The Bilingual Zoo, a new community for parents and teachers! .

Highlights from Bilingual Monkeys: September-October 2013

As I explained earlier, I’m now taking a little break from blogging to focus on other writing projects. Over the past two years I’ve written more than 200 articles about raising bilingual children so this is a good time to take a short pause and let you catch up with previous posts that you may have missed.

One writing project is a book about raising bilingual children. My goal for this book is to provide ideas that will not only help parents achieve success, but maximize that success. This will be my mission moving forward: maximizing our children’s bilingual development.

If you’d like “inside information” on my new book—I’ll keep you posted on my progress and even give you the chance to win a free preview copy—just click this link to add your email address to a special list. (I’ll only email you occasionally, and only about my book.)

Yes, I’m interested in your book on maximizing success at raising bilingual children.

At the same time, I’ll continue to remain active at the forum for our community, The Bilingual Zoo, so please stop by and say hello. It’s a friendly, lively place for “keepers” of bilingual kids and admission is free for all.

P.S. Don’t miss my major update of the most popular post on this site, titled My Best Tips for Raising Bilingual Kids. It now contains 44 important tips and runs over 5,000 words.

What Frustrates Me About Raising Bilingual Children
“Preventive medicine” can lessen the difficulties, and accompanying frustrations, of raising bilingual kids.

There’s a Fine Line Between Being Firm and Being Rigid
Being firm is productive, but being too firm crosses the line into being rigid, and that’s counterproductive ground.

43 Great Quotes on the Power and Importance of Reading
Inspiring quotes on books and reading for parents and teachers.

A Friend of Mine Died
Since my friend passed away, I wake each morning and whisper: seize the day.

What Language Should I Speak in Public with My Bilingual Child?
Be careful that your use of the majority language doesn’t undermine your greater goal for your child’s development in the minority language.

You Are Not Alone
You can do this. Keep going, keep trying, day by day, and keep breathing in as much joy on this memorable journey as your heart can possibly hold.

Important Thoughts on Babies and Hammers
How is a stone cutter and his hammer a powerful metaphor for parents raising bilingual children?

19 Things I Haven’t Told You About Me and My Family
Here’s a personal peek into the past and present, with some fun photos, too.

How I Get My Bilingual Son to Talk His Head Off in the Minority Language
Here’s a fun activity for parent and child that promotes non-stop use of the target language and frees the imagination completely.

This Great Way to Get Bilingual Kids Talking More is Often Overlooked
Here’s a rich, ready source of inspiration for storytelling in the target language.

A Powerful Twist on the Use of Skype to Promote the Minority Language
Try this strategy for fueling lively conversations via Skype with grandparents and other loved ones.

Making Science a Bigger Part of a Bilingual Child’s Life and Language Development
How do I nurture my children’s language ability about the world at large, in scientific terms, when I’m practically a caveman myself?

How Blaming Your Kids For Things They Didn’t Do Can Boost Their Language Ability
Try this fun, playful way to prompt interaction in the minority language!

Is It Too Late For My Child to Become Bilingual?
What options are there for beginning or boosting a child’s bilingual development at an older age?

My Son Disappears, I Lose My Mind, and the World is Beautiful
Last weekend there was a festival at a local shrine in our neighborhood. We almost didn’t go—and afterward, I wished we hadn’t…

Highlights from Bilingual Monkeys: July-August 2013

Happy Birthday, Bilingual Monkeys! This month my blog turns two! I hope you’ve found my work helpful to your bilingual journey. I’m really grateful for your interest and your support.

The past two years have been exciting for me. It’s wonderful to connect with people all over the world on a topic that means so much to our lives. One day, when I can finally tear myself away from this computer and travel more, I look forward to meeting many of you in person!

At the same time, I’ll be honest: writing over 200 blog posts has left me a bit winded. It isn’t easy maintaining this site (and responding to email) on top of my “day job” as a writer and editor, tutoring bilingual kids on the side, and spending time with my family. The truth is, I now need to focus more on other writing projects, and so, for a little while, I’ll take a break from blogging and let you catch up with previous posts, from the past year, that you may have missed.

One writing project, actually, is a book about raising bilingual children. My goal for this book is to provide ideas that will not only help parents achieve success, but maximize that success. This will be my mission moving forward: maximizing our children’s bilingual development.

If you’d like “inside information” on my new book—I’ll keep you posted on my progress and even give you the chance to win a free preview copy—just click this link to add your email address to a special list. (I’ll only email you occasionally, and only about my book.)

Yes, I’m interested in your book on maximizing success at raising bilingual children.

At the same time, I’ll continue to remain active at the forum for our community, The Bilingual Zoo, so please stop by and say hello. It’s a friendly, lively place for “keepers” of bilingual kids and admission is free for all.

I’ll also continue sending out my weekly newsletter each Sunday. If you’re not already receiving my free newsletter, it’s the very best way to keep up with all the action at the blog and forum. For full details, just see the subscribe page.

As always, thank you for sharing your favorite posts with the world via Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites!

Also, don’t miss my major update of the most popular post on this site, My Best Tips for Raising Bilingual Kids. It now contains 44 important tips and runs over 5,000 words.

If This Isn’t a Big Part of Your Strategy for Raising Bilingual Kids, It Really Should Be
Parents seeking to raise bilingual children must make the effort to create a “print-rich environment” in the minority language.

The One Way Parents of Bilingual Kids Must Be Like a Panda Bear
A panda eating bamboo is the perfect symbol of a mindset needed by us all to advance steadily on this bilingual journey.

3 Good Ways to Boost a Bilingual Child’s Language Ability and Loving Bond with Grandparents
How can we strengthen our children’s ties to their grandparents, while stretching their ability in the minority language?

Creative Solutions to Challenges Raising Bilingual Children
The broader our capacity for creative thinking, the more likely we’ll come up with effective ways to address the challenges of raising bilingual kids.

Can You See How Quickly Time Is Passing?
If you don’t take adequate advantage of the time that you have, the results may not be what you had hoped for at the start of this journey.

To Reach Your Destination, You Can’t Just Sit On Your Suitcase and Cry
Pursue the bilingual journey as you would a long trip: deal with the difficulties and keep heading toward your destination.

What My Hiroshima-Born Children Think About the Atomic Bombing
What do my children think about the atomic bombing, about war, about peace? I sat down with my kids on August 6 and asked them these questions.

96 Things You Can Do Today to Boost Your Child’s Bilingual Ability
A lengthy list of activities you can pursue, right now, to nurture a child’s language development, whatever your target language.

2 Key Reasons to Keep an Archive of Your Children’s Work
If you don’t already have a satisfactory system for collecting your children’s written work, this is something that really deserves your attention.

A Sneaky Way to Get Bilingual Kids to Use the Minority Language
To get your children eagerly using the minority language, try making “mystery” a conscious tactic in your efforts.

Why I’m Like This Rumbling Volcano (And Why You Should Be, Too)
How can you sustain an effective homework routine to nurture literacy in the minority language?

The Dark Secret to Success at Raising Bilingual Kids
What vital secret do cave formations—stalactites and stalagmites, in particular—whisper to parents raising bilingual children?

Lost teddy bear

I came across this teddy bear in the middle of the disaster zone. It lay on top of a guardrail, surrounded by mounds of white bags filled with mud.

A lost teddy bear, eyes staring at the sky. A wet ribbon around its neck. A silent bell.

What happened to the child who once loved it?

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Secrets of a Successful Homework Routine, Part 2

Eighteen months ago, when my kids were 8 and 5, I offered a detailed look at our daily homework routine in the minority language, which began (gently) when they were around the age of 3. In that post—Secrets of a Successful Homework Routine, Part 1—I discuss the value of a homework routine for nurturing literacy and overall language development, and I provide a range of strategies and resources that I’ve found useful to my own efforts. (Many of these resources, of course, are for supporting English, our minority language.)

If you haven’t yet read that post, I encourage you to start there, then return here, in order to view the bigger picture of our homework routine to date.

Now that Lulu is 10 and Roy is 7, and the strategies and resources involved in our homework routine have naturally evolved over time, I thought I would bring you up to date by sharing the “secrets” of our current routine.

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Traveling by ferry from France to Ireland

Traveling by ferry from France to Ireland

This article continues a series of guest posts at Bilingual Monkeys called “Bilingual Travelers.” What sort of impact does travel to a location where the minority language is spoken widely have on a child’s bilingual development and bicultural upbringing? In this series we join other families as they make trips to destinations around the world and report back on their experiences.

If you’d like to contribute an article to the “Bilingual Travelers” series—or the series Thank You Letter From a Bilingual Child—please contact me to express your interest in guest posting at Bilingual Monkeys.

Peter Martin, originally from Dublin, Ireland, now lives in France with his French wife and their three children: two daughters, 7 and 5, and a son, 2. The children are being raised in French and English.

Peter runs his own business, Globeclic, which designs and localizes websites and pursues other digital projects for international markets.

Like other parents raising bilingual children, I want to expose my kids to the culture of the minority language as much as possible. So when the opportunity arose to travel back to Ireland for ten days this summer to see family and friends, I was quite excited. I know France and Ireland aren’t exactly a million miles apart, but it’s not so easy to get back there, even for a brief stay, when I have to find a time that’s good for everyone and juggle job commitments on top of that.

Since my first daughter was born, seven years ago, I’ve been experiencing the immense joy and privilege of living life as a bilingual family. It hasn’t been easy, though. Because, selfishly, I had to learn French to help me find employment, just when my daughter was born, I had to use both languages and she was conscious of the fact that Daddy was gaining ability in the majority language, too. But it’s encouraging to see that, with each new day, my kids are absorbing and using new English words.

Having three children means that I can see how they adapt to the two languages in their own personal way. On one hand, returning to Ireland for a visit is always a litmus test for my children to see how well their minority language is progressing. On the other hand, it enables me to see how well I’m doing as a mentor for their bilingual journey.

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The Children's Peace Monument

On top of a monument in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park stands the bronze statue of a young girl, arms raised toward the sky, holding aloft a large paper crane. The girl’s name is Sadako Sasaki and she served as the inspiration for the Children’s Peace Monument.

Sadako Sasaki died at the age of 12, ten years after the atomic bomb exploded in the sky above Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945—exactly 69 years ago today. At the time, she was just two, but the radiation spewed over the city by the bomb poisoned her body and led to her leukemia in the sixth grade.

Still, as Sadako’s health faded, she folded paper cranes with every scrap of paper she could find. In Japanese lore, folding a thousand paper cranes is an act that can fulfill a wish, and Sadako wished fervently to be well again. When she reached 1,000, and her health had not improved, she carried on, unbowed. Even bedridden, with paper so scarce she resorted to folding cranes no bigger than a fingernail, using a needle to make the tiny folds, Sadako persisted. She folded paper cranes until she finally no longer had the strength to make another.

In all, Sadako Sasaki made nearly 1,500 paper cranes, which filled her hospital room, before passing away at 9:57 a.m. on October 25, 1955.

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Have You Failed at Raising a Bilingual Child?

Lately, I’ve heard from several parents with the same concern: they feel that they’ve “failed” at their goal of raising a bilingual child. Because this feeling is so common—and can be so counterproductive—I thought I might share my perspective on “failure.” If possible, I’d like to help rekindle hope.

1. There is no “failure.”

True, your child’s current ability in the minority language may not match your original hopes or expectations, but this isn’t “failure”—it’s simply the level of ability achieved to date. In other words, let’s properly put the stress where it belongs: on achievement. The fact is, you’ve already made substantial progress, I’m sure—maybe not progress that feels satisfying to the degree you’d like—but progress nonetheless. And whatever level of ability your child has achieved to this point can then be advanced as you move forward.

The tricky part is—and here’s what breeds the feeling of “failure”—much of this progress, especially early on, can’t really be seen if the child isn’t speaking yet, or tends to rely on the majority language to communicate. But if you’ve been making consistent efforts, you can be sure that knowledge of the minority language has been steadily growing inside the child’s mind. (See Important Thoughts on Babies and Hammers for a helpful metaphor.)

Frankly, the only way you could truly claim that you’ve “failed” is if your child makes no progress at all, despite your continuous efforts, over the course of 18 years of childhood! In this light, is “failure” even possible?

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WHY I DON'T WANT MY KIDS TO DO WELL IN SCHOOL

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that my two children attend our local Japanese elementary school. Lulu, 10, is now in fourth grade, and Roy, 7, is in second grade. Because of their schooling, they receive substantially less exposure in English than they do in Japanese.

In previous posts—Do Your Bilingual Children Go to School in the Majority Language? and Help! My Bilingual Children Are Losing Their Ability in the Minority Language!, I discuss the potential “danger” of this “second stage” of the bilingual journey, when the child begins formal schooling and this spike in exposure to the majority language shifts the balance of power: the majority language grows dominant at the expense of the minority language, which may turn more passive.

In fact, because of this possibility, in these articles I stress the importance of visiting the school and seeing what the child is experiencing with your own eyes in order to grasp the hard reality of this intensive exposure to the majority language, day after day. By recognizing clearly what you’re up against, you can better match your motivation to the size of the challenge, enabling you to be more effective in supporting the child’s minority side.

Because I face this challenge myself, I now make a point of visiting the school whenever I have the chance so I can experience this harsh, but helpful, “reality check.” (And, of course, to cheer on my kids in their classes!)

Well, we’ve just begun the summer break in Japan, but there was another “parents’ day” not long ago and I went to school to observe my children once again.

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Bilingual Travelers: Spring in Hungary Brings Blooming Language Ability

This article starts a new series of guest posts at Bilingual Monkeys called “Bilingual Travelers.” What sort of impact does travel to a location where the minority language is spoken widely have on a child’s bilingual development and bicultural upbringing? In this series we’ll join other families as they make trips to destinations around the world and report back on their experiences.

If you’d like to contribute an article to the “Bilingual Travelers” series—or the series Thank You Letter From a Bilingual Child—please contact me to express your interest in guest posting at Bilingual Monkeys.

Nellie Robertson, originally from Hungary, now resides with her American husband in rural Missouri, located in the U.S. heartland. (In fact, she lives just 30 minutes by car from my hometown of Quincy, Illinois!)

Nellie has two children, a girl, 5, and a boy, (nearly) 3, who are being raised in English and Hungarian. (For this article, they will be known by the names Blair and Eddie.) She is multilingual, and works as a translator, though her location—where no other speakers of Hungarian are present and resources are scarce—has made handing down her mother tongue a sizable challenge.

“If we don’t count afternoon naps,” announced Blair, jumping out of bed before 6 a.m. as usual, “we only have to sleep four more times before we go to Mama and Papa’s!” We would soon be traveling across the ocean to stay for a month, and I shared her excitement fully while trying not to think about how much I hated packing.

It had only been about a year since our last visit to Hungary, but the decision to go again was made partly because of the boost we all hoped this would give to the kids’ ability in Hungarian. On the last trip, Eddie was not quite a year and a half and was just beginning to put words together. Half the time no one could tell which language he was trying to speak. Once we were back in the United States, my typical toddler often ignored what I asked him to do in both languages—and since I had better luck using English, our majority language, by the end of this year we had reached the point where I was hardly using Hungarian at all, even with my 5-year-old daughter.

Optimism, hope, and…embarrassment

I had gone through a similar phase of using mostly English with Blair, but trips to Hungary had always brought miraculous improvement, so I was eager for Eddie to make the same kind of progress. While Daddy was back home in America, I envisioned the three of us talking in Hungarian all day; I imagined them reciting nursery rhymes in both languages; and I looked forward to them arguing over toys in Hungarian for a change.

By the time everything was packed, I was so full of optimism and hope that I said “yes” when my barely 2.5-year-old son, not quite potty trained, asked if he could wear underwear instead of diapers for the 24-hour trip. Only one thing cast a shadow on my excitement: embarrassment.

From our regular Skype video chats with my parents (known as “Mama” and “Papa”), I knew Blair was capable of carrying on a conversation in Hungarian, even though her Hungarian vocabulary was lagging behind her English. But Eddie, unlike his sister, has rarely shown the burning desire to share something, to communicate, so he would mostly just listen. I knew my parents would never fault me for anything, but it still made me sad to think how they wouldn’t understand the things he did try to say, how any emotion expressed in words would be hard to interpret for them quickly enough.

And what about the rest of my family and the friends we would be meeting? I would have to be right there to interpret, and explain how on earth I could have failed to teach the kids my own native language, why their mother tongue is really their father’s.

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The Bilingual Zoo is open!

What is the Bilingual Zoo?
The Bilingual Zoo is an online community for parents and teachers of bilingual (and multilingual) children. The kind support of the Bilingual Monkeys audience has enabled me to develop a friendly forum to complement the information found on this site. The forum provides a space for us to interact more directly and personally, thereby overcoming distance and isolation and empowering our mutual success on the bilingual journey.

What are the benefits of becoming a member?
You don’t have to become a member to access the Bilingual Zoo, and read the content on the forum boards. The intent of the site is to be helpful to all, whether members or guests.

However, registering for a free account, and becoming an active member, offers a number of important benefits:

You will no longer be alone on your journey. You can be part of a helpful worldwide community of parents and teachers of bilingual (and multilingual) children.

As a member, you will be able to make posts to the forum. (Guests can read posts, but cannot make posts.)

  • You can ask questions and receive support from others.
  • You can exchange useful strategies, ideas, and resources.
  • You can find friends, near or far, who share your same circumstances or difficulties.
  • You can feel more accountability by reporting your aims and your actions to the group.
  • You can join regular “challenges” that will strengthen your knowledge, your skills, and your efforts.
  • You can respond to others with advice and encouragement.

In addition to making posts on the forum boards, members of the Bilingual Zoo community are able to send “private messages” to each other, a powerful feature for networking and support.

Members will also be eligible to enter special giveaways and receive other perks that are not available to guests. (Like the big opening giveaway described below!)

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I do not teach children. I give them joy.

When I came across this quote the other day, my head exploded.

Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but it’s not an overstatement to say that these nine words once uttered by Isadora Duncan (1877-1927), an American dancer often referred to as the “mother” of contemporary dance, sum up my whole philosophy of educating children and youth over the past 30 years.

No matter what it is we want a child to acquire—and that includes developing active ability in another language—the most effective way forward involves inspiring joy in the experience of that area of knowledge or skill. It’s not that teaching isn’t important, too, but teaching is secondary, really—and even irrelevant to some degree—when joy is given and illuminates the child’s experience.

When joy is kindled, it not only fuels learning in the present, it can stoke further learning that continues far beyond the time we work with that child. After all, whether as parent or teacher, the actual time we spend with a child is necessarily limited. Chances are, the period following our direct contact—the period without our presence, where the child ventures on independently—will last much longer. If joy is given in that limited time we have together, our positive influence may be felt for years to come.

The opposite, it should be said, can occur as well. When there’s a lack of joy in the learning, and the focus is solely on teaching for short-term gain, the greater outcome, far outweighing whatever has been learned, can be an enduring disenchantment with that area of knowledge or skill. I suspect we could all point to certain areas of our own lives where a shortage of joy in early experiences led to dislike and avoidance for decades afterward.

The truth is, it may look like I’m teaching when I’m with a child, but the teaching is really just what lies on the surface of this interaction. It’s what I’m trying to do through this teaching, at a deeper level, that I consider more significant:

I’m seeking to give children joy—joy for language and literacy—that will not only spark stronger progress during our time together, it will glow warmly, and promote continuing growth, for the rest of their lives.

How about you? What more can you do to give joy for your minority language?