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What is the best way for parents of children of mixed heritage to make sure their kids grow up bilingual?


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It is a very good idea and it's been proven that speaking your native language with your kids from the very start helps them learn that language and will remember it as they grow up.

6 ( +10 / -4 )

As @Mark states, I’ve found that exposure to both languages at an early age really helps, as does having friends of the same age group from both languages. However, it is tricky to make your kids truly bilingual (ie, read, write, speak). I’ve found that if you want your kids to get into a good university, you may need to make one language be the dominant one.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

Exposing them to both languages from the get-go is important. Having them immerse in both and using it as much as possible is also necessary for them to retain their fluency. However, it's hard to be truly, equally fluent in both languages - usually one or more of the passive or active skills (listening, reading, writing) gets sacrificed a little. I grew up in a trilingual family and while I can speak and understand all three, English emerged as my dominant language as it was the most useful and necessary. I retain enough of my other two so i can converse with my grandparents and relatives but reading and writing have fallen to the wayside because I just didn't have enough practice.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

Speak only one language at home if the other language is the main one used in society. Children will pick up more and if the society's language is spoken at home then they won't ever use the other one

-3 ( +5 / -8 )

I never found it hard nor did most of my friends or family.

Multiple languages is common where I am from as well in much of Europe and Asia.

I have noticed that if the society/country/region is not an English dominated society, far more are multilingual than in places where English is the main language ( possible exception or certain far east countries).

English was not the main language in our house when I was a child, many of bmy friends were from immigrant families with languages such as Italian, Greek, Lebanese Arabic, Moroccan Arabic/Berber, Vietnamese, etc...being spoken at home, school was in French and English well that is all over the place on TV, movie, music, and yes classes in school. Nearly everyone was either bilingual or trilingual.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

I second what Mark said, speak in both languages at your home. I learned to speak my mother tongue and English both at the same time because the majority of the books and stuff on TV were in English. My cousins who were born and raised in North America can only understand our native tongue and can't speak it, while their kids no longer can. Start young.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

I've had an odd experience raising two kids here, without intending to do so I've raised them with different "main" languages from each other.

With our first my wife and I decided to keep English as our language at home, since he would learn Japanese outside the home. So English is his "main" language. By the time he started kindergarten though we realized we probably went a bit too far with that since he could barely speak a word of Japanese. Everyone told us "Oh don't worry, they'll pick it up in no time", but actually he had quite a bit of difficulty learning Japanese like that and it was quite stressful on him for a couple of years. Eventually he learned Japanese (he is in elementary school now) and fortunately he is fluently bilingual in both languages, but he still favors English and its his default language that he speaks with us most of the time.

With our second child we decided do things differently, with each parent speaking their own language in the house, to avoid the stress that our first one went through. But because I'm at work most of the day this meant that she got a lot more exposure to Japanese. Until she started kindergarten though she was basically speaking both languages, albeit often getting words from the two mixed up with each other. Since starting kindergarten though she's basically gone full Japanese and it quickly became her dominant language. Its like pulling teeth for me to try to get her to speak English to me (she understands English, but rarely speaks it herself anymore).

So we've got this weird dynamic at home right now, one kid is a native English speaker, the other a native Japanese speaker despite both of them being raised in the same house! I'm not sure if this is a bad thing, at the moment the only thing I'm really concerned about is getting my second kid to speak more English.

7 ( +11 / -4 )

I've only ever spoken English to my kids, but I work during the days, so when they were young, their Japanese was much stronger since they spent the daytimes with my wife and out and about, all in Japanese. After kindergarten we put them in an international school though, and now their Japanese is their stronger spoken language, but they both speak English just fine, and their English grammar is better than their Japanese due to more schooling in English grammar.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Speak in your native language to your kids. Make opportunities for them to read and watch programs in your native language.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

At home, I speak English (not my native language) to my kids, and sometimes my Japanese wife too. However, their main language became Japanese, because of school and society. Having friends who speak English helped a lot

1 ( +4 / -3 )

My now adult children are fluent in Japanese and English passable in French.

I was mostly a single father throughout most of their lives at home I spoke mostly English despite my primary language being French, because I figured it would be more useful especially seeing they attended Japanese public school and then Japanese universities.

I used French fairly often anyway ( when angry it becomes the auto default language) my late second wife for the short time she was with use spoke Japanese at home with them, as well as all their extended Japanese family members and friends.

My family speak to them in a combination of French and English.

Today they are both fluent in English but one does have a slightly more Japanese slant to his spoken pronunciation.

One thing I did learn was when applying to Sr high school and taking the entrance exams being really good in English can be the little extra lift needed if the other subjects are all not up to the task.

A really high English score can boost the total score enough in some cases to pass the entrance test. Seems silly but in know plenty of mixed children that got into their Sr high schools only because they blew away the English test with never seen before scores.

2 ( +7 / -5 )

My two ended up differently because the first was an on-going experiment. It was shocking to discover that my preconceived expectations had been badly off the mark.

The second benefit(t)ed from lessons learned with the first, and a firm set of rules that my wife and I agreed together. To guarantee native input, she spoke only in Japanese and I spoke only English, (except in rare unavoidable situations in public); our second child turned out to be a happier medium.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

If the parents have different native languages, then each parent speaks their own language to the kids.

Because I was at home with them when they were little, English was my kids' first language, but as they grew old enough to have friends, go to kindergarten etc., Japanese gradually began to take over, so that by the time they reached school age Japanese was their dominant language. At the same time, their English was strong enough that they could not understand the problems their friends were having studying for English tests - they sailed though them all.

I'm sure it's a lot easier for parents today, with regards to English at least; there's multilingual TV, books, videos, DVDs, readily available. Back in the day TV programmes for kids were mostly dubbed into Japanese, and I spent a load of money ordering in English-language books and videos from the UK.

Don't worry about them mixing up their languages when they're little; it's perfectly normal in a bilingual environment. It will sort itself out. Also don't listen to 'experts' who will tell you that children need to have a solid base in the language of the society they live in before a 'foreign' language is introduced, otherwise they won't learn either language properly. That's rubbish. The earlier you start, the easier it is.

Being able to speak more than one language - which apparently well over half the world's population do, it's the monoglots who are the minority - brings more benefits than simply being able to talk to more people, read more books and watch a wider range of videos.

Bilinguals tend to do better in IQ tests; develop Alzheimer's years later than monolinguals with the same disease pathology; recover faster after a stroke. All in addition to having more fun.

If it's at all possible, raise your kids to be at least bilingual.


5 ( +8 / -3 )

I believe every family has its story.

My three children have also been raised mostly the same (they only have been away from each other for about 6 months between my boy and his sisters).

My son, the elder, is with French accent and does not care if speaking Japanese or English, the latest because I was using that language alone when about 6. He studies only in French.

My second child has acquired the three accents by going to school mostly in France when young and watching English videos hiding under the bed when in kindergarten. She now studies only in Japanese.

My third child cannot speak with perfect French although her reading skill is obviously and surprisingly perfect. She has school knowledge of English but catching up pretty fast. She studies mostly in French and in Japanese in an international school.

I try to open them up to any other language they wish. My little one wants to study Chinese and my elder has been studying Spanish. The second does not wish to add another burden and had started to learn German...

Let them be and show how useful all languages can be would be my advice.

Insist maybe more in the writing from the most complex language, here obviously Japanese then French then English.

Languages are just very useful tools.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Shake and mix is the best way from an early age.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

I ought to saying also the obvious that the earlier the better.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

I'm sure it's a lot easier for parents today, with regards to English at least; there's multilingual TV, books, videos, DVDs, readily available. Back in the day TV programmes for kids were mostly dubbed into Japanese, and I spent a load of money ordering in English-language books and videos from the UK.

Yes that is probably true, my parents sent DVDs in both English and French like Blue's clues and Caillou, ( had to get a region free DVD player).

What was even more interesting was all their Japanese friends would ask to come over to watch these shows, watching a bunch of Japanese children screaming "Blue's clues, blue's clues" every time the saw the blue paw print was hilarious!

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Not a negative comment here all nice and interesting information but someone decided they didn't like every single comment.

1 negative to everyone!

I guess the idea of multiple languages and cultures isn't something that person likes!

Very interesting.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

I only get one hour alone with my two-year-old every weekday. We do lots of singing, colouring, reading etc. My wife doesn't speak a lot of English, so only I speak it at home. My daughter is in a Japanese pre-school. As of now, she understands when I speak to her in English, and will say or repeat some English words (fruits, colours, emotions and the like) but try as I might, she won't actually 'speak' to me in English, although she can respond to my English questions correctly, but in Japanese. With the pandemic, obviously I haven't been able to take her back to my home country to immerse her in English for any meaningful period of time. We're in a pretty small town with few other English speakers.

Any advice?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Any advice?

Stick with it. It's getting in her head and building those neural pathways, even if you don't see her reflecting it yet. As long as she can understand a native speaker, she'll be able to learn to speak well at any age when provided with enough opportunity to do so.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

RiskyMosaic, have you considered a bilingual preschool, or something similar? We had a similar problem with our oldest son (he could understand my English, but was talking back in Japanese), and we sent him to a bilingual preschool for one year. Helped a lot.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Thanks Strangerland, zichi and timeon, that's all great advice and encouraging.

I worry that as I'm the only one who speaks English to her, that she might find it difficult to spend time with me. Occasionally she wants me to take her to her grandparents' house down the road. I like to think it's because they spoil her rotten, but sometimes I can't help but feel it's because she's more comfortable in an all-Japanese environment.

have you considered a bilingual preschool, or something similar? 

I have, but cost is an issue, as well as there aren't many close by. I am hoping to get her into schools back home for one month per year or something like that.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

RiskyMosaic - Hang in there! As the others have said, your English is getting into her head and setting up shop there. Don't make a thing about what language she answers you in; so long as the response shows that she is understanding you, it doesn't matter. Whatever you do don't try to make her speak to you in English! If she feels pressure to 'perform', that might well make being with the doting grandparents more fun for her.

And that's the key; make it fun to be with you, to interact with you. The singing, colouring, reading, is the way to go.

My daughter has always been reluctant to speak to me in English, though I did overhear her once when she was about 4, explaining to Obaachan that Mummy says , Daddy says and OBaachan says , but it's all the same really. It's obvious she understands everything said to her and always has, aced all her English exams at school, and has no problem holding a conversation with other English speakers.

My son was a very slow starter; at two and a half he was still managing only the odd word or two in a mishmash of English and Japanese, and at the regular toddler check-up he was suspected of being special needs and we were referred to a speech therapist. When we turned up for our appointment a month later, he was chatting fifteen to the dozen and the perplexed therapist asked why on earth we had brought him. Once he started speaking he started off speaking Japanese to everyone, though he obviously understood my English; now he speaks English naturally to me and uses it extensively in his job. He's also picked up intermediate-level Russian, which he also uses at work.

Keep it fun!

3 ( +6 / -3 )


Thanks for the great response.

Whatever you do don't try to make her speak to you in English! If she feels pressure to 'perform', that might well make being with the doting grandparents more fun for her.

Right. I would never 'make' her do anything. All I try to do is create the opportunity and leave the rest up to her.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

@RiskyMosaic, in addition to other posters, you might consider getting cable tv and putting on Disney channel regularly. I think it works surprisingly well to improve listening and speaking in children. At first I was very frustrated teaching my first son to read using learn-to-read series I bought at the bookstore but he eventually became interested and even after all Japanese schooling went to Waseda in an all English major and now will get a job in an international company. I never would have imagined. He also regularly listens to the English language radio station from the US base near Tokyo.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Communication in English, and only english. There is no future for children in japan who can only speak a language spoken in one country alone.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )


Despite being mostly a single father and speaking mostly English to both my children, both almost always replied in Japanese.

Over 20 years ago my Japanese wasn't even as good as theirs so I would often ignore and say I didn't understand their reply in Japanese.

This motivated them to at least try using more English.

When they wanted something in a store or at home I would basically ignore until they requested in English ( being reasonable and taking into account their skill and vocabulary).

But the biggest improvement came with computers, games that required English really got both trying harder.

There is no real one way or guarantee of success.

My own siblings don't even have the same language skills in our 2 languages with on living nearly 100% using French, 2 using English and French basically interchangeably, one far more comfortable using English.

You get what you get and what they sort of prefer.

Don't worry to much, my son wasn't really interested in English untill Jr high school then suddenly he was ( her name was Suzanne exchange student) ha,ha,ha.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

explaining to Obaachan that Mummy says , Daddy says and OBaachan says , but it's all the same really.

It seems pointy brackets makes words invisible. Oops.

That should be, 'explaining to Obaachan that Mummy says 'doggy', Daddy says 'inu' and OBaachan says 'wanchan', but it's all the same really.'

you might consider getting cable tv

Yes, that is a good idea.

One problem I found with that (for the grandkids now) is that most of the English-language kids' programmes on cable, including Disney of course, are American; and judging from how RiskyMosaic spells colouring correctly, I imagine UK English would be more welcome. CBeebies has lots of great stuff, if only you can get it; not easy in Japan. You could try using a VPN to stream iPlayer, or get family in the UK to send out discs of stuff recorded from the telly - not much different from what I was doing all those years ago with video tapes, except discs are smaller, hold more, and cost less to ship!

There's also a limited amount of stuff available on Amazon, and masses of free stuff on YouTube.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The science says, start at birth and push it. You have up to two years then the language centers in the brain separate, after that, all language must be translated from one to the other.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

No kids, so my own experience for what it's worth.

Family was French-speaking, hence French became my mother tongue.

Country back in Europe had default multi-language FR, DE, UK language environment, including school and work.

From kindergarten to senior senior high-school: FR + DE with additional UK from junior high-school onwards. I added Japanese language in evening classes from senior high-school onwards through university (I was always a language geek). Did had a bout of 2-3 years with Spanish (had a girlfriend), could read it without problems, write it so-so but the accent killed me when listening (and killed others when talking).

Once working, UK, FR and JP became the default requirement. These days, after 27 years of career DE has become "dormant": I can read it, listen to it and understand it without any problems but am pretty rusty speaking or writing. Still, I think that 6 months or so into it would "re-activate" it. Spanish back to zero as completely unused for 20 years (got dumped by said girlfriend). FR, UK native and JP pretty close to native, I think.

What did it for me what the solid educational system (forget NOVA and similar outlets), then the work environment. Curiosity and liking language played a big role too.

As other said, no rules, every story is different. But a joy to learn languages and perseverance is a pre-requisite me thinks.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I think the question is wrong and that there is no "best way" for everyone.

Families are different and what works for some will not work for others. Some people also have vastly different understandings of what the word "bilingual" means. It is also possible to be bilingual by most reasonable expectations and still not be functionally literate in either language. Some people grow up monolingual but are not functionally literate in that language. Someone who is bilingual by person A's standards may not be by person B's.

My eldest is very headstrong and simply refused to speak or learn English after entering (Japanese) kindergarden. The biggest meltdowns she had continuing all through elementary were all about English. She didn't take English up again until she realized it was an easy way to get a good score at JHS. Having experienced it myself, I would warn readers against admitting to other parents that your children have limited ability in the second language. Some, mostly Japanese in single-language households, seem to assume that being bilingual is every haafu's birthright and must happen automatically. I actually dislike this line of thinking because it assumes language is something to be received and not something to be learned, potentially on your own independently of who your parents are. If it's someone I don't care about, I now just say "yes, he/she understands everything I say". It saves me trying to explain something that some people are clearly incapable of understanding.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

My 2 kids -

Pre-school age was mix of Japanese and English.

School age was predominantly English by me and Japanese by Ms Browny.

Sometimes mixed.

No special lessons or study.

English was easy for them at Jnr/Snr high school.

Now both working and truly bi-lingual altho Japanese is stronger.

Close friends here (foreigner & Japanese)with a son and daughter a little older than my 2, only spoke Japanese at home. He told me 20+ years ago "This is Japan so they need to speak Japanese well". Years later he expressed that thinking as a big regret because neither of the sons now 28 yrs & 25yrs can hold a basic conversation in English with any confidence.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

You have up to two years then the language centers in the brain separate, after that, all language must be translated from one to the other.

I’m not sure that’s true. I grew up in an exclusively English environment till I was about 10, then had a bit of French at school followed later by Latin and Greek. Didn’t come into contact with Japanese at all until I was 18, yet I’m pretty sure I don’t translate from one language to the other - except when I’m being paid to, of course. I often find, when working, that I understand perfectly what is on the page in front of me but have to make a conscious effort to turn it into natural English.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

You have up to two years then the language centers in the brain separate, after that, all language must be translated from one to the other.

I don't believe that's scientifically true. Kids can learn languages natively until somewhere around puberty. At least that was the science a number of years ago, maybe it's changed, but I haven't seen anything sayhing it has.

And personally, I learned Japanese as an adult, but after decades of it, I think in Japanese when speaking Japanese. There's no translation going on. Often I have troubles translating when actually called to do so.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Lots of downvoting in this thread, considering there is no one that is saying anything contrary to those being downvoted. Some people must be bitter about not having spoken their native language with their kids.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Just talk to them. It’s not rocket science.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Children do not have to be of mixed parentage to grow up bilingually. My dad was in the service. I grew up speaking German and English. Dad spoke German, but as a second language, and never at home. Children do not learn languages, in any case, they aquire them. It is not a matter of study or conscious effort to learn a language up to about the time of puberty, if they are immersed in both cultures. They need a model for syntax and grammar, and a context for vocabulary aquisition. Chomsky explained the mechanism back in the 50's and 60's.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

AntiquesavingJuly 7  11:06 am JST

My now adult children are fluent in Japanese and English passable in French.

I was mostly a single father throughout most of their lives at home I spoke mostly English despite my primary language being French,

In Canada French and English are the two main languages, with French bing predominant the farther east of Toronto you travel. At the same time at Native reserves Huron, Iroquois and Algonquin are spoken. Polyglotism is good for children.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

If the target language is not the language spoken in the country where the children are raised, you can simply raise your kids monolingually in the target language at home, and they will aquire the dominant language simply by living in that environment - if you have a partner who is willing to raise the kids in a foreign language for 3 years or longer. We did this for years, and my kids had Japanese cold less than 6 months after starting hoikuen. We had videotapes of cartoons and kids programs going in the background every waking hour they were home as a source of constant input. Today, it's way easier on that front. My only regret is that they learned to read Japanese before English, and because English orthography is so irregular, it really hampered their initial sight recognition of words. Don't just read to your kids, have them read along with you, and point out words for them to find, or have them find where you are on the page.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Speak both languages at home, with an emphasis on the one not used in society at large.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Lots of interesting comments. Thanks. One thing I'd mention is that not all kids are the same, so you may not see the same results from whatever approach you adopt.

In my case, our kids are nine years apart. The eldest lived her first eleven years in Japan. Japanese was the main language at home and outside. While I spoke English to her all the time, she replied in Japanese. We still talk like that some 30 years later. And although now fluent in English to my ears, she'd class Japanese as her "native" language. But even when speaking Japanese she will sometimes drop in English words and expressions that she first learned in an English environment - for example, scientific expressions first learned at secondary school and university. The youngest only lived the first year of his life in Japan, and so would probably class English as his first language. But he speaks Japanese to his mum and sister. Conversations between him and his sister can be amusing - generally in Japanese but with various English phrases thrown in.

As a family, none of us would probably be considered linguistically competent. Under the Scottish education system, none of us hold an English higher certificate. And my wife doesn't hold any equivalent for Japanese. The kids are more on the maths, science, and creative side. Ask any of us to "Describe the character of Lady Macbeth", and we'd feel ill. But ask the kids to create a theme tune or logo for something, and a method of compressing the data output and they'd jump straight in.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Since coming from a very diverse family, we speak several languages in the home, the kids just naturally learned and when they grew older I would give them English lessons as an anchor root base and after they became comfortable and more fluent in it, we went on to the other languages, the kids never had any problems, they're amphibious with very little accent and pretty much the same way I and my siblings were raised, I just past that same trait on to them.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It might also be worthy to note that learning more than one language when your young can also benefit you when you grow up and have a career. Many veterans I know have to take classes in the foreign language of where they get stationed at whether it's Japan, Korea, Germany, Poland, the Middle East. And having taken encryption and cybersecurity classes for my computer science degree, I know that programs used in the local language with its writing and syntax.

IOW for all these video games we enjoy, the Japanese designers had to learn how to write the programs and commands with our own syntax and with the Roman alphabet. And in cyberwarfare you need to write the 'virus' or 'Trojan horse' in your target's language, syntax and writing characters. Russian hackers use cyberattacks written in English syntax and words and with Roman letters, that's how they hacked the Electoral College on Election Day 2016 and lately with their recent hacking in Estonia they had to know Estonian words and syntax to do so. Same for Chinese hackers, they have to know our language. And when the Pentagon under the Obama administration sent a cyberattack on Iran's nuclear facilities it was written in Farsi with Arabic letters. This was first done successfully back in 1999 during the Kosovo War, NATO's Trojan horse disabled the Serbian defense like a charm, it was written in Serbo-Croatian with Cyrillic letters and syntax.

Knowing more than one language can be very beneficial and useful.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Each parent teach them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'm not sure if there is a best way. However, I think a key to bilingualism is exposure to target languages; especially those spoken by family and relatives. I speak to my kids in English, along with some Spanish, while my wife (Japanese) speaks to them in both Japanese and English. Kid's minds are like sponges where they soak up anything at young ages. They'll pick up any dialects, local slang, mannerisms, and formal/informal speech mostly from their peers and people who they have long exposures to.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Things get “tricky” when English is not your native tongue and you’re not living in your home country. For those in that situation, I guess the right choice is to go with the universal language first ( if you’re fluent in it, that is ). The kids will learn the other 2 / 3 languages in a very natural way.

Thank you all for your answers.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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