Raising a Bilingual Child – The Initial Decision — 14 Comments

  1. This post is awesome, thanks for sharing. I am just a few years ahead of you Adam with a three and five year old. Both my wife and I have talked many times on how we wish we could do something like this but while she knows some Spanish and I know some Japanese neither of us are good enough to tackle any of these plans.

    That has started to change though for me in the last year or two. My Japanese is slowly progressing and making me wonder if I could try some half baked attempt at this.

    Firstly I don’t think I will be successful. My production practice is nearly zero. I can read pretty well now and listening is making great improvement. Production though is seriously lagging. But part of me wonders maybe I can use this as a chance to practice my production with my kids. The downside is I will have horrible pitch and make a ton of mistakes especially in grammar. I don’t really see this as making them bilingual but maybe keeping a spark of interest and exposure for them so they can continue learning later in life.

    I already have exposed them with a Japanese language learning app for kids. They do enjoy watching Anpanman in Japanese. But when I try to speak to them now they usually think it’s annoying or silly so I’m not sure if will work.

    That said maybe I’ll give it a try. If not now maybe in a year or two. To do it successfully I really need to practice my production. I think I’ll make that a major goal next year. Semi off topic but if anyone has advice on production let me know. I don’t live in Japan, I really don’t want to go the tutor or hello talk route but I’m realizing maybe the tutor route is the fastest way to practice a lot of production. Anyone have any outside the box ideas on production practice?

    • You can definitely use it to spark interest and get them interested in the culture.

      One really good way to get exposure if you can’t give a lot of it yourself is to use a Japanese babysitter or nanny. I’ve heard this works well.

  2. Just dropping by to say congratulations on becoming a father, Adam. That’s huge! I’m sure you and Yuki will do an awesome job of helping your kid get bilingual \o/

  3. “Your child is going to become a native speaker of country they live in, regardless of what you do.”

    Believe it or not, this isn’t always true. I know a couple who are American missionaries living in Japan. From what I’ve gathered they are quite functional with the langauge, but probably not at the level of fluency described on this site. Between them they have 13 children. Yes really. And they are all homeschooled. No idea how that works.

    I’m not quite aware of the age range, but it’s at least 7-18. Only a few of the older ones have enough confidence to do much speaking. It’s hard to judge, but I’d say most of them are at an intermediate level, if that. See even while they go to plenty of different Christian events they mostly stick to themselves and the few Japanese and foriegners that can speak English with them. I guess with so many siblings they are able to create their own English bubble.

    Obviously it’s nothing for you to worry about, but it is possible.

  4. Congratulation! Best of luck with your new baby.

    I may have some insight for you since I have two kids ages 6 and 8 years old. My wife is Japanese and has spoken Japanese to them since birth. Not 100% but the majority of the time. I’ve only spoken English to them.

    They currently are in an elementary school where half the day is in English and half is in Japanese. Prior to going to this school they went to a 100% Japanese immersion preschool and had a Japanese speaking au pair for two years. She lived with us and her English was poor so she only spoke to them in Japanese.

    Before starting elementary school their preferred language was Japanese and they would talk to each other in Japanese when playing. Their Japanese was so dominant that I was concerned they would be behind in English. Now despite still being in a half Japanese school they’ve switched to English dominance. When we were in Japan this summer for two weeks they didn’t want to speak Japanese at all.

    I’d advise that you speak your child in whatever language you feel most comfortable using since my kids had a super strong Japanese base with me still speaking only English. If you prefer Japanese that’s fine but just speaking in English to them won’t harm their Japanese development as long as your wife primarily speaks to them in Japanese.

    I would assume that if your city is like ours she’ll have some Japanese speaking moms for playdates for the next few years. I’d also suggest that when you introduce TV (that shouldn’t be until after 2 years old) it be exclusively Japanese media for as long as possible)

    I’ve also talked to parents with older kids in the immersion program (usually with one partner native Japanese) and my impression it that it’s common that the kids don’t want to answer back in Japanese once they get into late elementary school and beyond.

    I feel that you’ll give your child a good base in Japanese but ultimately it will be their decision in middle school and older whether they’ll truly stick with the language. It doesn’t mean that they’ll have the same interest in Japanese as you do and so might not get to native level, particularly in reading, unless they develop their own intrinsic motivation.

    This is assuming that you’re staying in the US for their childhood. I think it’s hard to make them true bilingual Japanese / English in the U.S. There’s no equivalent language islands here like Miami is for Spanish where they come across hundreds of people who only speak Japanese only.

    Hope this is helpful, and feel free to ask me any questions.

    • Thanks for the insight Greg. It’s always useful and interesting to hear stories and experience from people who have done/are currently doing it with their children.

  5. Just stopping by to say congratulations! MLAH seems a very logical choice given your circumstances, and I wish the best to you and everyone else on this site who is trying to raise their children to be bilingual.

  6. Does anyone have any advice on introducing your young children to Japanese media? I have a 3-year-old girl. Although I can’t control her interests, it would be nice to share my love of Japan with her and see what she does with it.

    • My three year old loves Anpanman. I also have introduced an Android learning game called Gus on the Go that he loves too. Also on youtube there are a ton of super simple songs (a channel) in Japanese.

      I’m by no means am expert though, just a few ideas to try!

  7. First of all, congrats Adam!

    At my current job we actually have a billingual 1st grader who comes to our daycare after school for some extra work. He’s American, born to a Japanese/English billingual (2nd gen immigrant) and an English-only parent.

    Now they do one parent one language so he speaks Japanese with his mom and English with his dad. However, what’s really helped is spending time in both countries. He spends summers in Japan, and this year his parents decided to have him go through all of first grade here. His Japanese has improved a lot (not mixing up the language and being able to express himself completely) and he learns tons of words related to school subjects he might not pick up otherwise if he went to school in the States.

    Now this is supported by his dad, who has a job where he can work remotely 2 weeks per month, so he flies to and from Japan from Hawaii monthly. So not feasible for all families.

    I’ll say something else too: all of my closest friends are 1st generation immigrants from China, moving to America between the ages of 4 and 6. And I know a few others like this as well. They only heard their native tongue at home. They still use their native language with their parents. But there are only 2 that are fluent now.

    One, she decided to pick up the language more seriously as she went into Asian studies in college

    The other fell in love with her native culture and enjoys to this day native media.

    My other friends burned out in middle school. They went to extracurricular language school to learn reading and writing but dropped out. In retrospect, I think they felt there was no need to learn hanzi becaus they never used their native tongues beyond talking to their parents.

    Even the kid at my work has Japanese shows he loves. He’s obsessed with Kamen Rider Ex-aid and of course watches many other Saturday/Sunday morning Japanese kids shows. Now to be fair these do air in Hawaii but still, he has something he WANTS to do with Japanese beyond talk to Mom.

    So while the technique of how to expose your child to 2 (or more!) languages is incredibly important, don’t forget to shower your kids with things to watch, read and learn about. And if at all possible, being them to the country where the language is spoken for a few weeks. Get them hooked. Soon enough they’ll be learning on their own too just by picking up words in books and shows just like any kid would :)

    Thanks for this post, not close to having kids yet (considering being married isn’t even on the horizon right now) but I do think about this topic a lot. Great write-up.

  8. I have a 5 yr old and a 1 yr old son. My wife is Japanese and we live in Japan. I’ve always spoken English to my sons and my wife speaks Japanese. My 5 yr old can speak pretty well. He makes mistakes but he understands most of what I say and can respond well. I am also teaching him how to read. He can read simple little readers now, with a little help on the harder words. When my sons watch tv or youtube, it’s always in English.

    As mentioned in this article, and others, it’s apparently more difficult once the child goes to school. Maybe he will reject speaking English to me? Guess what, he if stops speaking English, he stops communicating with his daddy because I’m not going to show I understand his Japanese and won’t reply! I doubt that attitude would last long.

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