Sweat plus sacrifice equals success.

There are a range of well-known benefits for a child, a family, and even the world at large when a child is raised with more than one language. A few of these valuable benefits include:

  • cognitive benefits, from childhood to old age
  • social benefits, including closer communication with extended family members
  • educational and professional benefits
  • benefits for the world, when bilingual ability leads to bridge-building between cultures

At the same time, I think it’s worth drawing attention to the fact that raising a bilingual child—at least for the vast majority of parents—requires sizable sacrifices, too. And these sacrifices generally grow in proportion to the scale of a parent’s aim: if the goal is native-like proficiency in the minority language, including strong reading and writing ability—and yet schooling in the minority language isn’t part of the equation—then the sacrifices made over the course of the bilingual journey can be significant indeed.

Why is this important? Because I think people tend to focus on the benefits of bilingualism—as they should—but sometimes to the exclusion of the sacrifices that must be made to reap those benefits. I would never discourage anyone from seeking to raise a bilingual child—on the contrary, I always try to be as encouraging as possible because I believe that the benefits will always ultimately outweigh the sacrifices.

However, I also feel that it’s best to be bluntly honest about the challenges, too. Parents should enter this experience with their eyes open, clearly aware that the decision to raise a bilingual child—especially if the aim is high—will almost inevitably demand certain sacrifices, too, some that may not even be foreseen at the outset of the journey.

Because each family’s experience is naturally different, I can’t say which sacrifices will loom largest in another parent’s life, but perhaps sharing the main sacrifices of my own experience will suggest some likely challenges. My hope is that a keener awareness of this side of the bilingual journey might help cushion the impact of whatever sacrifices you face: after all, when we can anticipate the future, we’re better able to prepare for it and cope with it. (Please note: I’m just stating the facts of my experience for what they’re worth. I’m not whining over these circumstances—which I take full responsibility for creating—or angling for any sympathy.)

So let me describe the five biggest sacrifices that have been part of my journey to date. And below this post, I encourage you to comment by sharing your own experience of the sacrifices you’ve made (or expect to make) in raising a bilingual child.

Click to continue →

Bill Harley performs with children in Hiroshima.

Over the past few months I was busy organizing and promoting a concert here in Hiroshima. It was the first concert produced by Bilingual Monkeys, and it featured Bill Harley, a two-time Grammy-winning musician and storyteller for children, so it was a pretty big undertaking for me. (Bigger than I imagined, to be honest!)

Because I love Bill Harley’s work—for my money, he’s the finest musician and storyteller for kids in the English languageI wrote a post about him around 18 months ago. After the article appeared on this blog, I reached out to Bill and his wife Debbie to share the link with them. At the same time—without exactly knowing how this could be realized—I asked if they might be interested in coming to Japan.

Well, with the strong support of many others—including co-organizer Roger Reinoos—I was able to arrange a small tour which is taking Bill across Japan through the month of November. The first main stop for Bill and Debbie was Hiroshima, where they spent five days. The concert we held on Sunday was a benefit event, with all proceeds from ticket sales donated to the “Kasumi Family House,” a building being constructed near Hiroshima’s largest hospital so families with children who are hospitalized there with serious illnesses will have convenient and inexpensive accommodations.

Now that Bill and Debbie have moved on from Hiroshima to continue their tour, I thought I’d share highlights of the time they spent here.

Click to continue →

Little Lexicon

Although I’ve been keeping a journal about my kids since they were born, one thing I wish I had done with more discipline was making notes about their first words—even their first half-formed words.

For example, when Lulu was about 18 months old, I wrote…

Lulu’s first sign of distinguishing English and Japanese occurred in February 2006 when she began, but not always accurately, using “up” to me when she wanted me to pick her up and “dak” (for “dakko”) when making the same request to her mother.

However, I know there were many more of these first words that were lost to the busy days of early childhood…and I’m afraid I made even fewer notes like this about my son, born nearly three years later. (There’s always less enthusiasm for the poor second-born children!)

So when Ryan Cole, an American designer now living in the Czech Republic with his Czech wife and their two young sons, told me about his creation—a fun, innovative app that not only enables parents to more easily note their children’s first words, it even translates these words into other languages so loved ones can comprehend them, too—I thought it was a solution well worth sharing. (I even considered having a third child just to use it myself, but my wife was against the idea.)

I’ll let Ryan tell you more about Little Lexicon, in his own words…

1. Could you give us a Tweetable idea of Little Lexicon? What is it?
Little Lexicon lets you collect and share your bilingual toddler’s first words with those you love. At it’s core, it’s all about helping your family and friends understand what your kid is saying. It’ll also make sure you don’t forget those first words.

Click to continue my interview with Ryan Cole →

3 Essential Ways Parents Raising Bilingual Children Should Be Like Zombies

Right up front, please let me stress this important point to avoid any tragic misunderstanding:

Zombies are good role models for parents of bilingual children in certain ways, but not in others.

Yes, zombies possess several praiseworthy traits that parents of bilingual children would be wise to emulate—and I’ll describe these in more detail in a moment—but I’m afraid there are just as many ways in which zombies are not well suited to the task of raising bilingual kids. For this reason, it’s best to be selective and adopt only those zombie qualities that can empower the process of bilingual child rearing. Because other characteristics of a flesh-eating zombie can be counterproductive to successfully fostering good bilingual ability, and may even result in undesirable cases of cannibalism, taking after these monsters willy-nilly is strongly discouraged.

Click to find out how you should be like a zombie →

German flag lollipop

German flag lollipop!

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.

Mayken Brünings, originally from Germany, now resides with her French husband on the outskirts of Paris where they have a direct view of the Eiffel Tower.

Mayken has a four-year-old daughter who is being raised in German and French. She is trilingual in German, French, and English and juggles a full-time office job, writing children’s books, and competitive swimming while serving as generally the sole source of the minority language. She is very grateful for the existence of grandparents and the invention of Skype.

My family’s bilingual situation is comparatively “easy”: We live in Paris, only a few hours by car or train from Germany, and there is even a direct flight to my hometown where most of my family still live. (I won’t tell you about the size of the plane, though.) As a result, so far we’ve managed to organise several trips to the minority country each year.

Every Christmas we make the 12-hour car trip to stay for a week at my mother’s (Oma). Our daughter celebrates Christmas with a real tree with real candles and delights in the treasures of our local Christmas market.

Once or twice in the last two years, I’ve taken my girl on a mother-daughter trip to see Oma for a few days, by train or by plane. We usually come back loaded with German books and CDs and other goodies.

Click to continue →

Little Monsters Contest!

The truth is, even if children always behaved like little angels, the bilingual journey would still be a challenging experience for most parents, especially when literacy in the minority language is also an important aim. To foster higher levels of language ability, a significant amount of time, effort, and expense is required and these demands must remain a central part of a family’s lifestyle throughout the years of childhood.

All this turns even tougher, though, when a child’s behavior becomes less like a little angel and more like a little devil.

Duels with my daughter

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that my 10-year-old daughter has always had a willful streak. Compared to my seven-year-old son, who’s generally quite easygoing and obedient, Lulu is rather high-strung and rebellious. And lately, her behavior has taken a turn for the worse and my wife and I have found ourselves engaged in duels with her over our expectations for her homework and her other responsibilities at home. I honestly don’t think we ask too much of her: our expectations may be high, but they’re not unreasonable, and we simply want her to take on these tasks positively and proactively, without continually dragging her feet and doing less than her best.

In one of my recent moments of exasperation, I “grounded” her for the day: she couldn’t leave the house to play with friends or go shopping with her mother. From the tearful outburst that followed, you would have thought I had just given her a life sentence!

As she went on wailing in the living room, I took refuge in my little office and opened the desktop file with the journal I’ve kept throughout their childhood. (See Why Keeping a Journal on Your Kids is So Valuable.) Since Lulu has had a long history of erupting in tantrums in times of frustration, I was seeking some of these earlier incidents to help lighten my perspective: if I survived those times, and can now look back at them and laugh, I can survive this time, too.

Reading these old journal entries, I not only regained a more healthy perspective, I thought of a fun way, with Halloween approaching, for us all to lighten the load of our journey just a bit: by holding a contest where we share humorous stories of the times our bilingual monkeys turned into little monsters.

Let me start with a story of my own. Then I hope you’ll share a story, too, by posting a comment below.

Click to read my story and enter the contest →

Highlights from Bilingual Monkeys: May-June 2014

As I explained earlier, I’m now taking a little break from blogging to focus on other writing projects—but I’ll be back on October 15 with a fun new contest! 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.

22 Fun Photos from Our Adventures in Hagi, Japan
A personal post where I share pictures from our trip to an old castle town called Hagi.

A Terrific Way to Get Your Bilingual Kids Talking (and Build a Closer Bond)
Here’s an idea that can be a fun and useful tactic for generating conversation and engaging your children in the minority language.

Are Your Bilingual Kids Writing Letters in the Minority Language?
Letter-writing exchanges in the minority language can promote stronger language development, broader awareness of the world, and richer relationships.

Be Very Serious. Be Very Playful. The Bilingual Journey Demands Both.
It’s an odd and delicate balance: you must be both very serious about your expectations for your kids and yet very playful about how you carry them out.

Another Fun Idea to Get Your Bilingual Kids Eagerly Using the Minority Language
Try this playful, indirect way of prompting your children to speak the minority language.

What to Do When It’s Hard to Find Children’s Books in Your Minority Language
Ideas for overcoming the problem of a lack of resources in a less-common minority language.

8 Meditations on Time and the Art of Raising a Bilingual Child
Time is the very fabric of our lives, and the way we perceive time, and use (or misuse) time, is at the heart of our bilingual journey.

How Nearly Getting Myself Killed by a Kite and Having to Pay a Parking Ticket for $150 Helped My Children’s Bilingual Ability
Even your failures are successes, in a way, when they’re experienced in the minority language.

Recommended Resources: “A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism” by Colin Baker
“A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism” is a comprehensive and authoritative book that can serve as a core reference for homes and schools.

Another Quiz on Bilingualism! Test Your Knowledge!
Try this quiz on bilingualism, with questions based on information in Colin Baker’s book “A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism.”

Highlights from Bilingual Monkeys: March-April 2014

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.

The Funniest Activity I’ve Ever Done with My Bilingual Kids and Students
Here’s a great game that often gets my bilingual kids and students laughing like mad chipmunks. (Free downloads, too!)

Inspiring Interview with Corey Heller of “Multilingual Living”
In this candid interview, Corey Heller, the founder of “Multilingual Living,” shares her personal story and her advice for parents.

Guest Post: If At First You Don’t Succeed, You May Be the Minority Language Parent
In this guest post, Tatyana Leskowicz shares a successful strategy for getting a small child to actively use the minority language.

It’s Not About How Hard It Is, It’s About How Hard You Try
The thing to focus on, above all, is your effort: How hard are you really trying each day, and are you satisfied with the extent of your effort?

You Need These 3 Things to Raise a Bilingual Child
Each of these three things is crucial to your success, and the third one is generally overlooked.

There Are More Resources in Your Minority Language Than You Think
With some extra effort, you can always find additional resources in your target language.

Thank You Letter from a Bilingual Child: Olga Mecking
In this guest post, Olga Mecking writes a lovely letter to her parents, reflecting on her upbringing as a bilingual child.

Watch Out for the Tough “Second Stage” of Bilingual Development
A warning for parents who will one day face the “second stage” of bilingual development: schooling in the majority language.

What’s the Best Book About Raising Bilingual Children?
The more you read on the subject, the more effectively you can navigate the years of your bilingual journey.

Could a Handful of Dice Get Your Bilingual Kids Speaking More (And Improve Their Math Skills, Too)?
Dice can be a fun and useful tool for encouraging communication in the minority language.

Your Child Wants to Be Bilingual!
Your gurgling baby, or your growing child, may not be aware of this yet, but they want to be bilingual!

Why Raising a Bilingual Child Is Very, Very Simple—and Very, Very Difficult
The process may be simple, but it’s hardly easy, particularly when the child attends a majority language school.

Highlights from Bilingual Monkeys: January-February 2014

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.

Crazy Bilingual Kids Reveal Their New Year’s Resolutions
When I sat down with my kids, seeking sincere resolutions, what I got instead was this nutty discussion.

Thank You Letter from a Bilingual Child: Tatyana Leskowicz
In this guest post, Tatyana Leskowicz writes a lovely letter to her parents, reflecting on her upbringing as a bilingual child.

How to Use Poetry with Your Bilingual Kids (And Why You Should)
How much do you use poetry with your children to nurture the minority language?

Why Resources in the Minority Language Are So Vital to Bilingual Success (With 6 Real-Life Examples From My Own Family)
Maintaining a steady stream of suitable resources is at the very heart of nurturing strong language development.

“I Spoke Both Finnish and English”: I Interview My Mother on Her Bilingual Childhood
My mother shares her history as a bilingual child, with bilingual parents.

Haircuts, Soap Bubbles, and the Whole Meaning of Life in Under 700 Words
This week I got a haircut. Once a month, for the past six years, I go to the same little barbershop, just a few minutes on foot from my house…

How Comic Books Can Give Your Kids Bilingual Super Powers
Comic books in the minority language can be a highly effective way of promoting language development.

Recommended Resources: Captivating Comic Books for English Learners
Here’s a list of great graphic novels to nurture language development and a love of literacy.

Recommended Resources: “Bilingual: Life and Reality” by François Grosjean
A wise, warm primer on the subject of bilingualism, highly recommended for parents, teachers, and the general public.

What Do You Know About Bilingualism? Take This Quiz and Test Your Knowledge!
Here’s a little quiz about bilingualism to test your knowledge!

76 Wonderful Quotes on Parenthood
The more effective we want to be as parents of bilingual children, the more effective we need to be, first and foremost, as parents.

Highlights from Bilingual Monkeys: November-December 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.

Recommended Resources: Word Games in the Minority Language
The regular use of word games, from an early age, can promote a child’s love of language and bilingual development.

Your Efforts Today Have a Profound Impact on Tomorrow
Don’t ever doubt that your small, daily efforts matter—they do, and a great deal more than we usually recognize.

56 More Inspiring Quotes for Parents Raising Bilingual Children
More wise words that can help inspire parents in their quest to raise bilingual children.

When You Feel a Lack of Support for Your Bilingual Journey from the People Around You
What can you do when you feel a lack of support from a spouse, relative, or friend?

The Power of Using the Minority Language to Help Others
Motivate your bilingual child by providing opportunities for him to use his ability in the minority language to benefit others.

My Favorite Way to Get a Bilingual Child Reading More in the Minority Language
This strategy not only nurtures a child’s literacy development, it’s great fun for both parent and child.

Parents Trying to Raise Bilingual Children: Stop Confusing Your Poor Kids with Two Languages!
I received this message the other day from “A Concerned Citizen” and thought it might be of interest.

Help! My Bilingual Children Are Losing Their Ability in the Minority Language!
What should you do when your children start “losing” their minority language after entering a majority language school?

Thought Experiment: What Will Your Children Remember Most About You?
What impressions will you leave in your children’s minds and hearts, and how is this important, right now, in your efforts to foster their bilingual ability?

A Bilingual Child’s Christmas List
See the fun things my son put on his Christmas list!

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…