Bilingual Style

Could a Handful of Dice Get Your Bilingual Kids Speaking More?

One of the helpful things about being a longtime teacher of children is that I’ve amassed a lot of games and other playful items over the years. (To tell the truth, I probably became a teacher just so I could continue collecting toys as an adult!)

Among them is a little plastic bag that contains 18 dice in various colors. I know I bought some of these dice at a cheap variety store in town, but I have no idea where all the others came from. (Have they been mating?)

Anyway, last week I grabbed this bag from the shelf—to distract my kids from murdering each other after their nightly bath—but I seem to have discovered some fun and useful games for encouraging use of the minority language—any language—with a handful of dice. (And strengthening math skills, too.)

In fact, my kids have become so feverish about rolling these dice every night before bed that I’m beginning to worry about a gambling addiction. :mrgreen:

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What's the Best Book About Raising Bilingual Children?

I can’t claim to have read everything on raising bilingual children, but I do read pretty widely on the subject. My interest in the literature began about 15 years ago when I became a teacher of bilingual children at Hiroshima International School, and now continues with my own kids.

The truth is, because I knew, early on, that the odds were against me—my wife would be the main caregiver and my children would eventually be attending school in the majority language—I felt I had to do all I could, as the minority language parent, to raise those odds and put them more in my favor.

And a big part of that aim involves reading.

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Watch Out for the Tough "Second Stage" of Bilingual Development

This week was the start of the new school year in Japan. (The Japanese school year runs from April to March.) Lulu is now in fourth grade and Roy is in second grade at our local elementary school.

In Japan, as children advance to higher grade levels, they spend longer days in school, and come home with heavier loads of homework. For example, in third grade, Lulu arrived home at 3:30 p.m. on Mondays and 2 p.m. on Thursdays, while the other days she trudged in at 4:30 p.m. (We live about 20 minutes from the school on foot.)

But now that she’s in fourth grade, she’ll be arriving home at 4:30 p.m. every day.

The great “exposure gap”

I’ve written before about the great “exposure gap” between a bilingual child’s two languages once schooling begins in the majority language. In Do Your Children Go to School in the Majority Language?, I related the story of how I visited Lulu’s third grade classroom (with a hole in my sock) and was hit hard by the reality of her exposure to Japanese—at the expense of English, our minority language. The fact is, despite my ongoing efforts, this “exposure gap” has been wide, and growing wider, ever since she entered first grade.

And starting this week, it grew wider still. (Sigh.)

My second post about schooling in the majority language, Help! My Bilingual Children Are Losing Their Ability in the Minority Language!, describes this challenge in even greater detail. And in that post, I make an important distinction between the “first stage” and the “second stage” of bilingual development.

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As parents of bilingual children, it can be difficult to find perspective in our current struggles. Will my firm actions today really bring about a successful result tomorrow? Will my kids finally appreciate my efforts, though they now seem so defiant and ungrateful at times?

This feature series, “Thank You Letter from a Bilingual Child,” attempts to provide some helpful perspective on these concerns by offering the thoughts of bilingual adults reflecting on their upbringing as bilingual children.

If you’re a bilingual adult and would like to contribute to this series by writing a thank you letter to your parents or another loved one, just contact me to express your interest in guest posting at Bilingual Monkeys.

Olga as a budding bilingual child.

Olga as a budding bilingual child.

Olga Mecking is Polish and lives in the Netherlands with her German husband. Born to multilingual parents, she was raised in Polish and German. Now a mother of three, ages 4, 3, and 1, she is raising her children in Polish, German, and Dutch, the next proud multilingual generation in her family. Meanwhile, Olga also maintains a lively blog called The European Mama, where you’ll find a variety of posts, including an interview with me and, more importantly, some mouth-watering recipes.

Dear Parents,

You were right. You were absolutely right in your decision to raise me with more than one language.

I was three years old when we moved to Germany. I learned to speak German so quickly that people wondered: “Why does that child speak perfect German and her parents have a heavy Slavic accent?”

But who cares about an accent when you can communicate just fine with your son-in-law and your three grandchildren?

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Manga Library

The “Manga Library” in Hiroshima

I’ve lived in Hiroshima for 17 years so it’s natural that I’ve been to practically all the points of interest in the city. However, until just the other day, there was one notable place I hadn’t been to: the Manga Library. (“Manga” is the Japanese word for “comic book,” and the Japanese people are passionate about manga, for all ages.)

It’s a bit strange, actually, that I had never been there, considering that it’s located right near the Museum of Contemporary Art, which I’ve visited dozens of times. But not feeling a real need to enter the Manga Library, I always passed it by.

Recently, though, because of this year’s resolution to get my kids reading regularly in English (our minority language) by maintaining a fresh flow of comic books into our home, I thought of the Manga Library: Would they have a few comics in English, too?

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Note: This post was adapted from the introduction to Instant Inspiration for Parents Raising Bilingual Kids, a resource I created to address a crucial aspect of the bilingual journey—something that will make or break your success—and yet is generally overlooked. I call this resource a “power pack” because it’s designed to do just that: empower your efforts and your success.

Instant Inspiration for Parents Raising Bilingual KidsYou need three things to raise a bilingual child.

First, you need guidelines. Information and advice grounded on research and real-world experience should serve as the foundation for your bilingual journey. The better informed you are, the better equipped you’ll be to create an effective plan for your particular set of circumstances.

Most books on raising bilingual children naturally focus on offering guidelines.

Second, you need practical ideas. Knowledge of general guidelines is vital, but they can’t really be implemented successfully without concrete ideas that you can draw on daily to advance your child’s language development. These ideas involve not only strategies for nurturing language ability, they include awareness of suitable resources for supporting your minority language.

Most books on raising bilingual children have a limited amount of information when it comes to practical ideas.

And the third thing you need is something that I’ve rarely encountered in a book on raising bilingual children. In fact, it’s rarely discussed directly elsewhere, either, whether in blogs or in conversation. And this is odd, really, because to succeed at raising a bilingual child this third thing is absolutely essential.

What is it?

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Lulu, in high spirits and low spirits.

Lulu, in high spirits and low spirits.

I empathize, deeply, with how hard it can be to maintain sufficient support for the minority language, day after day, year after year. And this is especially true if, like me, your children attend school in the majority language and yet your hopes for their language ability are high: not only do you want them to communicate well in the minority language, you’d like them to have strong skills in reading and writing, too.

Recently, though, an experience with my daughter became a sharp reminder that, in the end, the important thing isn’t how hard a task is—the important thing is how much effort we’re willing to give to it.

And this is equally true of both parents and children.

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I like Dr. Seuss, but I love Dostoyevsky!

In this lively guest post, Tatyana Leskowicz shares a successful strategy for getting a small child to actively use the minority language. (Hint: It has something to do with buckets!)

Tatyana, born in Russia to Russian parents, now lives in the United States with her American husband and their two daughters, ages 4 and 1. They follow the OPOL (one person-one language) approach in their home, with Tatyana speaking Russian and her husband speaking English.

Be sure to also read Tatyana’s Thank You Letter from a Bilingual Child, a lovely post in which she reflects on her own upbringing as a bilingual child and thanks her parents for their efforts.

Any child of mine will be bilingual in the womb. How could they not? If I can become fluent in four languages, surely they can master just two by the time they’re born. All right, maybe I was being overly ambitious. I understand that children don’t come out speaking, but surely we’ll be chatting in Russian about the merits of Dostoyevsky by the time they turn five.

Alas, my modest expectations were not being met as I faced my daughter, then two and a half, who told me in perfect English that she wanted strawberries.

No Dostoyevsky, no Russian, not even a request for borscht to soothe my wounded ego.

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Corey Heller and her family

Today I’m delighted to share an inspiring, in-depth interview with Corey Heller, the founder of Multilingual Living, “a place where families can find support, information and motivation in raising multilingual and multicultural children.” Corey, an American, lives with her German husband in Seattle, Washington where they raise and homeschool their three children, ages 12, 10, and 8, in German and English.

Corey has been an important trailblazer in providing support to families seeking to raise multilingual children and I greatly admire the efforts she has made over the years. In this candid interview, conducted via email, she offers a personal glimpse of her own bilingual journey as well as a wealth of wise advice for parents. Thank you, Corey, for giving us all this insightful look at your life and your work.

1. Could you share the background behind Multilingual Living? What motivated you to create the site?
Although it may seem unbelievable now, back in 2001, when my first child was born, there were really no online resources for families raising children in more than one language, let alone communities focused on this topic. There were a few books out there, which were extremely helpful, but other than that, bilingual/multilingual families were pretty much on their own.

My goal with Multilingual Living was to change that landscape: to help create a source of information and resources for families around the world raising children in more than one language. I wanted to help dispel the ridiculous myths circulating about raising children bilingually so that families everywhere could do what they deep down knew was right for their families. I wanted to help establish an online community where families could connect, share their experiences and learn about multilingualism in the process.

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The Funniest Activity I’ve Ever Done with My Bilingual Kids and Students

This might sound like an exaggeration, but it’s honestly not: the activity I’ll share with you today often gets my bilingual kids and students laughing like mad chipmunks. And it hits the funny bone of a wide range of ages, too, from first graders to teens. (I’ve even done this activity when I was teaching at local universities, and these college students learning English as a second language—who were normally so shy and passive—would soon be seized by fits of laughter.)

First, though, I should back up and explain that my use of this activity—I call it “Silly Stories”—can be traced back to my own childhood and the time I spent giggling over a word game known as Mad Libs.

If you’re not familiar with Mad Libs, it’s a game where one player prompts another player (or several other players) for words to complete the blanks of an unfinished story. The text is then read aloud, and the results—often crazy and comical—are met with grins and laughter.

Dozens of Mad Libs books have been issued since the first one was published in the United States in 1958, selling a total of over 110 million copies. So it’s clearly a very successful word game, and I suspect it can be adapted for any target language, adding another powerful tool to your bag of tricks.

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Parenthood: Even when it's hell, it's heaven.

When my daughter was born, nearly 10 years ago, I instantly became a father, a parent. I didn’t immediately become a parent of a bilingual child, too—this happened more gradually over time.

It’s worth keeping firmly in mind that we’re all parents first, and parents of bilingual children second. As I stress in What to Do When Your Bilingual Child Won’t Speak Your Language

The bilingual journey, for both you and your children, should be more joy than burden. I understand the frustrations that can come with supporting the minority language, but we can’t let those frustrations weigh on our day-to-day relationships with our kids. After all, from the child’s point of view, being loved will always be more important than being bilingual.

To emphasize this point, and reflect on our primary role as parents, I’ve assembled an array of great quotes on parenthood for this post. The more effective we want to be as parents of bilingual children, the more effective we need to be, first and foremost, as parents.

1. There really are places in the heart you don’t even know exist until you love a child. —Anne Lamott

2. You don’t really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave at his parents every time around—and why his parents will always wave back. —William D. Tammeus

3. A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove, but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child. —Forest Witcraft

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