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3333 Posts About Raising Bilingual Children

In July 2014, I opened the gates to The Bilingual Zoo, an online forum, so that the worldwide community which has grown around Bilingual Monkeys could actively provide mutual support and encouragement through their collective experiences and ideas. I’m happy to say that The Bilingual Zoo has since become a very friendly and lively site and a source of ongoing support for many “keepers” of bilingual kids as they navigate the challenges of their bilingual journey.

As of today, there are…

*477 registered members and large numbers of unregistered visitors

Access to The Bilingual Zoo—including full membership—is free and will always be free because I want the site to be useful to everyone, regardless of personal circumstances. At the same time, since maintaining the site does cost money (with rising traffic, the amount in fees for the forum platform alone will probably approach $300 US this year), I encourage both members and regular visitors to make a modest annual contribution, if they can, to help ease this burden: The suggested donation—welcomed, but not required—is $12 US, an amount equal to just $1 a month.

Click here to learn more about the benefits of membership in The Bilingual Zoo.

Click here to make your small contribution to support The Bilingual Zoo.

*11 boards, among them Introduce Yourself; Questions & Concerns; Strategies, Ideas, & Resources; Take a Challenge; and Track Your Progress

*522 threads

*3,333 posts

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When it comes to the endless challenge of providing our children with exposure in the minority language, short-term projects can be a very productive way of enhancing our usual daily efforts.

Examples of short-term projects include: making videotaped interviews or “dramatic” films; creating a picture book or comic book; writing and performing a short play; singing and recording a favorite song (even making up your own); inventing a new game and playing it together; compiling a photo album and adding captions; pursing crafts or a building task; researching and reporting on some subject of interest; and many more.

One mother even pursued a year-long project by sending a stuffed alligator on a worldwide trip where it enjoyed “homestays” with a number of families in different countries who reported on their experiences. She and her two children blogged all about the alligator’s adventures—in both of their languages—and it turned out to be a really fun and effective project. To learn more about it, see How a Globe-Trotting Alligator Helped One Family Find Greater Fun and Success On Their Bilingual Journey.

Well, although my daily efforts have been quite proactive and persistent for many years, it’s also true that I haven’t really taken advantage of the potential of short-term projects to the extent I could. For a long time I wanted to pursue a film project with my kids, which would not only enable us to engage in using the minority language together to execute the project, it could produce a fun result—a little movie starring their childhood selves—that they would fondly remember, and laughingly view, for the rest of their lives.

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The Beauty of Cherry Blossoms and Bilingual Children

Today I took my usual morning stroll through the neighborhood (see this previous post to accompany me on a virtual walk), but the experience was hardly usual: Japan’s annual cherry blossoms have been out in full force in Hiroshima for the past few days and they’re absolutely beautiful. At the same time, the huge cherry tree perched on a hill near our house has already begun dropping its petals, like light pink snowflakes.

That’s the thing about cherry blossoms: They’re so beautiful, but so fleeting. They generally bloom in early April, producing a wonderland of white and pink…and yet just days later they fall in a great flurry. Not only does their exquisite beauty come from the breathtaking sight of the flowers themselves, but from the fact that they bloom so briefly.

To me, the yearly cherry blossoms are nature’s strongest reminder of the beauty and brevity of life itself. They remind me how important it is to appreciate each day, each moment, as best I can, making the most of the short time I’m given to walk through this marvelous, but utterly mysterious, universe.

The idea of “seizing each day” has been a key theme of this blog (see the resource page Deeper Inspiration), because not only is this mindset at the heart of living a fulfilling life, our ultimate success on the bilingual journey is directly connected to how mindfully proactive we can be in providing our children with exposure in the target language, day after day after day. In other words, the more we can appreciate the beauty and brevity of each day, the more satisfaction we will surely experience on both the bilingual journey and on the greater journey of our lives.

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Hiroshima Dragonfiles

Two years ago, a professional basketball team was born in Hiroshima: the Hiroshima Dragonflies. They aren’t the best team in the Japanese National Basketball League, but we enjoy watching their games from time to time at the local sports center.

The other day we saw an exciting game (which they lost 86 to 85!), and came away impressed with one of the players in particular: Not only is he a great player, he also has a great name!

Shannon Shorter. (Every team in the Japanese National Basketball League has a few international players, and Shannon Shorter is from the United States.)

Fun bit of language

Now I’m not making light of his name, not at all. It’s just that, as a bit of language, with the “Sh” alliteration and balance of two syllables in each word, this name is very appealing and great fun to say.

Go ahead, say it with me: Shannon Shorter.

No, I mean out loud. Once more now: Shannon Shorter.

So there I was, the day after the game, playing basketball with my newly nine-year-old son. Since we live on a small, quiet street, with very little traffic, I simply park a short, free-standing basket in the middle of the road, and that’s where we play. I’m not very tall—and couldn’t come close to dunking the ball on a real basket—but I can happily pretend I’m a giant when I dunk over Roy’s head on this one.

“Shannon Shorter!” I cried, slashing toward the basket.

“Hey!” Roy protested. “I’m Shannon Shorter!”

I paused. “Okay, you can be Shannon Shorter,” I said.

Then I grinned and shouted: “I’m Terry Taller!” And I dunked over his head again.

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This Is When You Should Give Up the Idea of Raising a Bilingual Child

The other day I received a message from a frustrated parent, on the verge of abandoning the bilingual journey, who explained:

“I’ve done my very best, but my child just won’t speak the minority language.”

In fact, I hear this claim now and again so it isn’t uncommon. But I think it’s worth keenly reflecting on this sentiment for a moment.

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"Think Bilingual" app

About a year and a half ago, our bilingual journey became a trilingual journey when my kids began learning Spanish alongside Japanese and English. While their level in Spanish is still quite low compared to their native fluency in Japanese and English, they’ve made steady progress with the help of twice-monthly lessons from a friendly woman in Hiroshima who’s originally from Spain and small, daily doses of exposure to Spanish from workbooks and apps.

Although I suppose some exposure could also come from me directly, the fact that I can’t speak Spanish—and haven’t yet made a solid commitment to studying the language myself—means that, at least for now, I must rely on other sources of input to nurture their development in this third language.

Toward that end, we finally got an iPad last year, and along with apps that can stretch their English, I’ve tried several apps to help promote their Spanish. Today I’d like to share one unique app that we’ve used—and Spanish isn’t the only language it supports. The app also includes versions for learning French and English and will eventually have Chinese, Japanese, and Portuguese versions, too.

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Nobody’s Perfect at Raising Bilingual Children

I sometimes see parents—even parents experiencing good success at their bilingual aim—who are awfully hard on themselves over missteps or missed opportunities. It’s one thing, I think, to be self-critical to a reasonable degree in order to continuously strengthen our daily efforts; this is a constructive form of critique that can fuel growth.

But when this tendency to be self-critical goes too far, it can become counterproductive, sapping energy and undermining action, even causing some to consider abandoning their bilingual dream.

Here’s the thing: None of us can possibly be perfect at raising bilingual children. Everyone—and that certainly includes me—inevitably meets with missteps and missed opportunities along the way. And since this aspect of the journey can’t be avoided, it’s best to humbly accept our shortcomings and simply work at learning from them in order to constructively empower our continuing growth and our longer-term progress.

In other words, the important thing isn’t perfection, it’s perseverance. As long as you remain persistent in your efforts, and you mindfully try one tactic after another to address the difficulties and frustrations you face, you will eventually produce positive developments and further your success. Yes, you may stumble and fall, and lay there feeling stumped for a while, but if you can just get to your feet once more, time after time, you will always be given the grace to try again. No matter the misstep, no matter the missed opportunity, progress is assured when, in the end, we rise more times than we fall.

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Recommended Resources: Inspiring Podcasts About Raising Bilingual Children

One of the most challenging aspects of raising a bilingual child is that parenting itself keeps us so busy it can be hard to find the time and energy to read books and blogs on a regular basis to continually stretch our knowledge of the subject and strengthen the effectiveness of our actions.

If only there was some way we could continue to learn from others—other parents and professionals—while simply going about our daily routine of childcare, household chores, drives to the store, and commutes to work. Some friendly spirits, perhaps, that would whisper words of experience and encouragement into our weary ears, offering us ideas and inspiration for realizing even greater success on our bilingual journey.

Well, thanks to Olena Centeno and Marianna Du Bosq, this isn’t just wishful thinking.

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Kannon statue

Most mornings, after my kids head off to school, I take a walk through the neighborhood before I begin my work for the day. (I work from home, as a writer and teacher.) A 20-minute stroll isn’t much exercise, I know, but it keeps me from turning completely into a large vegetable and also offers a little quiet time where I’m alone with my thoughts.

While I generally stick to the same route through our residential corner of Hiroshima, Japan, from time to time I plod away in another direction, toward a different destination in this area.

For this post, though, I went a little crazy and did both walks (and felt like crawling back into bed afterward), carrying along my camera to capture the sights I saw today and create a virtual experience of my morning routine and my reflections on the bilingual journey.

So put on your walking shoes and join me!

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Why Saying a Lot of Dumb Things to Your Bilingual Kids Is So Valuable to Their Language Development

Saying dumb things to your bilingual children can actually be very smart.

At dinner the other day I was asking my fifth-grade daughter about her weekly afterschool club at the local elementary school my kids attend. (These club activities are an option from the fourth grade so my third-grade son will be able to take part soon.) The conversation started off something like this…

ME: How was dodgeball club today?

LULU: Fun.

ME: I’m glad you had fun.

(Lulu silently chews a mouthful of rice.)

ME: I bet you like dodgeball club better than chess club. (Last time she had no choice but chess club.)

LULU: Yeah.

(She quietly sips her tea.)

ME: What’s better about dodgeball club?

LULU: It’s fun.

I think you get the picture. As my kids grow older, these conversations about their daily life seem to be shrinking in scope and detail, and shortchanging their engagement in the minority language.

But here’s the thing: In my own odd way, I try not to let our conversations end there. If the talk about daily life is dry and unproductive, I instinctively begin saying dumb things instead.

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