopting from abroad tend to be wealthier than the average Canadian citizen.

In their study, which appears in this month’s journal Child Development, they compared the French language skills of children born in China and adopted by Quebec families between seven months and two years old, and other kids in Quebec being raised in households with a similar socio-economic profile.

Genesee argues that the switch to a new language they had never hear before is a cause for this language gap. As babies, they weren’t laying the foundation for French. This lack of an early foundation is a reason for the slight long-term language development difference.

The researchers say that because middle and upper-middle-class families tend to do all those things that help kids master the language — lots of talking, naming things, reading books, etc., etc., which is why they focused the study on these groups. Understood. But peers also play a big role in language development. So I’m curious: how long-term this difference is. If Genesee and Gauthier went back and tested these kids at school age, what would the gap be all but gone?

It’s an interesting study, though. Parents who adopted internationally: what do you think? Worrisome or good to know?

Photo: MarcalanDavis via Flickr

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About Madeline Holler


Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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2 thoughts on “Study Finds Language Difference in Kids Adopted From Abroad

  1. Sol Azoth says:

    This matches my own observation. We adopted a young girl from China who at the time was just under 3. At this point, after 3 years in America, she still has grammatical and syntax errors that are more associated with a 3 or 4 year old, while her vocabulary is just fine. I attribute it to still using the Chinese syntax she absorbed in her first 3 years of life.

    She is in all other ways a healthy and well adjusted child.

  2. Andy Cheng says:

    Contrary to what the article says, only poor and uneducated parents in China abandon their children to orphanages.

    They already start from a disadvantage as they have not been fed and cared for properly, and this does impact cognitive development.

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