Raising Bilingual Children, Three Years Later

Hi all,

Years ago, I wrote a post about raising bilingual children, and then another the following year. Now that my daughter is 5, almost 6, there are a lot of interesting developments to share.

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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

12 thoughts on “Raising Bilingual Children, Three Years Later”

  1. ใŠๅญใ•ใ‚“ใฏใ€่‹ฑ่ชžใ‚‚ๆ—ฅๆœฌ่ชžใ‚‚ไธŠๆ‰‹ใชใฎใงๅฟƒ้…ใชใ„ใจๆ€ใ„ใพใ™ใ‚ˆใ€‚ Good luck

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  2. I wish I had learned another language from the start… of course, if I did it probably would have been spanish, but that’s another story – what about just watching/reading tv shows or books in Japanese that she might find interesting?

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  3. You’re doing the best you can, and kids can pick up many languages up until their teens (as according to developmental psychology and linguistics), so keep doing what you’re doin! Kudos for being such great parents!

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  4. Hi Everyone,

    Cocomino: Thank you. ๐Ÿ™‚ ใงใ‚‚ใ€ๅคงใใใชใฃใŸใ‚‰ใ€ๆ—ฅๆœฌ่ชžใ‚’ๅฟ˜ใ‚Œใฆใ—ใพใ†ๅฏ่ƒฝๆ€งใŒใ‚ใ‚‹ใ‹ใ‚‰ใ€ใพใ ๅฐ‘ใ—ๅฟƒ้…ใงใ™ใ€‚

    amberinjp: She used to like Japanese TV shows and such, but lately she’s taken an interest in American-TV, shows, movies, etc. Naturally, this means that she’ll get more English and less Japanese exposure. We haven’t found something anything lately that’s interesting in Japanese.

    Pink Ninjabi: Thanks much, but I’ve seen a lot of kids that “understand” a second language, but don’t speak it well or not at all. We’re hoping to avoid this fate. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  5. When we moved to the United States, my parents spoke primarily English to me because they were afraid of me being in an ESL class. As a result, I forgot my Mandarin. My recommendation is to just speak Japanese to your daughter. She will be surrounded by English at school, she will speak English her friends, and she will hear English on TV. Her English will be fine because of immersion, but you will need to cultivate the Japanese.

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    1. Hi Han,

      Thanks for sharing your experience. That’s good information to know.

      I have thought of the same thing: speaking Japanese only at home, but you’re right in that I need to really improve mine. I speak passable Japanese, so I think we were worried about me passing bad grammar/pronunciation on to my daugther. Something to revisit in any case. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. These posts are very interesting to read. I am a student of Japanese myself and have finally gotten back into an active, daily study pattern. While hubby and I don’t have any kids yet, we have discussed that once we do we want to raise them knowing as much Japanese as possible (even though, at this time, I’m the only one who uses any in our household). We know that our children will be limited by my abilities in the language as well as the fact that, living in Oklahoma, there are simply no options for community or school in the language. I would love to be fully bilingual and my future children as well, but I also know the likelihood of them being so is slim. So I think our current decision is for me to learn as much as possible (simply because I have such a passion for the language and am learning it for myself primarily), and then once we have children to teach them what I can. If they choose not to speak it or are unable to be fully conversational, that’s fine. But hopefully they will at least have a basic foundation in the language that they can build on when they grow up if they choose to. It would be at least a little better than starting from scratch in high school like I did!

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    1. Hi Lissa,

      Yeah, I agree that exposure is better than nothing. Often times, I’ve found there are little “immersion” courses for kids in various languages, so something should be available, though not necessarily Japanese. You could go the route of having Japanese cable TV (a la TV Japan) and that works too.

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  7. I’m US-born and raised Japanese (parents were post-war immigrants) and my wife was born and raised in Japan (her parents still live there). I’m fully bilingual/bicultural, despite having grown up in the US, so we thought the same would be the case for our daughter, who has also has lived all her life in the US. We sent her to Japanese school on Saturdays for a number of years, but it never really took root with her and even if my wife or I speak to her in Japanese, the reply is mostly in English. I figured we just didn’t try hard enough. Until our daughter went to college. That’s when a light went off and she suddenly had an interest in Japanese language, culture and religion and started taking college courses. She’s not perfectly fluent, but she at least attempts to talk or text us in Japanese. So it seems like if you plant the seeds at some point in the child’s life, there’s a possibility those seeds will grow at a later stage. You just can’t force the issue.

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    1. Hi Tosh and welcome to the JKLLR! Your experience and advice is greatly appreciated. It seems to match the experience we noticed with the aforementioned teenage daughter of our friend (something clicked when she was older).

      Thankfully for now at least, my daughter still seems to enjoy it. Because I’m studying Japanese (albeit poorly), my daughter likes to “study with Daddy” since she’s a Daddy’s Girl. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I doubt that will last much longer, but I’ll milk it as long as I can. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thanks again for sharing your story.

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  8. There is a dual-immersion Japanese-English elementary school in Livonia, Michigan that has filled the need for both languages for some families here in Michigan. My daughter goes there and, like your daughter, she attended two years of immersion Japanese preschool beforehand. She is almost six and is in Kindergarten at the dual-immersion school, called Hinoki International School. For her, Japanese will always be weaker because she has two English-speaking parents at home, but she can speak, read, and write Japanese now. At school she has many Japanese-speaking friends and teachers, with whom she converses in Japanese. I think relationships in the foreign language are the best incentive. I am a Japanese teacher myself, so this was a good educational solution for my family.

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    1. Hi Christine and welcome!

      Since my wife is a native Japanese speaker, and we do watch/read a lot of Japanese media, I guess we’re in pretty good shape. She was in an immersion school for a while, but it only goes up to kindergarten, and it’s kind of slim-pickings after that.

      Anyhow, I think you make a good point, incentive is the key. I’ve seen it work successfully for other people, so we just have to find something that she can’t resist. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thanks for sharing.

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