Why Raising a Bilingual Child Matters in a World Gone Mad

Our hike at Sandankyo

The pain hit the other day—suddenly, sharply—on my right side. It was mid-afternoon and I was home alone. I lay down on the living room floor and gripped my belly. As the next minute passed, and the pain worsened, my mind began to churn…

Am I dying?

Should I call an ambulance?

What should I do?

Of course, I didn’t want to overreact, but I also didn’t want to underestimate the problem. How could I judge how serious this was?

So I called my wife. Or I should say, I tried calling her, but I ended up just screaming at my cell phone.

Right out the window

Because I run a blog and a forum, I might seem to be savvy, at least to some extent, with modern technology. But the truth is, this all goes right out the window when it comes to cell phones.

I know I’ll sound like a dinosaur when I say this, but I have no interest in cell phones and I use mine very rarely. I write a lot of email on my desktop computer, but I’ve never in my life sent a text message. And, unfortunately for me, I had just gotten a new cell phone (because the old one—a very old one—had finally conked out), and I still hadn’t figured out how to use it.

So there I was, writhing on the living room floor, unable to call my wife, or anyone else for that matter. Of course, I could have crawled over to our home phone, but I was too busy crazily punching buttons and shrieking in frustration.

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Why Raising a Bilingual Child Matters in a World Gone Mad

From the horror of Hiroshima to the terror of Paris, the world is mad. It’s hard to imagine that this madness can ever really be overcome, at least not until the human mind evolves into a higher state of health and wisdom.

But where does that leave us now, in these violent times? How should we live amid a world gone mad? And how can we help advance that necessary evolution of our species, even just a tiny step?

The fact is, despite the madness, there will always be soaring beauty and joy in this world. And as we work to stem the suffering around us, we should be relishing this other side of life each day. For us, the act of raising a bilingual child can be an important part of that beauty and joy, impacting our children’s lives, our lives, and the lives of many more, near and far, in a wealth of positive ways.

At the same time, there is early evidence that the brains of bilingual children develop somewhat differently, with a stronger tendency toward tolerance—and greater tolerance is what the human creature so desperately needs. Perhaps this bilingual impact on the brain itself, helping to form a more tolerant mind that becomes hard-wired into future generations, can also be the growing fruit of our efforts today.

This is why raising a bilingual child matters, even in a world gone mad. It matters for the present, right here at home, and it matters, in its own quiet way, for the larger evolution of our troubled kind as we continue to reach for a more peaceful future.


Want 10 effective ways to strengthen your efforts, and your success, at raising bilingual children?

There are now 10 “challenges” at The Bilingual Zoo, the friendly forum that complements this blog as a community of sharing and support for “keepers” of bilingual kids. These challenges are designed to empower your daily routine and boost your children’s language development. Try one, or try them all. Everyone is welcome to access the forum, and benefit from the challenges you’ll find at the links below. Only registered members, though, can fuel their commitment to these challenges by actively using the forum boards and interacting with others through posts and private messages.

As of today, The Bilingual Zoo has 404 members from all parts of the world. Becoming a member is free (a modest annual donation to help support the site is encouraged, but not required) and you’re invited to join us.

Best of luck with these challenges, and with your whole bilingual journey!

Challenge #1: Read to Your Children Every Day

Challenge #2: Play Background Music Regularly

Challenge #3: Maintain an Effective Homework Routine

Challenge #4: Make Use of Captive Reading

Challenge #5: Read More Poetry

Challenge #6: Do Something Playful and Quirky

Challenge #7: Write About Your Bilingual Journey

Challenge #8: Make This the Highest Priority You Can

Challenge #9: Make Good Use of Inspiring Quotes

Challenge #10: Travel to Your Minority Language Country

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A Fish in Foreign Waters

As parents of bilingual kids, one of our most important aims is nurturing a positive attitude toward the minority language. When a child feels that this language has value, that it benefits his or her life, our efforts to promote its growth can be far more effective. The reverse, I’m afraid, is also true, and if the child doesn’t feel much value in learning or using this language, the road ahead will be more difficult and less productive.

It’s like swimming with the current, or against it. (A fitting metaphor for the book I’m sharing today! :mrgreen: )

I’ve written several posts which involve this idea of instilling a sense of value in the minority language. You may want to return to these links after reading through this post (and entering the giveaway!)…

Getting a Bilingual Child to Feel the Value of the Minority Language

A Powerful Way to Inspire a Positive Attitude in Your Bilingual Child

The Power of Using the Minority Language to Help Others

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Human beings aren’t the only ones that benefit from bilingual ability. This Halloween week I sat down with 10 monsters for exclusive interviews on their experience of being bilingual or feeding on bilinguals. Here’s what they told me…


Bilingual Mummy

Bilingual Werewolf

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My three children and I at Trocadero in front of the Eiffel Tower

My three children and I at Trocadero in front of the Eiffel Tower

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.

Michele Cherie is an intentional wife, mama, and non-native French speaker raising her three children in French. She lives in the U.S. state of Oregon with her husband, kindergarten-age daughter, toddler son, and baby boy; they’ve just returned from three months in France. She writes at IntentionalMama.com about making purposeful choices for a culturally-rich, peacefully paced family life—with a French twist.

Here in Oregon we have just a handful of French-speaking friends, so my husband and I planned a trip to France this past summer so our children could be immersed in the language and make some French friends. We initially planned to stay for six weeks because my husband gets a six-week stretch of summer vacation each year. However, while reading Be Bilingual by Annika Bourgogne, I got the idea that the children and I could stay a month or so longer so that they could attend a few weeks of school in France. My husband was on board with this idea, but it still took a leap of faith for us to purchase the plane tickets allowing me to stay in France five weeks longer with our three young children to care for while my husband returned to the U.S.

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18 Ways to Get Bilingual Kids Using the Minority Language More in Your Car

In my last post, I shared a trip that we took to an old silver mining town in Japan, offering a number of photos and an important message about raising bilingual kids. (See Make History. Raise a Bilingual Child.)

As we were driving along, and playing little games in our minority language, it occurred to me that this might make a useful post:

What activities can parents pursue in the car to promote use of the target language and stretch language development?

Here, then, are 18 ideas that I hope will be helpful to your efforts. Some of the games can be played competitively, if you prefer, but I generally stick to non-competitive versions. (My kids have a tendency to break into warfare very quickly, and this is no fun at all inside a cramped car.)

1. Play Music
This is an obvious suggestion, but it’s worth pondering for a moment. Do you really have enough suitable music in the minority language? And do you play it regularly, in the car as well as at home? At the same time, are you consciously limiting the amount of music you play in the majority language? In my case, the only music we play in the car (and generally at home) is in English, our minority language. (If English is your target language, too, see Great Music for Kids and Great Christmas Music.)

2. Sing Songs
Of course, you can sing along with the music that you play. You can also sing songs to your kids and have them sing with you, when they’re able. (And no excuses about you sounding like a frog.) On our recent trip, I tried singing some rounds with my kids (like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”) and, though giggling became a big part of it, it was time well spent.

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Those privileged to touch the lives of children should constantly be aware that their impact on a single child may affect a multitude of others a thousands years from now. —Unknown

I thought of this wise quote last weekend when we visited a place called Iwami Ginzan, the site of an old silver mine in Shimane Prefecture, about three hours by car from Hiroshima.

Once called “The Silver Mine Kingdom,” Iwami Ginzan was the largest silver mine in Japanese history. From 1526 to 1923—nearly 400 years—it was one of the world’s most prominent silver mines, producing, at its peak, around one-third of the world’s silver. In 2007, the mine and its environs became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Entrance to old mine shaft

Entrance to old mine shaft

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Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability

As I’ve mentioned before at this blog, I’m now writing a book about raising bilingual children. And today I’m happy to announce that the manuscript for Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability is nearly finished.

Please note: This book is different from my eBook, which you can freely download as a PDF file. To learn more about the eBook, and get your own copy, see Instant Inspiration for Parents Raising Bilingual Kids.

Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability will be released in print in early 2016. However, if you’re interested in reading the “preview edition”—for free—I’ll soon offer this chance to a limited number of people in order to support your efforts at home and gratefully receive your feedback on the book for the first published edition.

First, though, let me tell you a little more about Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability

  • This book has basically been in the making for 20 years, ever since I first began teaching, and then parenting, bilingual children. The writing process itself has taken over three years.
  • My aim is to provide a comprehensive breadth of ideas and inspiration—”a big buffet of food for thought”—that will help parents experience even greater success on their bilingual journey.
  • It’s a big book, roughly 70,000 words, and shares the best of my personal experience as a longtime practitioner of bilingual acquisition in children. It explores the subject in unusual depth from a practical standpoint, focusing on the day-to-day reality of effectively, and enjoyably, fueling language development.
  • Like my blog, I hope this book will not only be informative and encouraging, but engaging to read. Although some of the content naturally overlaps with my work online, I’ve also gone far beyond the blog to provide a wealth of new material, diving deep into the ways of thinking and acting that can lead to more productive efforts and stronger progress.

The preview edition of Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability is almost ready. Over the next week or two, I’ll complete the manuscript and then send an email to those people who have expressed interest in possibly reading it and offering feedback. But in order to receive that message, with further information, you must be on a special email list for the book. If you’re not already on that list (it’s separate from my newsletter list), you can add your email address right now. Again, this is your last chance to be one of the first readers! :mrgreen:

Sorry, this list is now closed.
Subscribe to my list for Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability.

I’m really excited about this book and I look forward to sharing it with you, either soon or early next year. By the time you finish reading it, I’m confident you’ll be even better able to do exactly what you desire: maximize your children’s bilingual ability to the most effective and enjoyable degree you can.

Now that my kids are getting a bit older, I’ve begun bending my rule about posting photos of their faces at this blog. After all, they no longer look like they did in pictures from their youngest years, anyway. And I do want to offer a more personal glimpse of our lives to help you identify with my family—otherwise I’m afraid all this content becomes too abstract. So, with that in mind, I thought I would share a few photos from the past and illustrate some of the basic elements that have made up our bilingual journey to date.

Put them all together and they spell B.I.L.I.N.G.U.A.L.!


Books and reading aloud are at the very heart of strong, long-term success. (See The Secret to Raising a Bilingual Child and How Many Books Do You Have In Your Home?.)


Imagination and creativity are key to strengthening language exposure and addressing difficulties. (See Creative Solutions to Challenges Raising Bilingual Kids and the resource page Creative Ideas.)

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Battling the Majority Language Giant (While Feeling Like a Minority Language Gnome)

By Ana Paula G. Mumy, MS, CCC-SLP

When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, as any parent, I did so many things to prepare for our daughter’s arrival, but as a bilingual mom-to-be, I conscientiously prepared for being the primary Portuguese speaker in her life. Even with all of the preparation of reading blogs and books about bilingual parenting, building a library of children’s storybooks in Portuguese, and relearning children’s songs from my childhood, I naively thought it would be easier, that as long as I spoke only Portuguese to my children from birth, they would easily become Portuguese speakers and would naturally choose Portuguese as our language of interaction.

When my son arrived about 1.5 years later, I excitedly thought to myself, “Yay, we’ll have another Portuguese speaker in our home!” The unfortunate reality is that even in the midst of my efforts to keep Portuguese central and constant in our lives, they still favor English, which is my husband’s and our community language. What’s even more bewildering is that for my daughter, who’s older and has more advanced language skills, if I ask her if she’s able to say in Portuguese the English utterance she just made, she can do it most times without any difficulty. So I’m left with the puzzling question, if she clearly has the Portuguese language base, why didn’t she choose Portuguese in the first place when I’m speaking to her in Portuguese?

I never imagined that the majority language giant would be so large, so difficult to overcome. I didn’t realize my competition with him would be so fierce, so constant, so exasperating. Many days I feel like a little insignificant gnome trying to guard this minority language treasure that I hold. The majority language giant is everywhere I look…in all public places we roam—the library, the playground, the grocery store, the mall, play dates with friends, church, the skating rink…simply everywhere! This giant is so present, so powerful that he even attempts to take over in our home on television, on the iPad, on the radio, in storybooks. So here I am, this tiny minority language gnome always seemingly on the losing end; the odds constantly against me in this intense competition for relevance, input, and need. And to make matters worse, I confront the quandary that the majority language giant is equally needful…such a love-hate relationship exists with this giant!

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