Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability

Because the focus of raising bilingual children is often (and naturally enough) on the substantial challenges involved in this aim, I thought it would be nice to set all that aside for a moment and simply stress the things we love about having bilingual kids.

Raising Multilingual Children Blogging CarnivalI say “we” because this post was prepared for the February edition of the Raising Multilingual Children blogging carnival, maintained by Annabelle at The PiriPiri Lexicon, and shares posts made by other bloggers, too, on this same theme. While reminders of the happy, positive side of raising bilingual children are important year-round, spotlighting the things we love about multilingual kids is a natural fit for Valentine’s Day.

So I’ll first set the mood by offering an infographic I made for Valentine’s Day last year, “10 Things I Love About Bilingual Kids.” Then I’ll step back and let others tell you what they love, too. Finally, I’ll wrap up this post with a new infographic, “10 More Things I Love About Bilingual Kids.”

I hope you enjoy this blogging carnival! And if you do, please share the link with others:

10 Things I Love About Bilingual Kids

Click to continue →

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.

Jonathan “Fish” Fisher is a teacher at Hiroshima Jogakuin Junior and Senior High Schools and at STEPS English Conversation School in Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan. He is the father of a very strong willed, very energetic 2-year-old boy, Oliver. His partner, Yuco, is pregnant with their second child, due in May 2016. When Fish is not daydreaming about his native North Carolina, he is thinking about various human rights struggles and social justice issues and how to include such topics in his lessons about English. This blog post is about a trip Fish took with his family for one week in November 2015.

My family at my sister’s wedding.

My family at my sister’s wedding. (That’s us on the left.) Photo courtesy of JameyKay and Arlie Photography

Making a home in Japan

My son, Oliver, was born in a suburb of Hiroshima, Japan in the fall of 2013 while I was still busy wrapping up my masters degree at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. When my partner, Yuco, and I got married earlier that year, the plan had always been to start our lives together in Vancouver, a kind of symbolic halfway point between her hometown in Japan and mine in North Carolina in the southeastern United States. But with my son’s birth, plans changed. I found work at a small English conversation school in the Japanese community where Yuco and I had first met, and we traded the adventure of Vancouver for the stability of my partner’s hometown, where we could rely on her family for childcare as we all got down to the details of a bilingual marriage and bilingual parenthood.

Click to continue →

How to Effectively Use and Control Digital Devices with Your Kids

Digital devices and electronic toys can certainly play a helpful role in supporting a parent’s efforts to nurture language development. At the same time, it’s also true that using them effectively, and controlling them wisely, can be a challenge. Naturally, your situation differs from mine, and you’ll want to come to the conclusions that best serve your family, but perhaps sharing my experiences and thoughts on this subject—which now looms very large in all our lives—will offer some useful food for thought for consciously making productive choices.

An old-fashioned start

Although my work as a writer and blogger has me wired to a digital world for much of each day, the truth is, my wife and I have been rather old-fashioned about the use of electronic gadgets with our kids: They had limited contact with this world until last year, at the ages of 11 and 8, when we brought home an iPad.

It wasn’t easy to hold off for so long—particularly when they were regularly pleading for one device or another—but we stood firm. The only real concession I made was a (now ancient) Leapster, a learning gadget with various game-like cartridges. But even then, I was responding with a device in the minority language (English) to their demand for a different gadget in the majority language (Japanese). Because I knew that getting them that gadget in Japanese would undercut my efforts to nurture their English ability, I sought out an appealing alternative which could support my aim while still addressing their desire.

Meanwhile (as I discuss more fully in How Many Books Do You Have In Your Home?), I made a conscious decision to build up our home library with “real books” on bookshelves, as opposed to e-books in a digital reader, because I felt that actual books, continuously available to the eye, would create a richer environment for literacy development. (Let me stress, though, that when books in a certain language are hard to come by—see What to Do When It’s Hard to Find Children’s Books in Your Minority Language—books in any form should be eagerly added to your ever-growing collection.)

Click to continue →

Adam Beck with the final manuscript

As many of you know, I’ve been working on a book about raising bilingual children to bring together the best of my experience over the past 20 years as a teacher and parent of bilingual kids. In fact, it’s taken a lot longer to write this book than I had anticipated—well over three years. From time to time I would mention my progress (or lack of progress :mrgreen: ) at this blog and many people said they were curious to read it…but I could only ask them to wait.

Meanwhile, I’ve done my best to stay active at Bilingual Monkeys and at The Bilingual Zoo, offering a range of information and ideas that I hope have been of some support to your bilingual journey. I also released a shorter e-book, titled Instant Inspiration for Parents Raising Bilingual Kids, which can now be downloaded freely.

Finally, last fall, I felt ready to share a “preview edition” of Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability with early readers, to receive feedback. When I made this appeal, I was so heartened by the response: more people wanted to read the book than I could realistically accept. In the end, I received feedback from 26 people—parents of bilingual kids all over the world—and their frank and helpful impressions enabled me to pursue another three months of targeted writing and make the content of the book even stronger. I’m very grateful to them all. (See their positive reactions to the “preview edition.”)

Early access to the final manuscript

I had planned to release the first edition of the book this spring, in both print and digital versions—and that’s still basically my plan—but I’ve decided to add another stage to this release…beginning today. Because I’ve kept people waiting so long, and then couldn’t even accommodate all those who wanted to preview it last fall, I don’t want to continue putting interested readers off—especially at the start of a new year when our motivation is at its highest and the book could be most helpful!

So here’s what I’ll do: I’ll offer early access to the final manuscript of the book in a PDF file that you can download right now. The final manuscript is simply the typewritten text (the published first edition will naturally look more “fancy”), but it contains all the content, over 77,000 words of it, intended for the first edition. At the same time (if you like), you can also order a copy of the printed book and I’ll send it directly to your home, anywhere in the world, once it’s ready, in roughly April or May. (For a limited number of people, my kids and I can sign your book, too!)

In this way, whether or not you also order a printed book, you won’t have to wait any longer—you can start reading the book today.

Thank you for your interest in my work. I’m thrilled to finally share this book with you and be able to do even more to support the success of your family’s bilingual journey.

Click now for full details on getting early access to the final manuscript.

Alfonzo the Alligator

Along with our persistent efforts each day to provide exposure in the minority language, another way to boost input and engagement is through the use of short-term projects.

For example, my kids and I created a series of silly interviews that I’ve shared at this site: video of my son, video of my daughter, and video of me.

Other examples might include activities like making a short film; creating a picture book or comic book; writing and performing a short play; singing and recording a favorite song (even making up your own, like our Christmas carol); inventing a new game and playing it together; compiling a photo album and adding captions; pursuing crafts or a building task; or researching and reporting on some subject of interest.

One standout of such project work is Serina, a “keeper” at The Bilingual Zoo. Serina lives in France and has been actively pursuing projects with her two multilingual children. For a big blast of ideas and inspiration in this vein, see her introduction there.

Alfonzo Around the World

Another “keeper” at The Bilingual Zoo, Nellie, has carried out a wonderful year-long project that I’d like to share with you in this post. Nellie is originally from Hungary and now lives in the United States with her American husband and two bilingual kids. You may recall the guest post she wrote about a trip to Hungary in the “Bilingual Travelers” series: Bilingual Travelers: Spring in Hungary Brings Blooming Language Ability.

Well, from late 2014 to late 2015, Nellie orchestrated the travels of a stuffed alligator named Alfonzo to seven different countries and blogged about his adventures—in both English and Hungarian—alongside her kids. Alfonzo enjoyed homestays with families in Japan (us!), France, Sweden, Scotland, Austria, Hungary, and Australia, who shared their activities with him in notes and photos. The creative fruits of the project, called “Alfonzo Around the World,” can be seen in full at their website:

Now that Alfonzo is safely back home with Nellie’s family, I was able to interview them, via email, to learn more about their experience of the project. I hope the example they offer will inspire other families to pursue imaginative projects, too, for greater fun and success on the bilingual journey!

Click to continue →

7 Must-Make Resolutions for Parents Raising Bilingual Kids

Last year, I shared my New Year’s resolutions, and the year before that, my kids revealed their resolutions (in a post that features the transcript of our funny conversation).

This year, I thought I would simply compile a list of important resolutions for practically any parent intent on making proactive efforts in 2016 to advance the bilingual ability of their children. At the same time, I’ll add my personal view of each one, as it pertains to my own experience.

1. I will talk to my child as much as I can.

As I stress in The Most Powerful Thing of All in Nurturing Language Development, the more you talk to your children in the target language, the more they will (potentially) use this language to talk to you. Obviously, other factors also influence the degree of actual use, but mindfully engaging with your children each day and providing them with ample input and modeling in the minority language through speech will not only promote language development and use, it can create a closer parent-child bond.

This year my children turn 12 and 9, and I’m conscious of the fact that they—and particularly my daughter—are now growing increasingly independent and turning more toward their Japanese lives. Because our time together is being squeezed, I must make the most of the time we do have by trying to be as fully present—and as talkative—as possible.

Click to continue →

Early Praise for the New Book “Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability”

Update: Click the image below to get your copy of the book!

Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability

You may recall that one of my resolutions for 2015 was “Finish and share my book Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability.” Frankly, this book consumed much of my energy this year—and has been in the making for years before that—but I’m happy to report that I’ve nearly achieved my aim.

Over the past few months I’ve been finalizing the manuscript, and a key part of this process has involved receiving feedback from early readers. Around 30 people kindly agreed to read a preview edition and offer me their impressions and suggestions. Not only have their good suggestions helped me to strengthen the book further, the positive impressions they shared have given me a big boost of encouragement. I’m really grateful to them all.

Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability will be available in early 2016 and I hope, like my blog and forum, it will provide ideas and inspiration for realizing even greater success on your bilingual journey. I’ve described the book in more detail before, but some of the impressions from early readers may help convey the content and spirit of the book even better.

Click to see impressions from early readers →

BILINGUAL Contest: Win a Tasty Treat from Japan!

In Recommended Resources: Word Games in the Minority Language, I share a big list of games on the market that can be fun and useful for promoting language development (some available in multiple languages, too).

One of my favorite word games, however, costs nothing at all: you just need a paper and pencil. And the game is so simple and flexible, but also so productive for stretching the target language, that I turn to it regularly with my students and my own kids.

Let’s call it “Hidden Words,” and though I’ll describe the English version of the game, it could likely be played in many other languages in a similar fashion.

Click to continue →

Lulu has long had a love-hate relationship with Santa.

When my darling daughter was 7, she wrote a letter to Santa Claus just days before Christmas, asking him for a Wii video game console. This put me in a delicate position because Santa (me) hadn’t planned on getting her a Wii and I was afraid—because Lulu’s emotions were quite explosive when she was younger—that our living room would be the scene of a wailing, flailing tantrum if she didn’t find a Wii under the tree on Christmas morning.

Which wouldn’t exactly make this a day of peace and joy.

So, to avoid a meltdown on Christmas morning, old Santa wrote her back and the letter found its way into our mailbox on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Lulu tore open the envelope eagerly, but her face quickly fell as she read Santa’s apology about being unable to deliver the Wii she wanted. (“I’m afraid your letter arrived at the North Pole too late,” Santa explained. “A toy like this takes a while to make and the elves just didn’t have enough time.”)

Anticipating her disappointment, Santa stressed that he had prepared other gifts for her, gifts he was sure she would like…but Lulu promptly burst into tears and flung herself onto the couch, where she writhed and ranted.

Click to continue →

The most popular post at this site is even bigger and better!

Now with 50 tips, and over 6,000 words, My Best Tips for Raising Bilingual Kids offers a wealth of ideas that will help strengthen your success in bringing up bilingual children.

You can also freely download the whole post as a handy PDF file for saving, printing, and sharing!

Download the PDF file now.

51 Great Quotes on Language for Language Lovers, Teachers, and Learners

For all language lovers, teachers, and learners, enjoy this big list of quotes on the marvelous phenomenon of human language!

1. We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives. —Toni Morrison

2. A special kind of beauty exists which is born in language, of language, and for language. —Gaston Bachelard

3. A different language is a different vision of life. —Federico Fellini

Click to continue →