Harvard University

Study of Language Development in

Internationally Adopted Children


Learning English in the First Year


During the first year in the US internationally adopted children rapidly begin to acquire English words. This study examined early language progress using language questionnaires and videotaped speech samples. The children in the study were 2.5-5.5 years old at the time of adoption, came from China and Eastern Europe and had been in the US for 18 months or less. We compared their language development to two groups of children learning English as a first language- internationally adopted infants and American born infants.   


A special thanks to the all of the families who participated in this study! This study, which started in 2002, is nearly complete and we are hard at work reviewing all of the information that you have provided. Two papers have already been published, they are linked below. Both of these papers include only children adopted from China, however preliminary analyses have not revealed any differences between the Chinese and Eastern European children during their first year in the U.S. We expect similar findings in the Eastern European group. Findings from portions of this study have been presented to professionals at several national and international conferences and additional papers about the project should be published over the next few years.


Geren, J., Snedeker, J., & Ax, L. (2005). Starting over:  A preliminary study of early lexical and syntactic development in internationally-adopted preschoolers. Seminars in Speech & Language, 26:44-54.


Snedeker, J., Geren, J., & Shafto, C.L. (2007). Starting over: International adoption as a natural experiment in language development. Psychological Science, 18:79-87.


Continuing Language Development


What happens beyond the earliest stages of English language learning? Our first study showed that initial language development occurred quite rapidly but what happens over the following years as children continue the process of “catching” up with their native English speaking peers? A second ongoing study examines English development in the years following adoption. If you would like to know more about this study or have a 4-10 year old adopted child who may be interested in participating please visit the Language and Early Literacy page.


Contact Us


Thank you for your interest in our research! Please feel free to contact us at 617-384-8357 or langdev@wjh.harvard.edu with any questions.



This material is based upon work generously supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0418423. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.