Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability

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

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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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The Most Important Point on Our Long Bilingual Journey

Recently, in My Daughter and I Hit a Big Milestone on Our Bilingual Journey Together, I shared how Lulu had graduated from elementary school and would now be entering junior high. (The school year in Japan ends in March and starts up again in April.)

In my mind, I’ve always viewed this transition to junior high school as perhaps the most important point on our long bilingual journey: If I could just sustain my persistent efforts until this point, and nurture a firm, active foundation in the minority language by the time my kids became teens, our bilingual goal would largely have been accomplished. And now that Lulu has begun junior high, and turns 13 soon, I’m happy to report that we’ve essentially fulfilled this aim.

No, this doesn’t mean I’ll dash out today and buy a hammock, then do nothing more but lie there and eat brownies. (Much as I’d like to.) In fact, I’ll continue eating my brownies on the run, doing what I can to help advance my children’s trilingual ability (along with Japanese and English, they’re learning Spanish) through the teenage years, too.

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Bilingual Kids and Grandparents: Make the Most of This Opportunity

This week the cherry blossoms are blooming in Japan.

This week is also my father’s birthday. (Happy birthday, Dad!) He lives in Quincy, Illinois, the town in the U.S. Midwest where I grew up.

In a way, there’s a profound connection between the two because the short-lived cherry blossoms—they bloom beautifully for just days before they fall—are a sharp reminder of how precious and fleeting our lives actually are.

Bilingual Kids and Grandparents: Make the Most of This Opportunity

My father—and my mother, who lives in Memphis, Tennessee—are now both in their 80s. To be honest, although I’ve spent 20 good years in Japan, the fact that we live so far apart has been the deepest downside of this bilingual and bicultural journey. While I regret that the reality has left much to be desired—that we couldn’t have lived closer than half a world away from one another—at least I hold no regrets over the efforts I’ve made to help bridge the distance between us. With the blessings of modern technology (how much more difficult it would have been just a generation or two ago!), I’ve done what I can through return trips, Skype chats, phone calls, photos and video clips posted online, and even old-fashioned letters and postcards.

My main motivation for all this has been, of course, to nurture a relationship, a loving bond, between my children and my parents. Despite the daunting distance, I’ve wanted my kids to know their special grandparents in the U.S., and gain fond, lasting memories of them, while giving my parents the chance to share in the joys of their grandchildren’s young lives.

At the same time, it was also clear to me from the start that these interactions—and the minority language exposure they provide—would help advance our bilingual aim. Thus, hugely positive results could be realized in both ways, simultaneously, as long as I made this a high priority and kept up my efforts to maintain these connections.

Though there’s always been an undercurrent of sadness to this situation, I still feel fortunate to say that these twin goals—fostering an emotional bond while fueling language development—have been largely achieved.

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ADAM’S NOTE: In considering a language strategy for your family’s bilingual journey, the highest aim for this important decision is choosing an approach that will be most effectively geared to your particular circumstances and goals. And in some cases—as in Bea Sieradzka’s family—that choice involves consciously modifying traditional methods. Read Bea’s thoughtful guest post for an encouraging look at how one parent made a proactive decision that has paid off in strong bilingual success. Thank you, Bea!

Bilingual Success with a Proactive Language Strategy

Bea Sieradzka is a Polish mother living in the United Kingdom and raising a bilingual and biliterate son, now almost 7 years old. Based on research studies in bilingualism and her own background in linguistics, she introduced two languages from the time he was born: her native Polish and her second language, English. She is now supporting him in learning a third language, Chinese.

At her blog, Born Bilingual, Bea shares information and ideas to help immigrant families succeed at nurturing their children’s bilingualism: introducing the community language from birth, along with their heritage language, and fostering good ability in both languages.

Bea SieradzkaEven before my son was born, now seven years ago, I knew that one day he would be bilingual. Born in the United Kingdom to Polish parents, he had the opportunity to learn two languages at the same time. The question we asked ourselves, though—like so many other parents who have immigrated to the U.K. and speak English as a second language—was how to actually manage the process of his bilingual acquisition.

The downside to a common method

The conventional wisdom in this sort of situation is to speak to your child in your mother tongue, and allow them to learn the majority language out in the community. This is a common strategy known as the “minority language at home” approach. It sounds, at first, like the perfect solution.

The problem with this approach is that simultaneous bilingual acquisition only works if your child is regularly exposed to both languages for a sufficient amount of time. Research that includes The relation of input factors to lexical learning by bilingual infants (Barbara Zurer Pearson), The relationship between bilingual exposure and vocabulary development (Elin Thordadottir), and A Short Guide to Raising Children Bilingually (Fred Genessee) indicates that children need to be exposed to each language for a minimum of 20-30% of their waking hours, and ideally even more than that.

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My Daughter and I Hit a Big Milestone on Our Bilingual Journey Together

Happy smiles from Lulu and her classmates as they proudly show their diplomas after the graduation ceremony. Her teacher (in the white tie) is being lifted up in the back.

My 12-year-old daughter graduated from our local elementary school the other day. It was the 139th graduation ceremony at this school (really!), which means that the first class of graduates are now 151 years old (really?).

In Japan, children attend elementary school through the sixth grade, then begin going to junior high school. And since the school year runs from April to March, graduation ceremonies—for schools everywhere—are held at this time of year.

Smiles and tears

At Lulu’s graduation ceremony, Keiko and I were sitting in the school gymnasium, toward the back, but were still able to spy her smiling face among the other roughly 150 sixth graders. It was a long ceremony of speeches and diplomas then toward the end, when the students stood and sang a moving song, the tears began to flow from both the children and their parents. Until then, I had been keeping it together pretty well, but seeing Lulu cry while continuing to fight her way through the song, I got really choked up, too.

And I found myself flashing back on her life, from the day of her birth, when I first held her in my arms, to this large milestone, the day she graduated from elementary school.

My Daughter and I Hit a Big Milestone on Our Bilingual Journey Together

The day my daughter—our first child—was born, almost 13 years ago.

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NOTE: This video series is from My Best Tips for Raising Bilingual Kids, the most popular blog post at Bilingual Monkeys, with a free PDF that includes all 50 tips and links to further information.

Watch this video, with tips 41-50, at Bilingual Monkeys TV (my YouTube channel).

Watch a playlist of all 5 videos to see all 50 tips.

Subscribe to Bilingual Monkeys TV at YouTube.
(And please “like” your favorite videos! Thanks! :mrgreen: )