As I wrote in the past, my daughter learns both Japanese and English. My wife speaks to her in Japanese, and I (usually) try to speak in English. However, she spends a lot more time with Mommy so her Japanese was much stronger. Plus, she attended a nice Japanese preschool here in Seattle until she was 5.
Then things started to change. Now she only goes to a English-language school, and her English caught up very quickly. Her reading skills also caught up too because she can remember the complex combinations of sounds in English and understands what “rhyming” is. That means when she sees words like cat, hat and fat, she can guess how to read “rat”. She could not do this when she was younger, so she would get very confused.
Japanese was much easier to learn at first because the kana syllabary is very “what you see is what you get” style of writing. Once she learned the kana, she didn’t have to think about sound-changes or combinations.1
But now she has enough English exposure that she can make “mental” connections now and can read English. She surprises me often because she can read signs and words on TV (or the Playstation games) that I didn’t teach her.
However, there is a catch: her Japanese is starting to fall behind. She prefers to speak English now first, not Japanese, and so Mommy has to constantly remind her to speak Japanese. My wife will pretend to not understand her (even though she’s fluent in English) and my daughter has to repeat herself.
But I wonder how long we can keep that up. Her English will continue to grow, and her Japanese will fall further behind.
So, our plan is to send my wife and daughter to Japan during summer-break for at least a month, maybe two, and she can stay with her relatives there, get constant Japanese exposure, and stay in touch with the culture there. If we ever move to Japan, we’ll try to do the reverse in the US.
But I know other Japanese-American families who have successfully done it. In one case, the daughter, a teenager, became very interested in Japanese boy bands and learned to read the magazines and watch videos and speaks very good now. So, the challenge is not forcing my daughter to learn both languages, but instead keeping it interesting so she will want to do it on her own.
Time will tell.
1 Kanji is a lot harder but she is learning that too. Because Daddy is studying kanji, she wants to do it too. 🙂