Top 10 Ways to Embrace the Language Barrier

What language barrier??

The most common questions we got is “How did you communicate?” As if no one has ever heard 90% of communication happens non verbally.

After our girls spent 5 weeks in our home, I felt like they spoke fluent English. We had established a great routine and connection. Although I can’t wish for them to actually be speaking English – I have no anxiety about the situation we are in.

1. Keep ’em laughing

I’m not one for all play and no discipline – but my husband was right when he said “It’s our job to keep them laughing. If we can have a good time together for 5 weeks that will be a success.” He was so right.

2. Sketch it out

When we arrived at the airport and not a moment too soon, we had drawn pictures of items prevalent in our everyday routine. We also had the words in Russian below them: a toilet, a table setting, a car, a church, a drink, a snack, a bed, and a few smiley and frowny faces to represent pain. These were used every five minutes the first few days.

3. Know your stuff 

We learned Russian for dog, cat, home, car, brother, sister, please and thank you, also good job. Things that helped them connect the dots of our family, and allowed us to praise them. We made it clear to them that we went out of our way to prepare for them. That we were thrilled they were coming. Duolingo and Memrise are great for this.

4. Ask them

Russian phrases are not only helpful to communicate – but they allow your host children to teach you something. In this one small area – let them have the upper hand. Words we learned well; tomorrow, shower, car, shopping, milk, jacket.

5. Act it out

Charades is a great game – play it every time you need to transition. Tap on your wrist for time, use your fingers for numbers, point to what you want as you say it, show and tell. Our first morning together I pulled my little one over to the stove and guided her hand as she tossed blueberries on her pancake. This communicated – we are together, you are safe, this is your food, I want you with me and I value you. Don’t underestimate kindness.

6. Create a loose schedule

Create Russian words like breakfast, swimming, games, family, dog etc. There were no times involved and we allowed the girls to choose what we did when we could. It was also important they knew when church was happening and when Papa would be home from work. (Boy do they love their papa) It also allowed them to mentally prepare for what was next; vitally important.

7. Applaud the English

Chicken was well loved by the girls. We howled up and down every time they asked for “chicken” for dinner. We would stop the conversation and say “Oh English!! English English!!” They never seemed to tire of the praise.

8. Get the app

There are several apps out there to help with communication. I recommend having 2 on your phone in case one freezes. Use short sentences here. Don’t worry about grammar. Noun. Verb. Done. Don’t depend on this though – trust your gut. If you think it didn’t translate correctly. It probably didn’t.

9. Schedule a date

Early in our hosting we set aside time with a friend who is bilingual. The gift he gave us was priceless. We got to know our kids through him. We asked open ended questions and allowed them to talk as much as they wanted. We were shocked with how much our big one told us about her life. Her sense of humor and wisdom were evident after these sessions. These dates were our most precious times.

10. Call a chaperone

I quickly added the chaperone’s number into my phone. We didn’t need them often, but sometimes you just can’t clarify what you mean. Speaker phone is perfect for these moments. And even if the chaperone doesn’t speak English they can help calm your kiddo so you can move forward.


Show and tell

Demonstrating what you want to accomplish – weather sweeping up or no climbing the bookcase – use yes and no to explain. Kind of like the childhood game of hot and cold. Warmer warmer warmer…. they’ll get it. Just have patience and keep at it.

Just remember – they’re kids.

They’re really not that scary. Your job is to love them well – and that often means stepping out of your comfort zone and putting them first.
I think that’s what being a parent is all about.


Top Ten Ways to Prep for the Airport

Sometimes the airport can be a bit chaotic and stressful. A few moments after meeting your kids for the first time can feel awkward. It’s ok! Embrace the awkward. Just smile and offer warmth. Your goal should be to make them feel safe and establish trust.

Welcome signs are a big deal for these kids! Seeing a sign and a smiling family waiting behind it is a very real relief. It doesn’t have to be pretty – but if you have one it will mean a lot.

1. Hire a driver

Actually I guilted my brother into doing all the driving for us on this day trip. It allowed my husband and I the mental and emotional space to deal with meeting our girls the first time. And it allowed us to sit in the back with them on the ride home and get to know them. Our best idea ever.

2. Feed ’em

(Our girls LOVE American milk!)
Food is a common suggestion – but know some kids may not feel comfortable eating in front of you or opening a snack you gave them. So take some for yourself as well and eat it with them.

Other snacks that work well – popcorn, apples, bananas, m&ms, cheese and crackers, water, fruit roll ups. I also purchased some Russian food from a local European store – as a comfort for them. I was later told – they only wanted American food! Don’t count on yours being quite as adventurous as mine are.

3. Don’t forget meds

Motion sickness meds, Benadryl, cough drops and baby wipes were a help as well. They just spent 20+ hours on a plane. What would you want if you just got off the plane after a 20 hour flight?

4. Take selfies

The selfies I have of us on the way home are priceless. They show tremendous growth in the girls and our relationship. But selfies themselves have a way of tearing down some walls. Especially if your a professional silly face maker!

5. Take a few books and crayons
My little one loved to page through books even though she couldn’t understand a word. And everyone enjoyed tracing hands, drawing smiley faces, and watching me write their names in English. Tic tac toe and the dot game are easy AND interactive.

6. Bring a bag of goodies

A trip to the dollar store works beautifully for this! Sunglasses, gum, chopstick, silly puddy, a disposable camera, army men etc. remember though – they may be too intimidated to open it unless you prompt them to. Just go with your gut here – not everything has to be immediate. (They loved the stuffed huskies we gave them. This was great because it helped them bond with our real live husky at home)

7. Pictures

Where, what, and who they are going home to. We scrolled through pictures of our home, yard, our pets, their bedroom, and their family. I saw the confidence build and the tension release as they realized they were in good hands.

8. Sing along

Something in the background that is kid friendly. Maybe even something that you can do together. Clap your hands – snap your fingers – stomp your feet. Just suggestions. Whether they know the language or not they can enjoy the music and doing things with you.

9. Thumb wrestle

We did a ton of patty cake and thumb wrestling on the way home. I lost every time. You might want to brush up on your patty cake unless you hang out with 10 year old pretty regularly! This is fun, easy, and promotes eye contact and allows physical touch. Something these kids may not know how to handle in large quantities.

10. Finally, just have fun

Be silly. Laugh; a lot. Keep expectations low for now. Let them learn to love you in their own time. When you struggle with this -imagine taking a trip across the planet to live with people you’ve never met and can’t speak to. Now imagine being 8 when you do it. Helps keep everything in perspective right?