The 12 Days of Christmas for Raising Bilingual Kids

I have a little gift for you…

My kids singing (and screaming) “The 12 Days of Christmas for Raising Bilingual Kids”!

It starts a little slow (Lulu was monkeying around), but they get better (and louder) as the song goes on. We hope you like it! And if you do, please let us know, and share the link with others! You’d make Lulu (10) and Roy (7) very happy! (Your positive feedback will also encourage me to start using more audio recordings. This post marks the first time I’ve used audio!)

The 12 Days of Christmas for Raising Bilingual Kids
Lyrics by Adam Beck of Bilingual Monkeys (http://bilingualmonkeys.com)

Click here to download a PDF of these lyrics!

On the first day of Christmas, my parents gave to me:
a picture dictionary.

On the second day of Christmas, my parents gave to me:
two trips abroad,
and a picture dictionary.

On the third day of Christmas, my parents gave to me:
three pen-pals,
two trips abroad,
and a picture dictionary.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my parents gave to me:
four homestay guests,
three pen-pals,
two trips abroad,
and a picture dictionary.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my parents gave to me:
five DVDs!
four homestay guests,
three pen-pals,
two trips abroad,
and a picture dictionary.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my parents gave to me:
six stacks of workbooks,
five DVDs!
four homestay guests,
three pen-pals,
two trips abroad,
and a picture dictionary.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my parents gave to me:
seven shelves of stories,
six stacks of workbooks,
five DVDs!
four homestay guests,
three pen-pals,
two trips abroad,
and a picture dictionary.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my parents gave to me:
eight little playmates,
seven shelves of stories,
six stacks of workbooks,
five DVDs!
four homestay guests,
three pen-pals,
two trips abroad,
and a picture dictionary.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my parents gave to me:
nine children’s albums,
eight little playmates,
seven shelves of stories,
six stacks of workbooks,
five DVDs!
four homestay guests,
three pen-pals,
two trips abroad,
and a picture dictionary.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my parents gave to me:
ten TV programs,
nine children’s albums,
eight little playmates,
seven shelves of stories,
six stacks of workbooks,
five DVDs!
four homestay guests,
three pen-pals,
two trips abroad,
and a picture dictionary.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my parents gave to me:
eleven games and apps,
ten TV programs,
nine children’s albums,
eight little playmates,
seven shelves of stories,
six stacks of workbooks,
five DVDs!
four homestay guests,
three pen-pals,
two trips abroad,
and a picture dictionary.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my parents gave to me:
twelve private lessons,
eleven games and apps,
ten TV programs,
nine children’s albums,
eight little playmates,
seven shelves of stories,
six stacks of workbooks,
five DVDs!
four homestay guests,
three pen-pals,
two trips abroad,
and a picture dictionary.

And a picture dictionary!

Click to leave a comment and get links to more Christmas posts →

Francois Grosjean, past and present

The other day I received a message from François Grosjean.

Most people, I think, know only the professional side of Dr. Grosjean: eminent psycholinguist and international authority on bilingualism; author of masterful books and articles in this field; blogger of Life as a Bilingual at the Psychology Today website; and professor emeritus at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland.

What most people don’t know is François Grosjean’s remarkable personal story, including the fact that this man, who has accomplished so much in his career and impacted so many lives with his work, almost wasn’t born at all.

A compelling story

Earlier this year I reviewed Dr. Grosjean’s book Bilingual: Life and Reality at this blog, and since that time we have maintained a friendly rapport, sharing the highlights of our work. While the majority of articles Dr. Grosjean has offered involve bilingualism, he has also pointed me to other pieces which relate his personal story as the child of a British mother and French father.

And when I received his latest message the other day, which shared a new article he had written about his past, I found this further twist in his story so compelling, with such a powerful message for this audience, that I asked his permission to retell it here.

Click to continue →

Eugene Ryan is a university teacher in Japan and a researcher studying the effects of bilingualism on the linguistic and cognitive development of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). He is also the father of a bilingual child with autism. In Part 1 of our interview, he generously shared the early struggles and successes that he and his wife experienced in their quest to support their son’s language development. In Part 2, now 16 months later, Eugene describes the latest stage of their bilingual journey together. Again, my warm thanks to Eugene for offering his experience and insight to others.

Eugene and his son

Eugene and his son

It’s been over a year since our first interview. What has changed for your family since then?
Teeda is now getting ready to go to elementary school, and his little sister Ursula is a very verbal, sly 4 year old. What hasn’t changed is our commitment to raising both of our children bilingually. Thanks to my shorter commute, I get to spend more time with the kids than my partner, so breakfast, school runs and so on are all in English with Dad. Their schooling and almost all of Teeda’s therapy are in Japanese. My wife and I speak English to each other, and both of us speak to the children mainly but not exclusively in our native language.

“…code mixing is a normal and even beneficial part of multilingual development.”

Is there any confusion from this mixture of language exposure?
Not for the children, no, but we as parents went through a period of being pretty mixed up ourselves. In the beginning I tried a complex system of dividing language use at home by days between English and Japanese. It soon became clear that this was absurdly unrealistic. At that time a friend advised that we each simply stick to one language. We tried this approach, which had the winning virtue of simplicity, and was positive in that both of us could then be relaxed about using our native language in conversations with Teeda.

Research suggests that parents using their native tongue with their children is beneficial both in strengthening family bonds and developing the child’s linguistic ability. (Cummins, 2001) It was still hard though to maintain a pure split, and we were also worried that Teeda was often mixing languages in the same sentence. A research colleague was later able to assure me that provided each part of the sentence is grammatically correct, this kind of code mixing is a normal and even beneficial part of multilingual development. (Li & Oi, 2014) This new knowledge has helped us enjoy listening to what he wants to say—phrases like “I ate ten ichigo (strawberries). I get very dirty.”—without getting hung up on the language.

Click to continue →

For new parents largely unfamiliar with the terrain of raising bilingual children, the prospect of embarking on this long journey can feel pretty daunting. Where do they begin?

Bringing up a Bilingual ChildOne good place to start would be Bringing up a Bilingual Child by Rita Rosenback, the blogger behind the warm, supportive site Multilingual Parenting. Her insightful, reader-friendly guide, which includes useful exercises and materials for thoughtful planning, can serve as a reliable road map for the new traveler.

Rita, who was born into a bilingual family in Finland and later moved to England, is not only book-smart on the subject, she has successfully raised two multilingual children of her own. This key combination of professional knowledge and personal experience—along with the same passionate and positive outlook she conveys at her blog—has produced a book that offers clear, encouraging guidance on navigating the process of nurturing a bilingual child.

“I want to strengthen your confidence in your own abilities,” writes Rita in the introduction, “by providing you with motivation, ideas, advice and answers to your questions.” I believe her book delivers on this promise and gives inspiration, too, with strong appeals to seize this dream: “If you are a parent and have the opportunity to give your children the gift of communicating in more than one language, please don’t miss this chance of a lifetime.”

While Bringing up a Bilingual Child is intended as a basic primer—so there may not be much that is new for parents already well on their journey—for those just stepping into this unfamiliar territory, Rita Rosenback’s sensible, strategic guide will make a valuable companion for the road ahead.

Click to read my interview with Rita Rosenback →

Note: Be sure to read the many comments below this post. And feel free to share your own thoughts, too.

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.”