Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability

There are many things to love about bilingual (and multilingual) children. This short video shares 20 of them…

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It’s true! No matter how old they are, children want to be bilingual!

Watch this short video, where I read an excerpt from my book Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability, for a motivating perspective on the entire bilingual journey…

View this video at Bilingual Monkeys TV and subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Get more information about my widely-praised book.

ADAM’S NOTE: One essential lesson for parents to learn early on—or potentially face growing frustrations on their bilingual journey—is the need to add greater realism to the initial idealism we feel going into this experience. Idealism continues to play a vital role in motivating our efforts, but relaxing into a more realistic and flexible mindset, while remaining persistent and playful, day by day, enables us to pursue a path that is both more enjoyable and more effective. In this insightful guest post, Jordana Timerman brings this point to colorful life by sharing the candid story of her first two years as a parent on a bilingual quest. Thank you, Jordana, for conveying an important message that I’m sure will be encouraging for others to hear.

Guest Post: Creating a Little Bilingual Family—If Not Precisely By the Book

Jordana Timerman is a freelance journalist in Buenos Aires, where she grew up speaking English and Spanish. She is the mother of a two-year-old who is being spoken to in English (minority language) and Spanish (majority language) in a disconcertingly disorganized fashion.

Jordana TimermanI try hard not to cringe when well-meaning friends and family speak to my daughter in broken English. According to the “rules” of bilingualism, they should be speaking in Spanish, their native language and the majority language in Argentina where we live. But I’ve found that when people hear me speak to my two-year-old in my native English they automatically trend towards using it themselves with her.

The curious result is my Argentine-born daughter is being treated like a foreigner in her own country. I don’t want to be the language police—I want people to have easy relationships with my child. But as they speak to her, all I can think about are admonishments to parents of bilingual children not to mix languages.

Theory and reality

Before my daughter was born, my partner and I casually agreed that I’d speak English to our children, thus sharing my native language and arming them for an anglo-dominated world. Like pretty much everything else pre-parents blissfully envision, the post-partum result was a lot more complicated.

Language strategies, such as “one-parent-one-language” or “minority language at home,” all sound perfectly rational in theory. But somehow the realities we confronted didn’t fit into the patterns those strategies outlined so neatly.

I found myself uncertain over how to handle the interactions that remain unscripted in these approaches: How should I speak to my child in front of playground friends who don’t speak English? (Really awkward mix for now.) How to navigate daily interactions with babysitters who don’t understand what I’m saying to my daughter? (I sometimes wind up dubbing my own speech—I say it once in English and then repeat in Spanish for the caretakers’ benefit. It’s awful.) Was it alright to keep speaking in Spanish to my partner as we had always done? (It’s very uncomfortable to switch languages once you’re used to using one with somebody, so yes, we stick to Spanish.) A lot of the time I feel like an actor in a bad pantomime.

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Recommended Resources: Great Books and Blogs for Nurturing a Child's Multicultural Spirit

One of the deeper themes of my efforts to support the bilingual and multilingual journey of families in the world—as I stress in such posts as Why Raising a Bilingual Child Matters in a World Gone Mad and Why Your Bilingual Child Is Tied, Profoundly, to Hiroshima and Peace—is the idea that children with ability in more than one language can potentially feel keener empathy for others and contribute to creating a more harmonious world through their outlook and actions.

I realize, of course, that the world is still very far from the peaceful place we wish it was—and I admit to wrestling with a more jaded side, too—but I nevertheless continue to believe that the efforts we make, including our efforts to raise bilingual and multilingual children, do make a productive difference to the larger arc of our evolution as a species.

Great books and blogs

This same idea—that expanding our familiarity with the world and our empathy for others can help promote greater peace on this fragile planet—is the essential aim of two books on nurturing a spirit of multiculturalism that I wholeheartedly recommend: Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World and The Global Education Toolkit for Elementary Learners.

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Look How Far We've Come On Our Bilingual Journey (And How Far You Can Go, Too)

Now that my daughter is in junior high school, and nearly a teen, I’d like to offer you a special peek at the progress my kids have made to date in their minority language. (For those who need a bit more context, we live in Hiroshima, Japan and my kids attend local Japanese schools, which means that Japanese is our majority language and English is our minority language.)

The idea for this post arose the other day when we bought a new desk for Lulu (to encourage her to study hard in junior high!) and had to overhaul the room that, until now, had always been our “play room.” After revamping it, and removing old toys and books—Roy inherited Lulu’s old desk and will get to choose his own new desk when he enters junior high, too—we rechristened this space the “study room.”

In fact, among the things I relocated from this room was a huge stack of workbooks and journals that have been part of our long-running homework routine to nurture literacy—and overall proficiency—in the minority language.

The full details on our daily homework routine can be found in Secrets of a Successful Homework Routine, Part 1 and Secrets of a Successful Homework Routine, Part 2 so I won’t go over that ground again here. Instead, I’d simply like to share samples of my children’s work—scanned right from these workbooks and journals—so you can see, very concretely, how far their language ability has progressed over the years as a result of the ranging efforts I describe at this blog and in my book.

I hope these images will help convey the crucial point that success on the bilingual journey is a function of daily diligence and long-term perseverance—and that this outcome can be realized by any determined family that makes the bilingual aim a top priority.

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Watch this fun video of my original tongue twisters, featuring my cousin Andy!

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Get the free PDF of these tongue twisters and try them at home or with your students!

Having some difficulty getting your bilingual child to speak your language?

Watch this video for clear, actionable advice that can help you address this challenge more effectively and get your child using the minority language more actively!

View this video at Bilingual Monkeys TV and subscribe to my YouTube channel.

How to Deal with Unsolicited Advice, and Address Other Difficulties, on Your Bilingual Journey

The other day at The Bilingual Zoo, a parent shared her frustration over an incident of “unsolicited advice,” where a health professional gave poor guidance on her bilingual parenting. As I considered my feedback, which I’ll share below, I also realized that addressing this difficulty—and any other difficulty, really, on this long bilingual journey—requires a two-step response.

Let me start, though, with the second step.

The second step of our response involves what you would expect:

What sort of action should be mindfully taken to effectively address the particular incident or problem at hand?

Here’s what I suggested in the case of this unsolicited advice…

Specialists in one field aren’t generally specialists in another, and I suggest simply ignoring any comments from people who have no experience or expertise in raising bilingual children. At the same time, I think even comments that come from more reliable sources should be carefully appraised, particularly when advice is offered without a sincere attempt to understand the fuller circumstances of your specific situation.

To me, both are vital for offering effective advice: personal experience plus keen understanding of the circumstances in question. After all, not everything that’s valid for one person’s experience is necessarily valid for another’s—and I think this is often very true for bilingual and multilingual families, since, though we do share some fundamental challenges, our circumstances are naturally quite different.

When the people we encounter—no matter who they are—lack experience in this area and, moreover, make no real attempt to grasp our circumstances, their “helpful advice,” while I know it can be unnerving, should be shrugged off and our focus must remain on what’s truly important: our own best efforts, day by day. And, in time, when the proof is in the pudding—when our children’s bilingual ability has grown active—we’ll ultimately feel deep satisfaction over the fact that we persevered past all hurdles and doubts and have realized the success we long sought.

So, again, that’s the second step of the equation: the action we take.

But let’s now look at the first step of our response. What comes before action? When difficulty and frustration arise, what should we do first?

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8 Fun Ways to Get Your Bilingual Child Loving the Minority Language More

One of the basic principles for making good progress on the bilingual journey is the idea of nurturing a positive attitude toward the minority language. This may sound like a mushy sort of aim that can’t really be addressed in ways beyond getting our children to feel that their ability in the minority language is useful to their lives and helpful to the lives of others.

But, in fact, there are some very concrete things that you can do to help foster a positive attitude in your bilingual child and fortify his or her love for the minority language.

And make no mistake, the more positively your child feels toward the target language, the less resistance you’ll likely encounter and the more solidly you’ll advance on the long road ahead.

In this post I focus on eight ways that make playful use of the language itself in order to provide the child with fun and engaging experiences that not only can generate greater exposure to the minority language, they can also nurture the positive attitude we seek.

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Raising Bilingual Kids? Don't Miss These Helpful Resources!

As I now offer a wide range of resources designed to support parents on a bilingual or multilingual journey with their children, I thought it might be helpful to finally bring them together in a single, handy post. Most of these resources are completely free.

This post may be worth bookmarking and sharing, and as the number of resources continues to grow or change, I’ll make a point of updating this information.

Bilingual Monkeys FREE
All this began with the Bilingual Monkeys blog in the fall of 2012, when I started to share my longtime experience as a teacher and parent of bilingual and multilingual children.

This blog has grown to become one of the most popular sites in the field of child bilingualism, with a wealth of content that includes (as of today, April 28, 2017) 346 posts, 26 pages, and 2,882 comments.

Among these pages are “resource pages” that provide lists of posts, grouped by theme, to make the large amount of content at this site more accessible. The main resource pages, which I try to update from time to time, are: New Parents; The Essentials; Creative Ideas; Deeper Inspiration; Great Resources; and Fun Stuff.

And don’t miss the many wise guest posts from experienced parents and experts in the field.

Bilingual Monkeys Newsletter FREE
I also offer a free weekly newsletter, via email, which is not only the best way to keep up with my work, it can also serve as a regular source of encouragement for advancing your bilingual or multilingual goal. Subscribe to my newsletter.

The Bilingual Zoo FREE
I opened this forum in the summer of 2014 after the growing audience at Bilingual Monkeys began making requests for a way to interact more easily with one another. At this point, it’s become such a lively worldwide community that it’s hard for me to keep up with all the posts!

Currently (as of today, April 28, 2017), there are 656 registered members and many more visitors, and a total of 709 threads and 4,662 posts. To join our friendly community, see this page of information on how to become a member.

Some of the most popular boards include Introduce Yourself; Questions & Concerns; Strategies, Ideas, & Resources; Take a Challenge; and Track Your Progress.

At this site you’ll also find my fun gallery of bilingual memes, which often appear first at my Facebook page.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability is now 1 year old!

This Book on Raising Bilingual Children Can Have a Powerful Impact on Your Family, Too

Since it’s release exactly one year ago, Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability: Ideas and inspiration for even greater success and joy raising bilingual kids has provided a powerful boost to families around the world. While the book has been widely praised by many parents and experts in the field, today, on this first anniversary, I’d like to spotlight the impressions of one particular reader, a mother of two young children in the United States. Her experience of the book—how it has empowered her family’s bilingual journey—is exactly why I wrote it and her comments are so gratifying to me.

Deborah, who’s originally from Brazil but has lived in the U.S. for the past 10 years, was kind enough to allow me to share these comments today along with a photo of her lovely family (and their large fluffy friend).

I can’t say enough good things about Adam Beck’s book Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability. Before I read it, I was hopeless that my almost 4-year-old son would become proficient in Portuguese, my mother language. However, after reading Adam’s book and putting into practice every tactic suitable to our circumstances, I noticed extraordinary progress in my son’s language (Portuguese) ability. He is now 4 years and 5 months old and not only does he speak Portuguese only with me, but he has also started to read Portuguese (he can read English really well) and interacts with his little brother, 20 months old, in Portuguese most of the time. I am beyond excited with such striking progress and forever thankful to Adam for raising awareness on bilingualism and providing invaluable tools for our bilingual children to thrive.

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