Dear “I Want a Bilingual Child,”
This question got our mothers all excited to talk about what they’ve done to help…the successes (ELM Force English on them? LOL!),and the failures (TS I think I only have tips on how not to have bilingual kids. I have been failing at it since second child started school). Read on!
The biggest piece of advice is to expose your children to the second language. RAM saysas for the Japanese, they get it all day long at daycare, so I am not worried about them picking it up naturally and learning to read and write. They will be going to Japanese elementary school, so I don’t think there will be any problem later on either. Synergy andBN agree.
So that’s one language taken care of…but what to do about the other? The following is our list of suggestions:
1. Take trips back home.
Synergy suggests that if you can, take regular trips home to see family and friends, and/or visit other English speaking countries. If you find traveling a bit expensive (as many of our mothers do) you also have the option of Skyping on a regular basis with English-speaking friends and relatives, or check into the English Adventure Immersion programs for elementary and junior high school students. SM adds I like the English Adventure’s immersion program. It really worked that (my son) enjoyed communicating with his friends in English (well, it disappeared once the summer vacation finished and they went back to school though!).
2. Read to your children in the second language.
RAM says I read to them only in English–once a while reading a Japanese book by translating in my head and “reading” it in English. AI points out that when it comes to books, I have found it quite helpful when I changed the names of the kids in the story to their own names so they often get quite captivated by it. I’m also quite happy to have found the application “playtales” which offers interactive picture books in several languages. Either I read them for them or they get the phone e.g. while I’m driving and have the programme read it for them. Synergy adds to keep reading in English, well beyond the age parents back home stop. I read to mine up till my older two were 14 and 13. Great memories of lying on the bed with a kid, engrossed in an English book. Sure, it took time and sometimes I got bored, but if they asked, I read to them.
3. Consider teaching them how to read in the second language.
RAM says that We use the question cards that are in English that have animal characters, and the girls use ReadingEggs for learning how to read. Synergy thought that using tools like the English Eiken exams were good, and JF likes the book Learning to Read and Write in the Multilingual Family. The point is that there are many different ways for you to become your child’s teacher, choose what works for you.
4. Make TV, Video, and Computer time language opportunities.
AI notes that her children didn’t really see the point of learning a language other than Japanese, but for the last 6 weeks we have been watching German animes as Sailor Moon or Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne which my kids have got really fond of. It’s really cute when my little boy does the attacks of SM in German. And our DES from 5 years ago watched Monsters Inc. and Ratatouille in German with them during Easter, 2 films which they have watched in Japanese several times and like a lot. CAG adds I nixed the TV when digital broadcasts began. Sure, they can watch TV but it’s US TV online and all in English. Sure, they complain sometimes but when they bandy around words like ‘exonerate’, I’m happy. Oh, and no NHK fees 🙂
5. Enlist the help of neighbors and other bilingual families.
Synergy says that they seek out other bilingual families for friendship and fun. As kids grow, consider joining or starting a Sat. School with other bilingual families to promote literacy in English (if this is a priority for you). The other parents have continued to be a wonderful source of support and friendship as our kids grow.
6. Make your home a place where your kids can speak that second language.
Synergy notes that if your husband is comfortable in English, then lucky you! That will be a big help in raising bilingual kids. If not, no problem! Dad is the Japanese source. And Mum does English. IM agrees. MK points out that the parent who speaks the minority language needs to be persistent and try their hardest to not show that they do in fact speak the major language. If the child notices that the parent does then why bother to speak the minor? 🙂AI argues that is great in theory but how do you do that in real life?
Parents have handled this different ways. Here’s a few suggestions:
CN: We have a phrase we use, “Flip the Switch,” to remind the kids to change languages. They know that both my husband and I speak both languages. They know very well indeed that if they want something from Mummy they had better ask in English and ask in English first. Both of my kids are bilingual. Kids are amazingly adaptable. You just have to be consistent. ELM has a similar story: My kids know I can speak Japanese, and they know I refuse to use it with them, I’ve made it very clear to them. When Little Man was 5, and he made that sudden switch into Japanese after being at Hoikuen for almost 2 years, he would bring the Japanese home, and talk to me in it. I immediately put my foot down at that point and said ‘Nope, speak to mommy in English!’ and he said, ‘But you speak Japanese!!’ and I said, ‘Yes, I do, but with you I speak English.’ And now it’s just accepted, he doesn’t use Japanese on me anymore.
7. Teach your children to become the translator.
ELM says get them to be your in-between. While I could understand a lot and speak when necessary, as the kids got older I’d look to them for translation in shops or talking to people. I think this helped them as well. Adds CN, The appropriate language to the appropriate person is the key to successful language speaking, not only bilingualism. It also teaches a child to respect a person’s choices. I took my kids on a trip to the Great Barrier Reef and the boat was half and half English and Japanese speakers. My kids had a great time bouncing around the boat speaking to EVERYONE! Also, they understood, instinctively, that the Cambodian government official was struggling with the Aussie accent of the announcements and repeated them for him. He was thrilled to bits.
Don’t forget that trying to help your child(ren) become bilingual also comes with some challenges.
SM shares two concerns: I am an Indonesian but we use English to communicate at home because I don’t speak good Japanese and (my husband) doesn’t speak Indonesian too! Basically my son understands the three languages but feels uncomfortable to speak either English or Indonesian outside. He always replies to me in Japanese! He speaks English and sometimes Indonesian with me at home, though. He refused to go to English class outside so we have this everyday homework at home. And…lately (my husband) is pretty worried because (my son) likes to mix the three languages, and he gets upset whenever we try to correct him. Does anybody here have the same problem? Is code switching actually ok for bilingual kids…..?
ELM responds, I wouldn’t worry too much about the switching or mixing up of the languages…your little guy is still young, and they do at some point sort it out. One reason I personally feel strongly that you should only use your own mother tongue with your kids is so they can keep the languages straight. Maybe since I never use Japanese with my kids, they learned to associate foreigners with my language. Neighbors would be so amazed that the kids would talk to me in English then turn to the neighbor and speak in Japanese, and they knew to differentiate the languages for the right person. If anything I’d advise, each parent should only use one language with the child till the child is old enough to differentiate. My husband only used English with the kids until they started school and Japanese kicked in. I think if he had switched between the languages with them, it would have confused them and they would’ve struggled more.
MN points out that Children can differentiate languages before they are one year olds and can understand who speaks what language by the time they are 15-months old. It’s important in Japan to place an emphasis on the minority language. MMO adds My kids learned English first, just because they spend so much more time with me and that’s the only language I’ve ever addressed them in. I’ve never pretended I couldn’t speak Japanese, but the kids naturally figured out that English is my stronger language. They code-switch occasionally, using a Japanese word in an English sentence. I’ve read and heard that code-switching isn’t a problem, but when they do it, I provide the English word (if there is one.)
SRN tells us that her suggestion to people just starting out is to make sure your in-laws (ILs) of the minority language understand and support you. Mother-in-law (MIL) was shocked when she came to help when (my son) was born, because then 3-year old (daughter) didn’t understand a word she said! A friend came over to interpret! When we had to scold (remind them of manners, etc.) our kids in front of the ILs, ILs thought it was because of something they had done and were very unhappy. This almost ruined my relation with my otherwise wonderful ILs. My husband had a long talk with them so that they understood the gift we were trying to give our kids. Today, our in-laws are so proud of their grandkids’ bilingual ability.
The bottom line is that no matter what, just hang in there and keep trying. Remember that kids are really resilient, they soak up a lot of knowledge, and they can also be darn stubborn about what they do, and don’t, want. Even if you feel you’re failing, we doubt you are, so hang in there and keep at it. And trust us, it’s a proud moment in their development when other people acknowledge that your child is using two (or more) languages.
Danielle Shibano is the lady behind the scenes. She maintains the site, helps all the wonderful writers with any tech questions they have. She also runs a web design business, UMI DESIGNS.
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