It’s been a long time since I posted updates about my two kids: Princess (age 9) and Little Guy (age 2), but I wanted to talk a bit about Little Guy, and his experiences learning two languages. In my last post on the subject in 2013, I talked about how my daughter had heavy exposure to Japanese language when she was a toddler, but by the time she was in elementary school, her English caught up.
Now that she is 9 years old, her English is quite strong and I think it is her preferred language. She likes reading Harry Potter books, and books about Star Wars. Fortunately, she still gets a lot of Japanese exposure through books, Japanese TV, and her weekly after-school Japanese class so her skills are still very good. We finally cancelled our subscription to the distance-learning Japanese course with Benesse though. She had been doing since she was a toddler, but the course is getting more and more time-consuming, plus she is busy with her schoolwork here in the US. Also, she was definitely getting frustrated with the workload.1
But what about Little Guy? Little Guy loves his big sister very much, and they frequently play together, and she has a big influence on him. This means he learns a lot of language from her, but since she speaks English mostly now, he is learning a lot of English too. We take him to a local Japanese pre-school once a week, and later this year we hope to enroll him in the same Japanese school my daughter attended. Further, he is taking the same distance-learning course now, but doesn’t seem very interested yet. Instead, he is obsessed with the movie Cars. Previously, it was Toy Story 2, but now he only wants to watch Cars. Every day. Every. Single. Day.2
But the Cars DVD that we owned was English only. We realized that if we wanted Little Guy to speak more Japanese, we had to show him Japanese-language versions of his favorite movies. So, after ordering online, we now show him the same movie, but in Japanese. Amazingly, he doesn’t seem to mind, and now he quotes the movie in Japanese too!1 😉
Since then, Little Guy is speaking in Japanese more often. For example, he’s learned to use the ending particle “yo”, which tends to sound assertive, with almost every sentence:
- terebi minai yo! (I don’t want to watch TV)
- yamete yo! (stop it!)
- kowai yo! (it’s scary)
Things like that. He is also just starting to learn the kana syllabary, which is phonetically easier to pick up than English, I’ve noticed. Compared to his sister, he is right on track. 🙂
Additionally, we are still sticking to the same, basic approach we used with our daughter: Mommy speaks in Japanese to our kids, and I speak in English. It helps them learn to separate the two languages more cleanly, and learn them both natively. So, at nighttime, I read him his favorite books (usually about Cars) in English, but my wife will read Japanese books. Truth is though, sometimes I get lazy and start speaking Japanese too because I hear my wife use it all the time, but I have to discipline myself to speak only English to the kids. It’s a better approach in the long-run and worked well of Princess: she’s a native speaker of both languages.
The point though, is that for kids to be bilingual, environment and having a consistent plan really matter. With Princess, it was a lot easier to control the environment so she could learn Japanese like a native-speaker, but Little Guy’s situation was more complicated because his older sister speaks English, and we already had a bunch of English-language DVDs from relatives and friends. However, with a few simple changes, we’re already noticing that his Japanese is improving, and since each parent speaks a different language, he is getting more adept at using both.
1 She will also be enrolled in school in Japan when she visits during the summers. That’s probably the best way to learn anyway. It worked well last year.
2 In English, the opening line said by Lightning McQueen is “Speed, I am speed.” But my son will say, “Speed, boku wa hayai” which is the Japanese translation. He tries to whisper it in a cool voice, just like the movie. 🙂