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16 tips for raising a bilingual child in Japan

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Raising a child with good bilingual ability can be a big challenge when the child attends a Japanese school and your opportunities to travel abroad are limited. Good Japanese ability in such circumstances is a given, but what about English? If you want your child to develop good English ability, too, what steps will lead to your goal? Here are 16 tips to help increase the odds of success.

1. Start early

If you’re proactive from the start, you’ll have a much better chance of nurturing a good balance of Japanese and English. From birth to age 6 or 7 is a critical time for two reasons: 1) this is the period young brains are most primed for language, and 2) after the child begins attending elementary school, it grows more difficult to “rebalance” the two languages. In other words, the investment of time and energy up front will make it easier to foster the balance you seek, and then maintain that balance throughout childhood. Playing “catch up” with English is much harder!

2. Prioritize it

Making this a priority goes hand in hand with being proactive. If the development of your child’s English ability isn’t one of your family’s highest priorities, chances are Japanese will quickly come to be dominant and English will be relegated to a more passive role. Don’t underestimate how quickly this can happen once the child enters the world and spends the majority of his hours bathed in Japanese. Make English a priority from the get-go and you’ll stand a far greater chance of long-term success.

3. Set a goal

Set a clear goal for your child’s English ability. Will you be content with oral fluency, and less concerned with reading and writing? Or is English literacy important to you, too, and you’d like to see her read and write at the level of a child in an English-speaking country? Whatever your goal is, articulate it, and make sure that your efforts match the goal you seek. Good reading and writing are attainable, but this goal will require a diligent commitment from both you and your child.

4. Get informed

By informing yourself on the subject of children and bilingualism, you’ll be better able to support the development of your child’s English ability. Turn to helpful books, online resources, and other parents to broaden your knowledge and ideas. JALT’s special interest group on bilingualism publishes a regular newsletter and various booklets on bilingual issues, particularly concerning children. Another useful resource is the site Education in Japan, which also maintains an active email list.

5. Adopt a strategy

How will you use English and Japanese within your family? Every family is different, of course, but many families have found (including my own) that the strategy of “one parent-one language” provides a firm foundation for the two languages to grow in a balanced way. But whatever approach you choose, the important thing is making sure that the child has a sufficient amount of daily English exposure and that the family sticks consistently to its strategy — unless a conscious decision is made to alter that approach.

6. Read aloud every day

Reading aloud to your child in English, for at least 15 minutes each day, is the single most important practice you can keep when it comes to nurturing your child’s English ability. It may seem too simple, but reading aloud regularly has an enormous impact on a child’s language development as well as his interest in books and literacy. If you don’t read aloud — preferably from day one and continuing for as long as you possibly can — it will be far more difficult for your child to develop good English ability.

7. Build a home library

You can’t read aloud to your child regularly if you don’t have suitable books at hand, including chapter books that come in series of 5 or 15 or even 25+ books. The costs can add up quickly, I know, but in the long run, books are a small investment, really, when the eventual payoff in good English ability is so great. Cut back in other areas of your budget, if you must, but don’t scrimp when it comes to putting children’s books in your home.

8. Visit the public library

If you live in a good-sized city, chances are the children’s library in town has a selection of picture books in English. In Hiroshima, where I live, the children’s library has a fairly large collection of English books that can be borrowed for free, five at a time. (I use two library cards and bring home 10 books.) Although the selection will naturally be limited, no matter where you live, taking regular advantage of your local library may help to increase the amount of reading material available to you.

9. Use background music

Making use of background music is an easy and effective way to consistently add to the English exposure your child receives. This is no substitute for your active involvement, of course, but background music can be one more beneficial component of your overall efforts. Just put a CD player and suitable CDs in the child’s main play space and play this music regularly.

10. Play English games

Games are another resource to gather for your home. Children love to play games, and there are a lot of great English games that are fun to play and effective in promoting English exposure. For a more harmonious home, I would recommend balancing the usual “competitive games” (which can leave kids in tears) with “cooperative games” (where the players work as a team). For good competitive games, try Gamewright; terrific cooperative games are available from Family Pastimes.

11. Make your home “English-rich”

Beyond books, music, and games, make your home as rich in English exposure as you can. At the same time, try to inhibit, wherever possible, the prevailing influence of Japanese. For example, when it comes to electronic toys, a device in English (like the Leapster Learning Game System) would be a far more productive choice than a gadget in Japanese (like a Nintendo DS). In the same way, emphasize English TV shows and DVDs over Japanese programs.

12. Engage in storytelling

Tell your children true stories from your childhood — kids love to hear about the (mis)adventures of their parents when they were young. You can also invent fantastical “made-up memories” from your past or your children’s early years. (Kids like telling “made-up memories,” too.) The point is, storytelling — whether fact or fiction—can help expand and enrich the conversations you have with your children, and are especially suited for mealtimes.

13. Give written homework

If fostering good reading and writing ability is important to you, it’s best to establish a habit of homework early. If you begin giving small daily doses of English homework at the age of 3 or 4 — starting, for example, with simple dot-to-dot books of the alphabet and numbers — this can set a positive pattern for the rest of their childhood. Make daily homework like teeth-brushing—an expected habit — and it can be maintained far more easily than if you try to impose it later on. As with children’s literature, you must make efforts to seek out suitable materials on a regular basis.

14. Employ “captive reading”

To encourage literacy development and reading practice, you can take advantage of something I call “captive reading”: the natural tendency to read any words that fall under our gaze. Put posters of the alphabet and common words on the wall; label things in the house; include notes in your child’s lunchbox; put up a small whiteboard in the bathroom and write little messages and riddles on it; later on, post short stories in the bathroom, too, like fairy tales and fables.

15. Convey the value of English

It’s important to talk up the value of English for your child’s future, but it won’t really sink in deeply until she experiences that value directly through interactions with other English speakers. Play dates with English-speaking children in your community is one possibility, of course, but another — and one that we’ve found quite powerful — is to serve as a homestay family for a visitor from overseas. Check with your local YMCA or other international organizations in town to explore this opportunity.

16. Keep a journal

This final tip isn’t strictly about bilingual development, but I think it’s worth sharing. If you aren’t keeping a journal on your kids, you might want to start. It’s a small investment of your time, really — just make a short entry in a notebook or text file every few weeks — but for your children, these observations of their language milestones, their early traits and interests, and their notable activities and experiences will one day be a priceless peek into the childhood that they will have largely forgotten.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


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...or, simply send them to an International school in Japan...

-10 ( +8 / -18 )

Some really great ideas in there, Thanks, Adam.

I think that sending them to an International school may have a lot of setbacks as well, such as their Japanese ability may be compromised. Also, I would worry about their level of education as some schools have a reputation of being poor in any subject other than English.

8 ( +12 / -5 )

Is someone who has a 10 and 6 year old really qualified to be "teaching" others on how to raise bilingual children? I would much rather hear from someone with children who have been through the middle, high school and University systems in Japan, and who have emerged at the other end with full English proficiency.

I myself have a 4 year old who is bilingual (at the moment) in both Japanese and English. However, I am also well aware that the difficult times are yet to come. Its the middle school onwards phase Im most worried about.

Anyone can speak to their child in their own language and their child will learn the language, but keeping up the learning is the most difficult part, especially when the children get older and it becomes more of an issue amongst their peers. This is what I had hoped this article would be about.

1 ( +9 / -8 )

Good points Kimuzukashiii.

I've had friends in the states who tried to raise bilingual kids, but the further along the kids got involved in the education system, the less they used, and the more they forgot, their mother tongue.

PLENTY of studies have shown that any kids' NON-FAMILY peer group has much, much more influence than what happens in the home, despite how much parents would like to believe otherwise.

Unless you've got strategies to keep your kids speaking English AWAY FROM HOME ON THEIR OWN a large portion of the time, the less bilingual your kids will turn out to be.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

An excellent set of tips thank you. I can tick most of them as things my family does. One parent one language from the start was an easy choice. From my perspective, it's absolutely foolproof so why risk another strategy. It depends on how desperately you want your children to develop as fully competent users I suppose.

Regarding written work: My kids write a daily diary entry after dinner of just two or three sentences, which will be a future treasure in terms of memories but importantly also provides that regular practice to re-enforce spelling and encourage variety in sentence construction. Just a little each day to prevent their English development from being overwhelmed by the Japanese world that surrounds them, without overdoing it or seeing Japanese as being 'a villain'.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

And is someone who has a 10 and 6 year old really qualified to be "teaching" others on how to raise bilingual children?

I mean no offense by saying that you should stop being so negative.

The guy has a blog of ideas and inspiration for raising bilingual kids. He's also a former teacher at an international school. Plus he raised a child for 10 years in a bilingual environment. Me think that's experience enough.

My nephews and nieces are fully bilingual. They are 12 and 10 (I think). I don't really think my brothers followed any of these tips. Kids went to school where English is spoken, plus TV and everything else around is English. At home they speak Spanish with mom and dad, the grandparents, uncle (me) and most of the family members. The oldest one traveled back and forward from the USA to our Spanish speaking country so she had a lot more exposure to both languages. The younger one is reluctant to speak it but can still understand. I always force her to speak to me in Spanish.

I will certainly follow these ideas and everything else you guys post here when my time comes (if that time ever comes).

9 ( +13 / -4 )

NON-FAMILY peer group has much, much more influence

Kids speak how their friends speak. I am optimistic about my own kids but my friends' kids cant stand English because they are trying to fit in with their peers who cant speak a word and find English a bit of a joke.

FightingViking is on the money that an international school is a good place to start.

Non-Japanese husbands need to have the support of their Japanese wives because it is hard work for her to be speaking English to the child as much as she needs to be.

Read, read, read to your kids. Tough I know when so many of us get home when the kids are in bed. But find your time.

Get together with other English speaking parents and make a little "English zone" where everybody speaks English to each other. Make an activity like cooking, reading big books, sports/games - not just standing around doing beers.

Give kids incentives. They work. Its not a bribe, its a payment for a job well done. Bribes are getting something for nothing, or bad behaviour. One of my friends whose son is "English reluctant" told him he could get an iphone if he did more English, but never set him any goals or a program to follow in order to get the reward. Eventually, he got the iphone for doing not much more than throwing a tantrum.

Keep your journal/reading diary for a month or so - we can hit up USJ. Be very vigilant and punish any sort of cheating/laziness or bad habits. Set regular times, be consistent and play to your kids strengths.

Are you studying Japanese? How do your kids feel when you expect them to know two languages when you dont? If they are doing a bit of English reading, maybe you can do some Japanese.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

any tips how to raise a trilingual kid? I speak my mother tongue with him, my wife speaks Japanese with him, but we try to slip English in between as well. how my friends did it was by speaking English in the family, but we got too used to speaking Japanese at home

4 ( +5 / -1 )

We used the one parent - one language approach with the boy, plus I read to him every day and also got him to read something to me.

This approach seemed to work in that he had no problem communicating with me or his English relatives. However, his written English wasn't very good as he doesn't like writing. When he moved to a school in the UK a couple of years ago he had to have extra English lessons to bring him up to speed. Now we are faced with the opposite problem: his Japanese is declining. Speaking and reading are OK, but he has no interest in writing Kanji.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

My friends who do the one-parent one language thing seems to work well enough.

For kimuzukasii, gaijininfo and anyone else really worried about kids"bilingualness", I really think a relaxed approach is important. I know of kids who hate the non-local language (ie english for japan) because they feel pressured to learn it or speak it with the parent if the parent is too gung ho about getting in extra English time, and then either ijime or expectations of greatness from teachers/ students in school can be further alienating.

And furthermore, and most importantly, I began learning Japanese as an adult in my 20s and am basically bilingual. I read books, and people often think I am jpns on the phone. I was also nearly bilingual in a foreign language I studied at school when a kid, tho I have lost it now due to no use. I didn't have a parent teaching me, and I didn't live in a foreign country, at least not at first. My point is any human being can learn any language, at any time in their life. Yes it is easier/faster when you are younger, but giving them a good basis when they are kids, they will be a hop and a skip away from full bilingualism when/ if they make the choice to get it. You don't need to be worried if they are "bilingual" now, or how the one language compares to the other in skill. Give them opportunity and basics, and it will pretty much be fine.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Good article, although we are struggling with a different language now.our children will most probably become trilingual, right from the beginning.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

And is someone who has a 10 and 6 year old really qualified to be "teaching" others on how to raise bilingual children?

You really should stop being so negative. We're all so sorry that the free JT article didn't meet your expectations, but it was a great source of tips for people who have little-to-no experience. The article doesn't say anything about abandoning your efforts once they reach a certain age. And with any luck someone who has raised their child bilingually for 10 years would have used some of that time to stay up to date with the current news, techniques, and research in this area. Great article. Glad it was written.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

My daughter got no Japanese exposure except from morning nhk shows for the first two years of her life. She started going to child care center from April this year. Now, all she speaks is Japanese. At first I thought her English is gone, but then she started translating everything she hears in English into Japanese, grab her english books and read it outloud ... in JapaneseI!

7 ( +7 / -0 )

While the one-parent one-language system is a good start it is only useful in a balanced environment, i.e., where there is no strong bias in favour of one language or the other.

Research suggests that context-linked language useage is a far more solid system. To put it simply, if the child comes home from speaking Japanese all day and their mother will only speak to them in English, while their father will speak to them in Japanese the child will simply opt to speak far more to the father. However, if the child comes home from speaking Japanese all day at school, and then has to switch completely over to English, with both parents exclusively speaking English in the home, then the child has no choice.. if they want to communicate they have to speak English.

This is the way that most migrant families work, and this system generally produces native-level speech in both languages. The one-parent one-language system generally does not produce native-level speech in both languages.

This is a good article and I'm not being negative, I'm merely pointing out that the "one parent one language" system of often promoted, but research shows that over the long term is doesn't produce native-level competency in both languages.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

i agree with all except the one parent one language. the worst advice i was given was that my child should not hear japanese coming from me. living here in japan my child has heard japanese from me (american) speaking to the grandparents, doctors, neighbors, etc. and english from his dad (japanese) - he has grown up thinking that is cool/normal. of course his english may not be perfect but he can carry on conversations in either language. that`s great.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

sillygirlOct. 28, 2012 - 11:02PM JST i agree with all except the one parent one language. the worst advice i was given was that my child should not hear japanese coming from me. living here in japan my child has heard japanese from me (american) speaking to the grandparents, doctors, neighbors, etc. and english from his dad (japanese) - he has grown up thinking that is cool/normal. of course his english may not be perfect but he can carry on conversations in either language. that`s great.

This is what I was proposing, context-linked language associations. At home we speak English. At school everyone speaks Japanese. When we're out somewhere we use whatever language we're addressed in. My kids understand that their parents are bilingual, but that in certain contexts we choose the appropriate language. This allows the child clear criteria for code-shifting.

So often "one parent one language" kids grow up thinking that everyone but themselves is monolingual, and they're "different"... and for kids different=bad. Context based shifting is better for the child and for the parents (many parent either consciously or subconsciously resent being forced to use only one language, and it impacts on the child's development).

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The point of 'one parent, one language', as I understand it, is that it's a negative for the child to have lots of input in, say, English, from a parent whose English is well below native level; better for the child to hear native-level Japanese from that parent than pidgin English. Also that it may detract from the parent-child relationship for the parent to consciously use a language that does not come naturally. If both parents are native-level fluent in both languages, fine. If not, just stick to what you know and are happy with.

As for children being 'fully' bilingual, I think people get too het up about this. One language or other is always going to be the dominant language. Even if the secondary language is native-level and both languages are learned simultaneously, except in extremely unusual circumstances a bilingual will always be happier in one language than the other. It could be that one language is dominant in some situations, and the other language dominant in other situations, depending on how the person has experienced those various situations linguistically. But don't beat yourself up if Junior isn't equally proficient in both languages at all times.

In our family, I spoke/speak English, and only English, to the kids and critters. Their father and virtually everyone else spoke Japanese, which meant the kids naturally got a much heavier input of Japanese. We countered this, as Mr. Beck suggests, with lotsnlots of books, reading, storytelling, games, writing exercises and videos sent over from England, and an atmosphere of English is a Positive Thing. We also had our taju hoso TV set permanently on English. The kids heard me speaking Japanese to others, but accepted that I spoke to them in English. It got to the point were when they had friends over I had to say everything twice, once in Japanese because that was all their friends understood, and once in English cos my kids assumed anything I said in Japanese was not aimed at them. While I actively encouraged the kids to speak to me in English and gave them positive reinforcement for doing so, I never forced them - a weeping child who's just fallen off his bike doesn't need the extra agony of Mum insisting that he tell her in his secondary language where it hurts and don't forget to speak in full grammatical sentences. If Mum is monoglot she may have no option, but then again, if you're expecting the child to learn another language hopefully you're also making the effort.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

Frungy > Research suggests that context-linked language useage is a far more solid system.

I agree with Frungy. This system is also known as the "minority language at home" (MLAH) method and it works very well. Even better than the "one parent one language" method.

My wife (Japanese) makes a strong effort to speak English at home in front of the kids. The kids have to communicate to us back in English. This creates a small English speaking oasis where the kids can speak English without being self-conscious since it's done away from their peers. Outside the home, Japanese or English is fine.

So far it's worked out well as my older daughter can speak both languages fluently. But as she gets older unsurprisingly her Japanese is outpacing her English so we have to stay diligent about the English at home rule.

The tips, especially the reading and writing ones, by the author are good ways to maintain your kids' interest in English, too. A good article.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I loved the article and all of the comments that pertain to related experiences. I look forward to implementing these methods with my children. Thanks.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Frungy and Cleo-

I personally thot the one parent one language thing meant as a given that one or both parents were deficient/ incompetent in one of the languages, necessitating one parent be in charge. If you can work everything into an outside/ inside language switch, great. That, too, can lead to imbalance of comfort levels in speaking about certain topics, of course.

And of course, being attentive to your kids' needs comes before some language rule (the fallen bike story), that's just a matter of course.

But, I wouldn't worry about it. As an adult learner living in Japan I became bilingual, with no experience as a child learning jpns. There are periods of time/ certain situations where I feel much more comfortable/ ease in explaining myself in jpns than Eng. Kids that get a solid basis in a second language from very early on, however lopsided, will be able to close the gap whenever they want to later on. Or have the capacity to learn a third language faster.

I feel that if you aren't raising a kid in America or UK, there's really no basis/ need to expect language parity.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Implicit in this article is also raising your child bicultually. It's not all about language...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I love how articles, even delicate ones like this, can grow into BIG debates. lol

0 ( +0 / -0 )

One thing that seems to be ignored here is the relative value of each language. Japanese is of very limited utility: it's only spoken in Japan and Japan is in an economic tailspin. English is the language of the earth, which is why it's often called "globish." Thus, parents should prioritize English, even if they live in Japan and their children are half Japanese. This will increase the chances of their children becoming global citizens; it will also give them a better chance of escaping the dismal place that Japan is in the process of becoming.

That said, my best advice to any parent raising "haafu" children in Japan would be this: Leave Japan and raise your kids in another country. Why spend so much time and money to try to counter the forces your child encounters as soon as he/she leaves your home? Not only would I be concerned about a child learning Japanese instead of English, I'd be concerned about a child being socialized in Japan, and absorbing the whole cultural package that comes with it.

-10 ( +8 / -18 )

Frank Rizzo - Sorry I can give you only one thumbs-down for that pile of baseless negativity.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

It's not that related elements like biculturalism and the relative value of languages are being left out. Bilingualism is just a big field, and I first teach four levels of bilingualism to university students: individual (bilingual development, etc.), family (bilingual child-raising, etc.), societal (language policy, etc.), and the school level (bilingual education). For articles and more about this, check out the Bilingualism and Japanology Intersection at http://waoe.org/steve/epublist.html

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@cleo: Don't worry: I don't write my posts in hopes of winning thumbs up votes and I don't think of this as a popularity contest. I know that many people will detest what I write. As usual, I consider this a good sign. To quote an old chestnut from Swift: When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.

I might add to my earlier post that I consider it downright irresponsible to send a "haafu" child in Japan to a normal public school. If one is going to be so cavalier with one's child's future as to raise him/her in Japan, then at least one could send the child to international school. We all know (or should know) about Japan's public education system, since so many in the gaijin community work in "education." Frankly, I strongly believe that no education would be far preferable to that which a child would receive in a Japanese public school. By not sending a child to Japanese public school, at least he/she will not absorb the soul-destroying norms that are promulgated there along with the creativity-killing rote "learning" that goes on there.

-10 ( +3 / -13 )

the relative value of languages

If half a child's family speak one language and half the other, then those two languages are equally important for that child, regardless of how many or how few other people on the planet speak one or other. Since when was 'Only 130 million people speak it' any excuse for a child to grow up unable to talk with his grandparents?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

All the suggestions are very practical . My three & half year grandson speaks beautiful English,can narrate long stories in English etc etc all because my daughter spends lot of time reciting poems,conversing in English.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

This is a good article. I think the main take away from it is that parents need to be involved with their child's development. Whatever the case may be, it will be important to teach the child both languages so that they can be able to at least speak with both sides of their family.

I think the commentor's comments about children speaking what their friends speak has some valid points. But I think a lot of the negative peer pressure that may come from it would be that the Japanese friends may feel somewhat disadvantaged at not being able to speak with ease in a foreign language. I don't think you may have as much of a negative response in the States for kids who can speak different languages between friends and home. The ones I knew who could do it, we wanted them to teach us the swear words so that we can get away with it.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

When a true genius appears in the world...

lol Get you. I guess you never wear a hat, you wouldn't find one big enough.

As for your concerns about haaf kids getting a 'soul-destroying' education in Japan; If I used the word that first came into my head to describe your post, the mods would zap me toot sweet for profanity, and quite right too. Both my kids went to Japanese public elementary school, daughter to public junior and senior high, son to public university. Their souls have not been destroyed, their creativity has not been killed off and the two of them are now doing very well thank you in their chosen careers. Both are fluent in Japanese and English, son fluent in another European language and able to get by in two more. Note too that the choice is not limited to public school or international school - Japan has some very fine private schools.

We decided international school was not for us (leaving aside the question of ridiculously high fees and the nearest such being hours away) when I visited one and the first thing i saw was a classroom with kanji on posters stuck all over the walls - and a good half of them upside-down. Trust my kids' education to folk who can't even read the language of the country they're teaching in? No thanks.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

parents need to be involved with their child's development. Whatever the case may be, it will be important to teach the child both languages so that they can be able to at least speak with both sides of their family.

Yes, and Yes. Emphatically.

a lot of the negative peer pressure that may come from it would be that the Japanese friends may feel somewhat disadvantaged at not being able to speak with ease in a foreign language.

If there is negative peer pressure due to a child being able to speak a language his peers don't, it may just be that he's in with the wrong crowd and there will likely be problems in other areas too. From what I have witnessed of my own kids, far from there being negative peer pressure, the reaction of friends hearing us talk in a language they didn't comprehend was 'Cool!' And when Junior high and English homework enter the scene, the bilingual haafs are suddenly very popular and virtually the whole class wants to come over to do homework together.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Speed is exactly right.

I dont think the "one parent one language" strategy will work in the long run. The minority language, in Japan that would be English, will almost always be inferior. Most of the time, the kids' Japanese is far better.

The best approach is for BOTH parents to use the minority language at all times with their kids. If you are in Japan, both should use English. If you are living overseas in the foreign parent's homeland, both should use Japanese. The family language should be the minority language. If English, for example, is just used between one parent and the child, that is not enough input. Plus, the child will soon realize that they really don't need English to get along, as both parents use Japanese with each other. That is also a key point- what language do the parents conduct their relationship in? Again, it should be the minority language, at least when the kids are around. Otherwise, if you have more than one child they will probably wind up using Japanese as THEIR language with each other.

Kids here get enough Japanese- at school, with their extended families, with their friends. They need as much English as possible. I always hear the excuse, "oh, my husband/wife isn't good at English, or isn't confident". Too bloody bad. Make the effort for the sake of your kids. I have met enough bicultural families who have non-bilingual children. They are effectively cut off from half their heritage and half their extended family. It's a shame.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

LowlyOct. 29, 2012 - 02:41AM JST Frungy and Cleo- I personally thot the one parent one language thing meant as a given that one or both parents were deficient/ incompetent in one of the languages, necessitating one parent be in charge. If you can work everything into an outside/ inside language switch, great. That, too, can lead to imbalance of comfort levels in speaking about certain topics, of course.

One parent might not be fluent in one of the languages, but hearing them speak the second language is important in making the child realise that being multilingual is natural. One parent speaking only Japanese, while the other parent speaks mostly English, with occassional Japanese as required, conveys a VERY unbalanced view of language. All too often the Japanese-speaking parent has a negative attitude about English (I can't do it!) and this comes across very clearly, or feels excluded while the other parent or child converse in English, and so the child shifts across to the language they know both parents understand. ... the problems with the "one parent one language" system are numerous.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Minority Language at Home (ML@H) is logically better, since the aim is balanced input and interaction in both languages. But it may feel unnatural, for instance to Japanese parents who have complexes or misconceptions about languages. Moving abroad they may think "when in Rome," which would be a mistake. I've had the benefit of a few more years, where my sons as teenagers shunned me and English for a while to be popular or fit in, but they have grown out of that completely. Now they choose to speak to me only in English while being native speakers of Japanese. Child-raising is definitely a long-term proposition, so patience is called for, and may be rewarded when passive language is finally activated by necessity or choice. Perhaps most important is for kids to grow up loved, well-adjusted, and happy. A lively Q&A session including such concerns is recorded at the end of the following slidecast. Click in the circle to hear the recorded presentation synchronized with the slides, and just sit back for 42 minutes. Then it's possible to click ahead to the last slide and discussion that follows. Or click on the small triangles to just read the slides if you are in a hurry: http://www.slideshare.net/waoe/jalt-2012-bilingualism-4-lt-1

5 ( +5 / -0 )

I completely agree with you, Frank. Unfortunately leaving Japan is not as easily said as done, at least in the short term, but it is our goal.

When you see the results of the dire education system in Japan, the total lack of common sense, lateral thinking, problem solving abilities, the institutional bullying, the lack of opportunities for females, and the downright inhumane life of the salaryman, I would do anything in my power to ensure my children are equipped to enter further education in a country with a better regard for work-life balance.

Having a native English ability is of far greater benefit than fluent Japanese.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

I have 2 children of 6yrs and 2yrs respectively. My eldest is bicommunicational and the 2yr old will also be, hopefully. We travel frequently and my eldest never speaks a word of Japanese in the states, the UK etc. We have never instructed him like that, its just how he works and knows that the people he meets overseas can more easily communicate in English than in Japanese. When in Japan he speaks with me, my family and my non-japanese friends in mainly English apart from asking how to say some Japanese words in English if he gets stuck. He speaks Japanese with his mum and her family apart from occasionally asking how to say some words in Japanese if he gets stuck. By no means am I fluent in Japanese and my wife is by no means fluent in English. We are all bicommunicational though. My sons English will always be strong but as we live in Japan his Japanese will be stronger..it has to be. I dont care if he cant grasp the study of English when he hits middle school and I will never welcome entrance into any "speech" contest. So which school of theory do we occupy??

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Sounds like "one parent one language" Sidesmile. Does your wife ever speak to your kids in English? To you?

I think this is a big point that is often missed. Children observe their parents. If they see the parents only using one language to communicate, then they will naturally value that language. So parents who communicate in Japanese are telling their kids indirectly that English isnt necessary. The style I see all too often is a foreign guy who is eager to get fluent in Japanese, and he marries a J-girl with little/no English. Their kids subsequently will mirror the mother.

Again, the Japanese parents who marry foreign spouses have to get over their immature fears/complexes. You didn't marry Taro or Junko, you married Tom or Julie. If you want your kids to be bilingual, then YOU have to put in some effort as well. A noncompliant spouse is the single easiest way to sabotage their childrens' chance of being bilingual.

There is nothing magical or strange about a family that can use two or more languages. It happens all over the world.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@Homeschooler:

That's a pretty good summary of why I wouldn't want to send my kids to Japanese school and why I wouldn't even want to raise them in Japan. I think that focusing on the results of the Japanese "education" system is useful. Indeed, one should very much judge a tree by its fruits and what I saw coming out the far end of the Japanese "education" system sent shivers down my spine. I'm not being at all hyperbolic when I say no education is preferable to sending your kids to Japanese public schools.

However, I'd also be very concerned about the general socialization a kid would receive in Japan, even if he/she went to international school. I cannot be too clear about this: As a Westerner, I find the societal norms and attitudes in Japan to be appalling. They are a complete anathema to me.

I'd go so far as to say that I would even consider my children not learning advanced Japanese as a form of protection against them wanting to live there in the future when they hit some existential crisis and want to give it a go in the motherland. I would not want my children to seek employment in a Japanese company. If they wanted to make a go of it there as entrepreneurs, then it might be okay, but in order to have the entrepreneurial mindset, again, they'd have to be raised outside Japan. And, they'll get enough Japanese from their mom and from occasional visits to be able to do business with no difficulty in Japan. And having learned to think like a Westerner, they'll be able to run circles around their flatfooted Japanese competitors, as so many Westerners are presently doing (for ref, see "Saying Yes to Japan").

-5 ( +3 / -7 )

@ VRWC...My wife and I use both Japanese and English with each other. She will occasionally use a bit of English with them but I think she tries not too. Its just habit from being in an international marriage and so well travelled I guess. I sometimes use Japanese with them but again its more out of habit because I use Japanese all day every day with work/life.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Frank;

WIth respect, unless you have actually put kids through the education system here, you may want to moderate your opinions. Elementary school at least is quite good IMHO ( I speak from experience). The teachers are dedicated, the curriculum is challenging, and the kids learn a lot. The problems start from JHS and go on from there. However, that is also the time that kids can be put into private schools, or even international schools if necessary. I personally have not heard anything good about international schools- they seem like holding pens for expat kids and not really good if you are thinking of your childrens' future.

Seems you will need to have a long talk or three with your spouse about your future as a couple and also as a family. It may be time to make a move back to "the world" if you have such views of Japan.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

kimuzakashiii - your post makes no sense, given that the article was written by a parent who has two kids and is using this system to teach them English. If you want to rely on the school system here for teaching English to your kids, good luck with that! But apart from keeping a journal, I do most of the points Adam offers here and my 11 year old speaks jolly good English! Try to be a bit more positive!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I would not be happy if my children merely spoke "good English", it is nowhere near enough if they want to live, study and work in an English speaking country. My experience with Japanese elementary schools has been dire. Bullying, desperately poor instruction, monocultural and unaccepting of any child or parent who was not "pure" Japanese.

The sooner we, as a family can get away from Japan the better. The Fukushima disaster was exacerbated by the fact that not one of those employees could think laterally. The shop was closed, so they didn't buy a battery. What does that say about the education system. Even my toddler could come up with better solutions than they were able to fathom. I absolutely agree with you Frank, stay away from Japan!

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

the Japanese parents who marry foreign spouses have to get over their immature fears/complexes. You didn't marry Taro or Junko, you married Tom or Julie. If you want your kids to be bilingual, then YOU have to put in some effort as well. A noncompliant spouse is the single easiest way to sabotage their childrens' chance of being bilingual.

Are you suggesting that anyone who is not fluent in their partner's language should put off having kids until they are? Things don't work like that in the real world; you have to make the most of what you have. When input of one language is limited, the quality of that input needs to be as good as possible. Someone struggling with grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation isn't going to be giving the child acceptable input. Far better surely to give good input in the parent's own stronger language. In our case, 'compliant' meant Mr cleo not speaking broken English one-on-one with the kids - though the kids did witness Dad managing with his broken English to communicate with his English in-laws and non-Japanese-speaking friends, and he joined in English-speaking games, reading activities etc and watched English-language TV/films/videos etc. with the kids.

I don't think there is one fixed set of rules that works for all families, since every family is different. Decide what you want to do, balance that against what you can do, and go for it.

Running down Japan and Japanese people in general and by extension giving the kids a negative impression of their Japanese parent, extended Japanese family and the Japanese side of themselves is definitely something to avoid, I would have thought.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

@Vast Right-Wing Conspirator:

Thanks for the comment. Yes, I know that elementary schools in Japan aren't that bad and some might even be good. If you read my posts on this thread and click on my name, you'll get more of my thoughts on this and related matters. I'd actually consider sending my kids to a public Japanese elementary school if I were only looking at the curriculum there. However, as I've indicated here and on other threads: I don't want my children to be socialized to think like typical Japanese. See my comments on other threads for an expansion on that point.

As for having a talk or three with my wife, don't worry: We had lots of talks on this issue before deciding to move out of Japan to raise our kids. And there isn't a day that goes by where she doesn't exclaim how happy she is that we did so. And, needless to say, I feel the same way.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

@Homeschooler:

You're absolutely right that Fukushima was a perfect example of what the Japanese "education" system produces (click on my name to see a recent post on exactly that topic). I salute you for having the guts to view Japan with clear eyes. Most of the posters on this thread can't bring themselves to take a hard, objective look at the reality in Japan. Instead, they busy themselves with debate about how best to counter the effects of the system in which they are participating and sending their children to participate, when, of course, the only real solution is to get away from it as fast as your feet can carry them.

And you're absolutely right that high-level native English is a 1000 times more useful than the same level of Japanese. In a word, Japanese is useful in Japan; English is useful in the world. The Japanese "education" system teaches children how to be Japanese and enter the Japanese corporate meatgrinder. An English-language education at a good school abroad teaches a child how to become a citizen of the world - and allows him/her to become a real free-thinking individual, something which is an anathema to Japan.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

When my children see their poor and much loved father work inhumane hours, their grandparents not bother with them, whilst spoiling the "Japanese" grandkids absolutely rotten, when they are called "gaijin" in the country in which they were born, and are subject to idiotic questions by random strangers in the street, I do believe Japan has done a perfectly good enough job of making them dislike it immensely without any input from me.

You can love the person without loving the country. Is a Russian person not allowed to say anything against Russia? Does a German have to love Germany to have self worth? Country and self are two separate issues.

My children will be native speakers of English, that is the only language which matters to us. Yes, they can understand spoken Japanese, but our family language is English, their father speaks excellent English, they got more than enough Japanese input from the environment.

Rizzo, I would be devestated if my children entered the Japanese corporate soul destroying meat grinder. Ive seen what its done to my husband, and Im damned if they are having my children too. Free thinkers, who can innovate, think for themselves and make themselves understood in the international community is what we are aiming for. Not state dependent, dull and compliant. In my honest opinion bilingualism in Japanese/other language is more or less useless. Japan is not the economic powerhouse it was, and its hardly a wonderful place to live and work.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

Cleo;

I'm not suggesting that at all. I'm suggesting that a spouse with even basic English skills should still use them and participate in their children(s)' bilingual process. There is really no such thing as bad input. Even broken, non-native accented English would be OK. Especially for children, the actual content of the input is pretty damn simple. Anyone can read a simple children's book, even with rudimentary English.

The point is that the non-native spouse should a/ try, and b/ be positive about the whole thing. And yes, when they are alone with the kids, they should try to use the English they have to get by. Even Mr. Cleo (smile). If nothing else, the kids will understand the value of English and the effort their parent is making. Plus, who knows, it may inspire that parent to get their level up a bit at the same time...

Again, you have to think of the language you choose to conduct your spousal relationship in. If your kids see you always using Japanese with each other, it will influence them. It's gonna be hard to tell your kids how valuable English is if you don't use it yourself in your daily life.

Personally, I don'T see how people can get married if they don't have a common means of communication, but that's another story altogether. Love may be blind, but it sure isn't deaf.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

my children see their poor and much loved father work inhumane hours, their grandparents not bother with them, whilst spoiling the "Japanese" grandkids absolutely rotten, when they are called "gaijin" in the country in which they were born, and are subject to idiotic questions by random strangers in the street

You must live in a different Japan to the one I live in. The shocker is the grandparents - definitely not normal. My in-laws could not be more affectionate and loving to our kids, or more proud of them. Are you sure the in-laws are not being put off by the obvious unbendingly scathing view of all things Japanese held by their d-i-l?

I'm suggesting that a spouse with even basic English skills should still use them and participate in their children(s)' bilingual process.

Participate, yes of course; but not by teaching them bad English.

There is really no such thing as bad input. Even broken, non-native accented English would be OK.

Yes there is. No it wouldn't.

Especially for children, the actual content of the input is pretty damn simple.

Actually, it isn't. Kids' speech, especially once they're of school age, can be pretty complex.

Anyone can read a simple children's book

Yes of course. And he did, often. Then they would discuss it in Japanese, or they would explain the story to him in Japanese.

be positive about the whole thing

Of course.

Again, you have to think of the language you choose to conduct your spousal relationship in.

Japanese.

If your kids see you always using Japanese with each other, it will influence them. It's gonna be hard to tell your kids how valuable English is if you don't use it yourself in your daily life.

They saw it being used, just not Dad using it.

Personally, I don'T see how people can get married if they don't have a common means of communication

Japanese is not an acceptable common means of communication?

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Rizzo, I couldn't agree more, and I truely hope we get away from Japan as soon as possible. Im my opinion getting your family away from Japan was a wonderful thing to do for them long term, and Im glad to hear your wife is happy with the situation.

I have been nothing but polite to my inlaws, Cleo, more than I can say about their treatment of me, and I find your accusation rude beyond belief. Whilst we live in the same country, we do not have the same family, nor the same experiences. Your inlaws treated your children wonderfully, which is great. Mine did not. No otoshidama, no weekend visits, not a kind word or a tiny bit of interest shown, and Im far from the only foreign wife in this situation.

My husband speaks good English, and there is no way I would forbid him to speak to our children in English. Then again Im not someone who wants to make a lot of rules and regulations for my husband, he gets enough of that at work. He is adult enough to make his own decisions about how he speaks to his own children and in what language. Ive children who are doing wonderfully in language arts, and their fathers non native, but excellent English has done nothing to damage that.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Cleo, I'm sorry but I have to disagree with your ideas on language acquisition and input. It's my business, and from everything I have read and the research I have seen, any input is good. Children won't learn the grammatical mistakes or accent of their non-native parent. The minority language needs to be supported absolutely as much as possible, for as long as possible.

As to my comment about "means of communication", I meant a situation where both people are not proficient in the other's native tongue. I don't see how a deep relationship can develop in that situation. If you are your hub can have a fulfilling time in J-go, good for you. Just don't use it in front of your kids if at all possible.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I have been nothing but polite to my inlaws

I'm sure that consciously you have been polite - but isn't polite for outsiders, not family? For people you want / need to keep at a distance? If even a fraction of your attitude towards Japan and all things Japanese as you express it here comes out in your daily interactions, it isn't surprising if the Japanese in-laws are put off. I have no intention of being rude or accusatory, and I am very sorry if you take it that way; I am simply trying to point out something you may have overlooked. As a grandmother myself now, I simply cannot imagine treating two sets of grandchildren so very differently. But if I felt shut out by one set of parents, and the grandchildren also obviously dislike it (my country) immensely, I can imagine it might be harder to express loving feelings toward them. Even loving grannies can take only so much perceived rejection.

My husband speaks good English, and there is no way I would forbid him to speak to our children in English.

Who is talking about anyone forbidding anyone to do anything? My husband does not speak excellent English, just good enough to get by, and we decided as a couple that his speaking to the kids in far-from-native English would not be a plus either for them or for him. And, looking at the results now, it was the right decision. The kids speak native-level Japanese and fluent English, and have a close, loving relationship with both their parents and with both sets of in-laws.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

VRWC - Disagree away, it's what makes JT interesting! I also did a lot of reading, and from actual experience, when we saw the kids repeating the grammatical mistakes of their father, we decided that 'any input is good' simply wasn't true, in our case at least. Not throwing bad grammar and a Japanese accent into the mix was, we found, a good way of supporting the minority language. We had no qualms about speaking Japanese in front of the kids. And I think the results have shown that we did OK.

I meant a situation where both people are not proficient in the other's native tongue. I don't see how a deep relationship can develop in that situation.

Whether you can see it or not, it can and does.....you don't really mean to say, do you, that only people who share the same native tongue or who are native-level proficient in each other's languages can have a fulfilling, deep relationship? All it needs is for one partner to be proficient in the other's language.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Being a bilingual myself, I believed my parents didn't follow the above written tips.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Maybe some will agree or some may not but For me Japanese are good at grammar when it comes to writing. The only defective to them is their speaking abilities for all their lives they've dedicated in learning grammar through writing and listening. On contrary, In my opinion Japan can never speak perfect English with the accent unless the Katakana Eigo will be totally forgotten. They are still dependent on Katakana English when it comes to reading.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Its good to hear the successes & sad to hear the troubles of those with kids in Japan, clearly it can be fine for some & nightmarish for others.................

And while I wish all those kids to excel I am personally glad the Mrs & I dont have kids, I was always leary of it, mostly because so many in/near cities have such horrible work/life balance, so little free time etc, then when I add in bad/worsening economy, utterly inept govt, the demographic time bomb, & then 3/11 and all the ineptitude that was laid bare & its pretty clear the future in Japan is pretty dim at best.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

cleoOct. 29, 2012 - 09:21PM JST VRWC - Disagree away, it's what makes JT interesting! I also did a lot of reading, and from actual experience, when we saw the kids repeating the grammatical mistakes of their father, we decided that 'any input is good' simply wasn't true, in our case at least. Not throwing bad grammar and a Japanese accent into the mix was, we found, a good way of supporting the minority language. We had no qualms about speaking Japanese in front of the kids. And I think the results have shown that we did OK.

A quick question Cleo, is your Japanese native-level? Because if it isn't then there's a flaw in your argument. You're basically arguing that your husband's poor English grammar and Japanese accent impaired your kids' English level, but you're not applying the same logic to your Japanese. Surely the same applies to them hearing your poor Japanese grammar and English accent in Japanese? Yet you're happy to speak Japanese in front of them, but not for your husband to speak English? Your position seems to contain a flaw unless you're native-level in both languages.

Even if your Japanese is native-level though your husband's English would improve as you correct the children's copied errors and he got more practice. By denying your husband the opportunity to speak in English you're creating a problem. I know this is an intensely personal subject, and please don't get me wrong here, I'm not saying what you did was wrong, merely that it creates tensions and double-standards that create a sub-optimal learning environment for the children. The "one parent, one language" approach isn't unworkable, it just isn't the best method out there, but other methods rarely ever get mentioned, particularly the highly effective context-based method.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@Bulak

Actually, that's not correct. The Japanese generally are not good at writing in English, especially if they have to write more than a sentence at a time. Ditto with grammar. They are able to dissect English sentences, but are unable to produce them effectively. They learned grammar through translation and comparison, 96% of the time from a Japanese teacher who speaks Japanese 96% of the time.

Frungy raises an excellent point. Whichever language is used in the home, SOMEONE is going to be a non-native speaker. It may not be the case with Cleo's family, but my experience has been that most bicultural families use Japanese at home out of laziness. Gaijin spouse usually speaks better Japanese than the Japanese spouse speaks English, and that's the way things continue. The kids see it and copy.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@Cleo

Even though the article is about bilingual kids, the comments have turned into the usual Japan hatefest and the mod or mods are either asleep or don't care.

For what's it worth, my son was talked to in both Japanese and English from the start. Now it's the minority language at home and the majority language outside. It works out pretty well.

As for people like Frank Rizzo, I'm happy to see them leave. When I first went to Japan, I heard all kinds of negative stuff about Japan. Including stuff like natto is terrible. After a few years, I realized I had been eating natto with gusto right from the start. I still didn't wake up until I went back and took a good look at my own country. Japan may have some flaws but it's still a good country to live in. In fact, I prefer living there to back home, so I moved back.

Kansai, in the country, but close enough to Kobe, Osaka and Kyoto. And Nihon-Kai. Life is sweet.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

I speak english to my son and daughter (4 & 1 yrs old) and my wife speaks only japanese to them. We both want them to be bilingual so perhaps there should be a number 17 on that list: Having the support of BOTH parents.

If my son says something to me in japanese or vice versa in english to my wife we politely ask him to say it in both languages. If my son asks me a question in Japanese, I repeat it in english back to him (as a question). Kids pick up stuff so quickly and parents need to keep at it

0 ( +0 / -0 )

A quick question Cleo, is your Japanese native-level?

I pass for Japanese over the phone, if that's any indication.

Surely the same applies to them hearing your poor Japanese grammar and English accent in Japanese?

Leaving aside the fact that I don't have poor Japanese grammar or an English accent in Japanese :-), while they heard me speaking Japanese they were/are never addressed by me in Japanese. I don't think the one-parent-one-language method means anyone pretending that either parent doesn't speak the other language at all, does it? In one sense it's mixed in with the context-based method - the context being, when Mum's talking to us she speaks English and it makes her happy if we answer in English.

By denying your husband the opportunity to speak in English....it creates tensions and double-standards

It was his decision more than mine. He wasn't happy speaking English to the kids, though reading to them was no problem....I didn't/don't/wouldn't ever deny the man anything. :-) There were/are no tensions, but I think there might well have been if I had insisted that he speak English to me and the kids come what may.

The "one parent, one language" approach isn't unworkable, it just isn't the best method out there, but other methods rarely ever get mentioned, particularly the highly effective context-based method.

As I mentioned earlier, I don't think there is any one way of doing it that works equally well for every family. For us, me speaking native English and him speaking native Japanese, both of us supporting the other and filling the house with English-language books, tapes, videos, games - worked. I'm not saying it's the only way, or the best way for everyone, but we got the results we wanted.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Hi Pete:

Any reason your wife doesn't use English with your kids? The more exposure they have, the better. Also it is much better from a social standpoint if they see both parents actively supporting the minority language. Believe me, they are going to get MORE than enough Japanese outside the home.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Cleo, a question if you don't mind.

Why on earth wouldn't your husband want to speak English to his own children? I mean, if YOU are making the effort to use both languages, he should have the courtesy to do the same. I certainly wouldn't permit that in my home...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

VRWC -

Why on earth wouldn't your husband want to speak English to his own children?

Look at it another way - why on earth would a parent not want to speak to their child in the language they are most comfortable in? For him it was/is Japanese.

I mean, if YOU are making the effort to use both languages

Who said it was an effort? :-)

I certainly wouldn't permit that in my home...

You wouldn't permit your spouse to communicate with her child in the way she saw fit??? Wow. Glad I'm not your missus. There would be trouble and strife aplenty, I think.

I suppose I should point out that we started raising our kids bilingually a full three decades ago, when the accepted 'wisdom' was that a child should master his native tongue first before any other languages were added. The question we were asked in those days was not, Why wasn't he speaking English, but Why wasn't I speaking Japanese. We were told that my insistence on speaking English would hinder the child's development, prevent the proper acquisition of a true native language, keep them behind in schoolwork, turn them delinquent, give them nervous tics and all kinds of other horror stories that we chose (after doing our own research) to ignore. Luckily the in-laws trusted us instead of the 'experts' and were very supportive from start to finish.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

@Conspirator: The reason my wife doesn't use english is because we aren't living in Japan at the moment!! haha, actually, my wife says I should speak more Japanese around the house but not necessarily to the kids. I don't think she will ever stop speaking to them in Japanese which I am totally cool with but we speak to each other in English which I admit is laziness on my part

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Apologies Pete, I assumed you were on this side of the ocean. In that case, you SHOULD speak Japanese to your kids, and your wife as well. For your situation, Japanese is the minority language and needs all the support it can get at home.

Cleo; To answer your question as to why a parent would not use the language in which they weren't the most comfortable, the answer is simple. For the sake of the children. Sometimes (as I'm sure you know) parents have to do things that are for their kids' benefit. Even at the expense of their own comfort. Hub could use nihongo aplenty at work, outside, with his family, even with you when the kids werent around. It's not a great sacrifice to ask a parent to make. Children pick up more than language skills from their parents- they pick up attitudes.

I agree that times have changed, and the current research on bilingual development shows that kids can easily pick up another language without damage to their first one. A lot of ignorant parents in Japan (school officials too, who should know better) still parrot this nonsense as a reason to surpress the teaching of English in elementary schools. Way back last century, the "one parent one language" theory was seen as very avant-garde and daring. Not any more.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Best advice. Don't raise them here. Japanese language ability will not be a skill by the time they grow up into working adults. It is disadvantageous for them to even be raised in Japan. Better they were raised in your country Pete. But I'm sure that's not what you want to hear. Basically....you should've thought about this before conception.

-4 ( +4 / -8 )

From birth my wife only speaks Japanese and I only speak English to our son. We have English and Japanese books and DVD’s. No DS! He goes to Okinawa Amicus International which opened in 2005. He is in the International class and his Japanese and English are both very good. He is very fluent in both Japanese and English for a 1st grader. A lot of families from Japan have moved to Okinawa for this school. When I asked why they said there is not a school like this in Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Cleo, when I came to Japan, and was first with my now husband, I loved the country. I was fascinated by Japanese culture, had a strong interest in experiencing life here, and was very excited about being part of the wider family. I went into the situation desperate to please and be part of the family and made every effort. Unfortunately they were not quite so happy about him marrying me, nor about their grandchildren. They do not pay my husband, our children, let alone me a passing courtsey, let alone familial love and care. I would have adored a mother in law who wanted to help me with the children, come out with us, be part of our lives, and a grandpa too for that matter. What I got was a selfish old cow who cant even be bothered to wish her grandkids happy birthday. Your life here might be roses, but you seem to judge everybody else's experiences by your own.

Japan, and my wider family here over the years has worn away my good will, my interest and my fondness for the culture and aesthetic.

Ive no interest in useless Japanese/English bilingualism, decent French and Spanish will stand them in far better stead, or dare I say it, Mandarin and Cantonese.

Cleo, once again, having come to dislike the country, does not mean I am being disrespectful or unloving to my wonderful, dear family. I tried for years to be friendly, and kind, part of the family, but you can't make people act decently towards you, however hard you try, and my my increasing age I am just not bothering anymore. They are the ones missing out.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

VRWC - I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one. I don't see how it can be in a child's best interests to have a parent who chooses to put restrictions on the parent-child relationship. While linguistic ability is important, I think it is trumped by the child's emotional well-being; and having a parent unable to pour himself fully into the relationship cannot be in the child's best emotional interest. As I said at the very beginning, if a parent is near-native level in both languages and happy to use his second language, the situation is different; but that wasn't what we had.

Homeschooler - I agree with you that the grandparents are definitely missing out. It's sad that you've had such a bad experience, but I am certain it is not typical. Most families who raise a son willing to go into a 'mixed' marriage (I hate that term) tend to be more, not less, open-minded - how else did they raise their son to be the person he is? What would be sadder still though is if you let your feelings about the in-laws have a negative effect on your children's view of their father's country. Look at it this way - are you going to let the selfish old cow influence your children's lives?

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

@Homeschooler

I've married 3 Japanese women. They and their families have all been different. Number 3 and her family are great. Sure am glad I grew out of my own Japan hating phase by looking around me and thinking for myself..

Understand it's pot luck in overseas marriages too.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Its good to hear so many kids picking up two languages definitely good, but as I said I am glad we dont have kids here, the typical life most lead is not one I wud want & certainly dont have.

Thankfully being a foreigner in Japan allows one to have freedom Japanese can only dream of. But even though views like Franks may seem harsh you have to admit there is a LOT OF TRUTH in them as well.

And many say their lives are good, great, mine is fantastic! But everyday I see hordes of young Japanese in crappy no-where jobs & its NOT going to get better, the slide I have witnessed & continue 2decades & counting is depressing & putting ont he rose coloured glasses wont change things, I feel sorry for young people in Japan, they deserve MUCH BETTER

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Understand it's pot luck in overseas marriages too.

Make that in all marriages, Mr Basher!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The whole bilingual thing is pretty complex. Personally, one of the big problems in a place like Japan is the education system. In other countries it's generally thought of as fine to focus on developing one or two skills and to get by in other areas. Here, however, there is an obsession with being equally good at everything. To be considered good material academically, and get into a good university you have to have high scores in all subjects. And there is so much relentless testing and rote memorising of often trivial facts.

As people have said above, Junior High and High school years are the important time for developing the weaker language. That takes time. Reading, listening, discussing etc. etc. of the kind that will lead towards an adult vocabulary and abilities doesn't happen over the breakfast table alone. However, if you take that time, then something else in your kids' already pressured school careers has to be sacrificed. They might graduate from school with really well developed abilities in both languages but they might still end up not have the same professional opportunities as their Japanese peers.

In the case of our son, he was a bit of a test type. Much as I revile them, I had to accept that he enjoyed the game. Plus he was really mad keen on soccer as well. So we decided to let him play soccer and go the Japanese academic route and not push the English development with him at home. However, our daughter was different, she was hopeless at the testing game and weak on the Math Science stuff generally and not great a sports. So, for her, English ability was likely to be her main advantage and we are developing that with her.

Many international schools are junk, but some are not. You have to really research it and find out well in advance what happens in which school and, when you find one you like, what it takes to prepare your kids to get in. Whether you decide to push English at home or not, the problem with not going to an international school is that they will be forced into following the Japanese English curriculum, which really is a complete waste of time and a huge cause of stress and embarassment. At an international school at least the English curriculum should be at a level that is closer to their actual abilities and needs. So if you can afford it, an international school is the way to go.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Believe me Ive looked around me here for a reasonably long time, and most of what I see in Japan is awful. Bad education system unless you pay and go for a good international school, terrible attitude towards non Japanese people, or mixed Japanese people, dire health service, bad attitude towards work/life balance. We are only here until we manage to sort out visas and a decent career move for my husband. We are lucky here, he has a decent job, just no time to spend with us. Who wants to equip their children to spend every waking hour at work, as a virtual slave to the corporation?

The economy is not going to get any better, Ild much rather have my children with fluent English and passable Japanese, and give them the chance to live and work in a much more forgiving and pleasant society. When he leave Japan, at least my children will go into the school system, with no need to play catch up with their English, to the detriment of their other studies.

From what Ive seen, children who go to Japanese schools here, even with one foreign parent, are not anywhere near a native level in their speech, reading or writing in English. It depends on what you are content with for your children, I suppose.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

children who go to Japanese schools here, even with one foreign parent, are not anywhere near a native level in their speech, reading or writing in English. It depends on what you are content with for your children, I suppose.

It depends on what you are prepared to put into their language education. In Japan or anywhere else, leaving it all up to the schools is never a good idea.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

they are trying to fit in with their peers who cant speak a word and find English a bit of a joke.

This is because they can't do it. Many Japanese ridicule English because they can't understand it and failed to learn it.

The Japanese make feeble, lazy attempts to learn this (for some reason) highly desirable skill, so it is no surprise that most of them suck at it, in spite of years of study at school and eikaiwa schools.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I feel sorry for young people in Japan, they deserve MUCH BETTER

Do they? Why?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Why............................

Simple, because the govt, the beaurocrates, J-Inc & the adults of Japan etc etc have been systematically letting their own country go down the crapper, I dont think we shud blame kids, young people for what their elders have & are doing, thats why I feel sorry for young people in Japan,............. dont you??

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Don't worry: I don't write my posts in hopes of winning thumbs up votes and I don't think of this as a popularity contest. I know that many people will detest what I write. As usual, I consider this a good sign. To quote an old chestnut from Swift: When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.

Frank, what you write is spot on. It's a funny thing with a lot of people who choose to live in Japan, they get all 'My Japan' and defensive about anything negative anyone says about Japan. Maybe it's to justify their decision; maybe it's the culture rubbing off on them too much, but it's there. I've noticed it for years in English teaching. You only have to point out the obvious deficiencies on a forum and some people seem to go wild with rage over it.

Keep up the good work!

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Simple, because the govt, the beaurocrates, J-Inc & the adults of Japan etc etc have been systematically letting their own country go down the crapper, I dont think we shud blame kids, young people for what their elders have & are doing, thats why I feel sorry for young people in Japan,............. dont you??

Just as simple: each successive generation of young people has had the power to change the country and the system for the better, but instead they choose to obey and just carry on as things always have been. When something goes wrong, they bury their heads in the sand and pretend it's all OK and that it will just go away (Dare I mention 'Fukushima' here?). Admittedly, it is a very difficult system to challenge, with its ingrained obedience, but without challenge it stays the same. If you eat a pound of lard each day, wash it down with a bottle of Jack and smoke 60 Camel ciggies, the chances are you're going to get sick. Is that deserved? Similarly, if you see a problem and do nothing to destroy it, don't be surprised if it comes back to bits you later.

Do I feel sorry for them? To a certain extent, yes, but not for the reasons you give. I feel sorry for their not being able to break free and act in a way that would have changed things in the past. Remember, these current young people will become the bureaucrats who preside over the next generation of young people, and they will enforce whatever's left of Japan just as stubbornly. I don't wish them any harm, but I do not think that this situation was unavoidable. Do you?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

When you see the results of the dire education system in Japan, the total lack of common sense, lateral thinking, problem solving abilities, the institutional bullying, the lack of opportunities for females, and the downright inhumane life of the salaryman, I would do anything in my power to ensure my children are equipped to enter further education in a country with a better regard for work-life balance.

Having said that, compare it with the education system in the UK: watered down education that teaches the children very little, yet gives them qualifications anyway; highly un-academic approaches to all subjects; appalling behaviour that causes disruption and stops those who do want to learn from working and and obsession with inclusive education causing more disruption and making lessons even more difficult to plan and teach, and frankly, there is a lot to be said for the Japanese education system in contrast.

There are, of course, other places. I can only speak for the UK.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I feel sorry for their not being able to break free and act in a way that would have changed things in the past.

You expect kids to be time-travellers??

2 ( +2 / -0 )

And you're absolutely right that high-level native English is a 1000 times more useful than the same level of Japanese. In a word, Japanese is useful in Japan; English is useful in the world. The Japanese "education" system teaches children how to be Japanese and enter the Japanese corporate meatgrinder. An English-language education at a good school abroad teaches a child how to become a citizen of the world - and allows him/her to become a real free-thinking individual, something which is an anathema to Japan.

A puzzling reality, isn't it? Puzzling in that so much raving about kokusaika and so much money spent on the JET Programme and getting as many smiley, nicey, gaijin specimens into schools and communities has changed the Japanese attitude towards outsiders not one iota.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

@GW

I'm genuinely sorry to inform you there is a rat race overseas as well. And it's getting worse. The universities are diploma mills, not institutions of learning. What schools Johnny goes to is as important as in Japan. Commutes are longer because people can't afford the ridiculous prices of housing close to work. They're the lucky ones.

I spent more time commuting in Australia than in Japan. And the public transport and the traffic jams are terrible.

The same "drones" people harp on about in Japan exist overseas too. In 20 years, I've seen people in Japan become much more relaxed. It's the exact opposite overseas and getting worse.

I'm not having a go at you but these are the facts. I went back to Japan because it is easier to live there.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

@shiofuki

Most of the "bad" attitudes towards foreigners is due to their belief they should be treated like royalty.

I get on a lot better since I dropped my own attitude.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

You expect kids to be time-travellers??

Now you are just being silly. Obviously you are unable to discern the other meaning of the sentence. Even the English inability of the Japanese has rubbed off on you, it seems. Just say 'Eigo wakannai!' all the time and then speak pidgin English at any foreigner you see, and you'll be right there with them.

Goodo rack!

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Back on topic please.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I don't wish them any harm, but I do not think that this situation was unavoidable. Do you?

Shifuki,

I hear what your saying & if you have read my posts you wud see I often point out a lot of the CRAP that goes on in Japan, you wud find we likely agree on a lot, my point about kids/young Japanese is simply that its hard to blame them much imo.

I mean if you, I & Frank were all just born in Japan & put through the meat grinder that is life/school/work etc in Japan do you think any of us wud come out of the grinder in say our 20's & be able to SEE let alone fathom what changes are needed & how to go about it, I rather doubt it the system is just too "good" at churning out the people we both all know & see all around us, Japan is going to have to slide a LOT more before many real changes are even considered let alone implemented

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Interesting article, but strange discussion about the Value of a learned language. Any Learned language is a plus, it can be used as a skill later in life, and with litle kids, teach them as much languages as possible, when their brain is developing they are knowledge sponges!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

A child growing up in any country will naturally be immersed in the native language, so the extra effort by the parents is going to have to be made in regards to the non-native language. The article is right in that the first seven or so years are critical for the development of language skills. After that, the brain is changing its structure to handle other tasks and language skill become harder to learn. Not IMPOSSIBLE, mind you, just harder.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Children are different. I met my Japanese wife in Europe (not England cleo). It was my cultural milieu. I tried French with her but missed my English language and we switched. I found myself in Japan working at Citibank and life was great. When the first child was born I realized that if I lived in Japan I may not be able to speak to my children. I would be that china-man (no a pleasant thought) being a gaijin in Japan. I never wanted to even go to Japan. Now for those who met your spouse in Japan,,,

However Tokyo and the roads saved me because life for young children was just so much better in the US. Sidewalks, no bikes, drive everywhere, a yard to play in etc. Life was good.

We did return to Japan 8 years later, with a 9, 7, 5 yo boys. We put them in Japanese schools. Teachers were great, neighbors etc. The oldest is social and picked up the language quite well, the middle tried but looked like he was going into la la land, the youngest just spoke English (I can't understand you and you can't understand me so we are even). Brave little kids. I worried about the two youngest and I took the boys back to the US to see what was going on. They just loved American schools and life.

Mom was back in Japan so we returned after 2 years stateside. Now the boys would have been 13, 11, 9. We put them into the same Japanese schools. The oldest again did well, middle boy tried and felt like a social misfit, the youngest just was fighting and not learning even though a very friendly boy. So at 15, 13 11 we returned to the US to California. Just a beautiful location with many foreign born students. The boys are very happen here and really do not want to return to Japan, except curiously, the middle boy. This is our third year here.

I've always loved Tokyo. I admire the Japanese spirit and value of the family. Homeschooler, let it go. Let your children be Japanese. Japanese love their culture too. Bring a gift to the Grannies like Kolbe beef. BE humble. Relax. Love your husband. Hopefully the character of your children will allow them to learn quickly.

One Japanese man said intelligently, whatever you do make sure the child can function in one or the other cultures. Do not leave them dangling in the middle of the pacific.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

I would never raise a bi-racial kid in Japan. Indeed, it is the reason why I chose to leave Japan to raise my family.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I was in Kansai when the children were young. My biggest fear was them being hit by a car when traveling to and from school. Just too much. But I love the Japanese people and the safety of their cities. There is something that goes with the love I have for their mother I suppose. I will return and now that the boys have a good grasp of the English world I am considering returning to Tokyo. There is room for them and I think I have found a school that would make the two youngest happy where English is not frowned upon but is considered an asset. The oldest is enjoying the car apartment life and will go to the University stateside. I have asked him to go to Europe to school to see how they live (what a life those Europeans have). Maybe after a couple of years and he will go to Leuven. As for bilingual children there is a nice life to be had in Tokyo as well with other bilingual children. I have met many missionary children who mostly grew up in Japan and have stayed and are contributing in their own way to the Japanese world in a constructive way. God Bless Japan.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

"half" kids got it easy now days. When I was growing up, me and my best friend who was half as well fought everyday. We were military brats,but still. We spoke fluently in english,Japanese and Okinawan. We fought local Japanese and Okinawan kids when we went home. We fought American kids at school aboard on the military base. Always out numbered. But we never lost. We were vicous. Its more accepted as a half now days.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Bilingual?? Hahaha! In my case, I speak?? Not too sure now, but about 5 languages, yes, including English and Japanese. EXPOSURE, exposure to more languages, babies and young kids will absorb all the languages around them like a SPONGE! So my kids are not just half Japanese, they speak, read and write the Japanese language just like native Japanese, I know because they, well my son who is almost 9 makes sure to remind me that I am not Japanese, especially when I make a few strange mistakes in HIS native language, but that is OK! When I am teaching him English and Spanish, I let him know that it is Lemon and not Remon, and I can just see the ??? in his eyes. So far still can not get my son nor wife to RR, like in Spanish "carro" or "perro" but my guess with time and EXPOSURE to Spanish going back to California or Mexico my kids will soon be yelling out words like "ferrocarril." Ganbarimashou ne!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Whilst certain children are being dragged back and forth across land, culture and language, and spending precious time and effort just coping with cultural and linguistical changes, Ild much rather mine concentrated on the language they will be using the most in the future, and on their academic studies, thanks.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

The read aloud part is absolutely true. It helped me a lot when I decided to get fluent in English no matter what it takes (藁) back in secondary school. In my case, I read out loud as many articles as I can inside the day's newspaper edition, everyday, for at least 2 hours a day. I read the advertisements too. I read everything inside, I didn't even missed the phone numbers and addresses.

Stumbled upon lots of new words, then checked the dictionary again and again. Oh that refreshing feeling of flipping over the dictionary's pages~

Reading out loud might seems like you are being so hard on yourself etc etc, but what I could say is that it is important especially in getting yourself used to the language, not running away when you run into some unknown words, and slowly turning the alien language into a natural thing to you rather than noises or a disturbance.

But I find it hard to get a decent English newspaper after I lived in Japan for months now, so I moved to reading whatever I could find in the internet instead.

:D

0 ( +0 / -0 )

9,10 ,11 I'm doing it yeah, they're not only bilingual they're multilingual ! Kids got it so easy , and they'll use them as skills later in life .

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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