Last year I wrote a post titled Want to Supercharge Your Success at Raising Bilingual Children? and mentioned a special project that I called “a game changer for parents who are serious about raising bilingual kids, but want to get even more serious—and more successful—at this challenge.”

Although I didn’t reveal full details of the project then, and I finally set it aside—at least for the time being—when I ran into some technical issues and other considerations, I wanted to now follow up and share the basic nature of that idea. While the project was intended to be a group endeavor—because I think it would have a unique impact within a group of committed parents—the idea can still be pursued by individuals on their own and will provide many of the same powerful benefits.

So you needn’t wait any longer for the group version—here’s the individual version, and it remains a game changer for greater success.

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The Highs and Lows of Another Week Raising Bilingual Kids

Want a personal look at my recent efforts and experiences with my kids?

In this post, I share four stories from the past week, detailing both the highs and lows of my days as a busy parent and the main source of minority language exposure to two rambunctious bilingual kids, ages 10 and 7. These stories include…

  • Tears Over a Test
  • Too Tired to Be Silly
  • Fun Visits to the Zoo
  • Small Ball, Big Hole

My hope is that this honest look at a slice of my life will offer new insight into my struggles and successes as well as fresh inspiration for your own bilingual journey.

Tears Over a Test

My daughter came home the other day in tears because she got a 58 on a Japanese test.

Up to this point, I’ve basically left my children’s Japanese education in my wife’s hands. After all, she’s Japanese and it’s far easier for her to understand the content. My Japanese ability isn’t bad, but Lulu’s level—she’ll enter fifth grade when the new school year in Japan begins in April—has risen higher than mine.

However, it’s now clear that Ginger—though she’s a wonderful mother in many ways—isn’t really capable of providing sufficient support for their schooling. Because she doesn’t have a background in education, and believes to the extreme that children should be independent learners, the guidance she offers them is minimal. As I explained in Why I Don’t Want My Kids to Do Well in School, there are actually advantages to this, in that my children’s majority language hasn’t quickly outpaced their minority language. If Ginger was as proactive about supporting their Japanese as I am about their English, their ability in the majority language would no doubt be more dominant. So, in an odd way, I’ve appreciated her more hands-off approach: it’s helped me maintain a good balance between their two languages.

But when I saw Lulu’s tears, and Ginger’s response was only “You have to study more,” I knew I finally had to step in—I had to begin supporting her Japanese side, too.

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Talk to the Monkeys!

Lately, my son has been paying frequent visits to my little home office to “brainstorm.” Although he’s always shown an interest in my work, as he gets a bit older (he turns 8 in March), his fascination with the Internet and the wider world is growing keener.

When I’m in the middle of something, I still need to consciously remind myself, as I first shared in Are You Making the Moments with Your Kids Count?, to “engage with every interruption.” But because his interest is so genuine—and he’s at a point where he can better grasp these things—I’ve begun describing the work that I do in more detail.

As a result, he now wants to help: he wants to contribute by “brainstorming” with me and offering ideas. At first, I admit, I didn’t take him very seriously. I simply humored him—this small, toothless boy—and I tried to keep these sessions relatively short. But on Sunday morning he marched in again, chirped “Let’s brainstorm,” and then shared an idea that I absolutely loved.

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Here’s a new infographic for Valentine’s Day! I hope you like it!

And if you do, please share the fun with others through social media! Bloggers, feel free to embed this image on your own site by grabbing the code below. Thanks a lot!

10 Things I Love About Bilingual Kids

Grab this code to embed the image! (Just copy and paste!)

P.S. Check out my other fun infographics…

INFOGRAPHIC: Recipe for a Bilingual Child

INFOGRAPHIC: The Top 10 Advantages of Being Bilingual (From a Child’s Point of View)

INFOGRAPHIC: 11 Signs You’ve Run into a Little Trouble Raising Bilingual Kids


Music in the target language has always played an important part in my efforts to nurture bilingual children, first with my students and now with my own kids. When I’m not singing to them, or with them, I’m regularly playing music in the background to increase exposure in the minority language, even when I’m not in the room. (See How the Power of Music Nurtures Bilingual Ability for more on the use of background music.)

So when my family recently added a third language to our journey—Spanish—I naturally wanted to find some kid-friendly music in this language that would appeal to them. As it turns out, the lively bilingual music made by Nathalia, whose songs are often performed in a smooth, alternating blend of Spanish and English, has been so catchy that I’ve played her two albums over and over again—even when my kids aren’t around.

Click for more on Nathalia’s music, an interview, and a giveaway →

37 Zen Sayings for Parents Raising Bilingual Kids

One underlying reason I enjoy living in Japan is the spirit of Zen. Now that I have a family, I no longer read about Zen Buddhism as much or sit quietly to meditate each morning. But the spirit of Zen is still with me, day after day, inside and out.

Today I’ve written 37 “Zen sayings” for parents raising bilingual children. Try reading each one slowly, reflecting on the words. Even close your eyes and repeat it softly in your mind. I hope these thoughts speak to you, and offer some support and inspiration.

1. Ten million tiny steps is all it takes.

2. More than a priority, a way of life.

3. Keep conscious of your quest.

4. One eye on today, one eye on tomorrow.

5. Seize each day, day after day.

6. Milk the moment.

7. Early efforts prevent later frustrations.

8. Persistent efforts add up over time.

9. It’s not one thing you do, it’s everything you do.

10. The scope of your action must match the scale of your aim.

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VIDEO: With Bilingual Kids, There’s a Madness to My Method

My kids are mad.

My students are mad.

But that shouldn’t be a surprise, really, because all children are mad.

Let me give you a good example.

Popcorn battles

Yesterday my seven-year-old son comes home from school and my wife makes popcorn for an afternoon snack. Roy and I are sitting together at a low table on the living room floor, each with a bowl of popcorn before us. But the way we’re eating this popcorn is profoundly different.

I’m munching the pieces of white, fluffy popcorn one after the other, intent only on eating.

He’s studying the size and shape of each piece, separating the bigger pieces from the smaller pieces, eating those smaller pieces first, then taking one bigger piece in each hand and crashing them together in battle, complete with lively commentary and sound effects. The pieces break apart into bits, which he sweeps into his hand and gobbles down. Then the next battle begins.

I finish my bowl of popcorn in little more than a minute.

It takes him ten because he’s not only eating, he’s playing.

Wonderful madness

Children are mad—in the most wonderful way possible—because they’re constantly pursuing play. This is how they engage with the world and express the basic joy of being alive, a hard-wired force that’s so potent in childhood but seems to dim over time as children grow into adults. In fact, adults are also held to very different standards when it comes to play. For us, engaging in play beyond bounds held acceptable by our society becomes a cause for concern to others.

Just imagine me at the table there, a middle-aged man waging war with pieces of popcorn. :mrgreen:

You see, half the battle of raising a bilingual child is making the time and opportunity to provide exposure in the minority language. The other half is making the most of that time and opportunity by maximizing the child’s engagement. In my experience, the most effective way to achieve this is by matching the child’s madness for play.

Click to see a fun video with my toothless son →

The Magical Ingredient for Motivating Your Bilingual Child

From time to time (as I first mentioned in How Rats in the Bathroom Can Boost a Child’s Bilingual Ability), I ask my kids to memorize a poem in our minority language and recite it back to me. When they do, they earn a little treat. I can’t say they’re highly motivated to do this, but the treat usually provides them with enough incentive to complete the task and benefit from the effort.

The other day, though, it wasn’t working. I think they felt burdened with other tasks and mine just made their load heavier. They moaned when I first mentioned it, and groaned when I gave them reminders through the afternoon.

I could have let it go, of course—it wasn’t really a big deal to me that day, but it apparently was to them. Still, I was curious to see if I could get them engaged, even excited, about doing it if I added a bigger dash of the “magical ingredient” for motivating kids.

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My 6 Resolutions for 2015 and 6 Ways I Can Help You with Yours

And suddenly it’s 2015.

Does anyone else feel like life speeds up as you get older? Like the years were decades as a child, and now the years are hardly more than mere days?

My resolutions from last week—sorry, last year—were simply two: seize the day, even stronger and encourage more independent reading.

How did I do? Not bad, overall. Although I’m not always as mindful as I’d like, I do try to be disciplined and give my best effort to each day. And my aim to get my kids reading more in the minority language was reasonably successful, and ended on the high note I described in my last post, Big Breakthrough with My Bilingual Daughter?.

(If you’re curious to first read my resolutions from last year—along with the many resolutions submitted by readers—see My “Bilingual Resolutions” for 2014. Also, I highly recommend Crazy Bilingual Kids Reveal Their New Year’s Resolutions, a funny interview that I did with my kids.)

Well, for 2015, I have six resolutions, some connected to my bilingual journey and some linked to other important aspects of my life. First I’ll share these resolutions—my aims for the upcoming year—and then I’ll describe six ways I think I can help strengthen your efforts as you pursue your own resolutions, your own aims, for 2015.

Click to continue →

Big Breakthrough with My Bilingual Daughter?

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that one of my biggest challenges—and frustrations—has been getting my daughter, now 10, to read more in English, our minority language. Because my aim for my kids is high—I’m hoping to sustain native-level proficiency in all skill areas—this is made difficult due to the fact that they attend our local Japanese elementary school and don’t really have much time each day for reading and writing in English.

I’ve done everything I can think of to turn her into a more eager reader: reading aloud every day, from birth; building a large library of appealing books; reading with her, taking turns; assigning her pages to read on her own; making continual use of “captive reading”; subscribing to children’s magazines; and providing a steady stream of graphic novels (comic books). And yet it’s clear that Lulu just isn’t a natural bookworm like her 7-year-old brother. She would much rather dance about with a book on her head than sit down and quietly read it.

The upshot of all this effort over the past 10 years is that Lulu can read well for her age (though not as carefully as I’d prefer), but she still won’t naturally gravitate toward reading books in English—particularly books of straight text, without illustrations—on her own. And without more independent reading over the next decade, it will be hard for her to maintain progress that’s roughly on par with English-speaking peers. (I’m viewing this practically, not competitively: not only will stronger reading and writing ability be more helpful to her future, if one day she enters an English-medium school, the transition will be much smoother if her literacy level is roughly the same as her classmates.)

The onus is on us

Although it’s true that I’ve felt ongoing frustration over this, I’ve never blamed Lulu for not being as eager to read as her father would like. In fact, first as a teacher and now as a parent, I live by the principle:

If a child I’m working with isn’t eager to read, it’s not the child’s fault, it’s mine.

Of course, some children are natural bookworms, and that’s a very fortunate thing for language development. (It also makes life easier for teachers and parents!) But other children just aren’t readers to the same degree (at least at this stage of their lives), and this makes the process of advancing the target language more challenging. Nevertheless, the onus is on the teacher or parent to find the means and the resources that will motivate the child to read more eagerly. It may not be possible to instantly turn such a child into a bookworm, but it’s always possible to get a child reading more in the minority language with efforts that are well matched to that particular child’s nature and needs.

Let me illustrate these thoughts with a clear example.

Click to continue →


December 20, 2014

Wow! This image has been shared so much on social media that nearly 50,000 people have seen it around the web!


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