Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Nancy Hayward, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Sharon K. Deckert, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Carole Bencich, Ed. D.


The phenomenon of international adoption with a focus on second language (L2) acquisition of international adoptees (IA) was examined through the personal experiences of a small number of ethnically Russian children and adolescents who were in the process of adapting to a new language, culture and society in the United States. The aim of this qualitative study was to get inside the minds of six IA children and tell their stories by providing thick descriptions of their holistic experiences. The focus of this study was on answering these questions: 1. How do these IA children experience and perceive their L2 acquisition? 2. How do these IA children maintain their native language? Data collection included interviews, school observations and analysis of students’ official records (standardized tests, report cards, evaluations) as well as unofficial documents (photographs, essays, drawings). This qualitative study employed the ethnographic approach to provide detailed descriptions of six participants (ages 8- 21) and the thematic approach with focus on L2 acquisition, first language (L1) maintenance and identity construction. The analysis of interviews, observations and artifacts resulted in the following findings. The IA students acquired English as a second language in the same stages as typical immigrant children but the process of their L2 acquisition was considerably faster. The IA children adopted at the age of 11 or earlier had a native-like American accent while the older IA students had traces of a Russian accent in their L2. All of the participants struggled with reading comprehension on their standardized tests due to unfamiliar vocabulary. Five out of 6 participants experienced subtractive bilingualism during which their L1 deteriorated and L2 became dominant. The oldest participant experienced additive bilingualism and was able to preserve her L1 while acquiring L2. The interviews also revealed that three older participants identified themselves with both Russian and U.S. cultures while 3 younger participants became fully Americanized. These findings suggest that school staff need to take into consideration cultural and personal backgrounds of IA students and modify the language instruction for them to meet their needs.