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.


Author: Elizabeth Joy Woods

Bringing lighthearted honesty to your journey with Jesus, with a little wisdom, courage and hope along the way.

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