We Four in Egypt

Now back in the US!

Giggle and Bug speak…

My friend and Scrabulous partner Karen asked a question about the boys’ language. Because she suggested my children are brilliant, I wrote a long response that I realized deserved its own post.

Karen’s question was,

Which languages are G&B speaking? Do they use Arabic at school? Do they still speak any Amharic (guessing that was what they spoke in Ethiopia)? And do they differentiate between the languages? I’m always floored by how smart multilingual kids are.

And here’s my answer.

Giggle and Bug speak primarily English. Actually, that’s all Bug knows. He was just over a year old when we adopted him, and up til that point, he had heard one or two languages. He didn’t have any words that were recognized by the nannies at the care center. I read and read and read to him, and chattered up a storm, the first few months he was home in particular, and his English skills are great, totally on-track developmentally for a kid his age.

Bug does know a couple of songs in Arabic that he’s learning at school, but his school is an English-language school (attended by Egyptians, Americans, at least one Italian, and other unknown nationalitieis).

Giggle’s first language was Hadiya, which is a tribe and language in his native area of southwestern Ethiopia. He started hearing and learning Amharic, the primary language of Ethiopia, when he arrived at the care center in Addis Ababa. He went to school there and also learned some English.

His English has taken off since he’s been with us, of course. He’s probably lost his Hadiya. Some research I’ve read suggests that kids who don’t keep hearing a language, even their native language, can lose it within a few months, so maybe before we even met him. I’d love for him to know his native language, but I have found no resources for it; many Ethiopians have never even heard of it his tribe.

Giggle does recognize (and, I think, understand) Amharic, but he really does NOT want to hear it and especially not use it. He resists it. I have been meaning to write a post on this. It’s very sad, actually. Amharic is the language of loss for him. One of the big reasons we wanted an Ethiopian housekeeper was so he could maintain his language, but he screams and protests when she doesn’t use English. We’re stumped. I’d love to hear suggestions if anyone has them.

Giggle is also learning a little bit of Ararbic at school; they have a class in Arabic a few times a week. His teacher told me he’s doing really well in Arabic, which was great to hear. Also, I’d like for him to translate for me! (har har)

The boys know a few words in Arabic, like shokran, thank you, and the name of our street. I don’t know how they differentiate, but they seem to understand sometimes you say thank you, and sometimes you say shokran. And when we get in a taxi, they shout out the name of our street, in Arabic.


12 November 2007 - Posted by | bug, giggle


  1. We have a multi-lingual house as well. Recently we were in Canada and we had left the children with a babysitter. We called to check in and they said “everything is fine, except your son (2 1/2) keeps speaking Dutch and we can’t understand him.” I doubt he was only speaking Dutch as he will repeat himself in Dutch and English until he is understood, but it made for a good laugh. 🙂

    I wonder how you can help a child keep their first language after adoption, when that language is connected to a time of hurt and pain. I can imagine wanting them to overcome that and maintain a connection, yet that must be incredibly hard to do.

    Comment by Kohana | 12 November 2007

  2. Hi, Mrs. Four! Just wanted to let you know that apparently, our son, S (age 5), wants to come visit you in Egypt. Okay, well, maybe not you per se, but he definitely wants to see the pyramids. Are you familiar with Little Einsteins? They take a trip somewhere around the world, see some famous place, sing some classical songs….it’s cute, albeit a bit repetitious. Then again, what kids’ programming isn’t? Point is, starting this weekend, all he can talk about is wanting to go to Russia, China, and Egypt. He got extremely upset (We’re talking real and very sad tears!) last night when I told him that we couldn’t go to Russia this Saturday, as was his plan. Yes, he has a plan…it’s called “The Saturday Plan.” Russia this Saturday; China the next; Egypt after that. I had to pull the you-have-to-get-lots-of-shots-to-go-to-other-countries thing in order to get him to agree that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea.

    So, rather than actually coming and visiting, I’m going to take him to your blog instead. You do such a great job on here. I love the pictures, the stories, the creativity…way to go! And keep us posted on your book!

    By the way, your boys win the Best Halloween Costume award. Yes, it’s an actual reward. Just come see us here in Milwaukee to claim your prize…a whole bunch o’ leftover Halloween candy! 🙂


    Comment by SarahH | 13 November 2007

  3. Is there anyway you and Mr. Four could learn just enough Amharic to hold “behind their backs in front of them” conversations about the kids? My husband and his siblings all resisted learning French when their parents (who are just Francophiles, not actually Francophone, except for what they’ve learned in school) used it to talk in front of them about things they didn’t want the kids to understand. Maybe Giggle would want to speak Amharic then! 🙂

    Comment by Libby | 13 November 2007

  4. Oops, I meant they didn’t want to learn French when encouraged, ONLY when their parents spoke in front of them–that was not a well-crafted comment!

    Comment by Libby | 13 November 2007

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