Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability How I Lost My Ear

Author Zita Robertson with one of her chickens

Two years ago, I shared a creative project that was carried out by Nellie Robertson and her two children. They live in the U.S. and Nellie is originally from Hungary, which means that English is their majority language and Hungarian is their minority language.

The project took place over the course of a full year and involved a stuffed alligator named Alfonzo, who they sent on a worldwide trip to enjoy “homestays” with a number of families (including mine!) who then reported on their experiences with their toothy guest.

Alfonzo the alligator

During this time, Nellie and her kids blogged all about Alfonzo’s adventures—in both of their languages—and the result was a wonderful project that was both very fun and very effective.

You can learn all about it, and see photos from Alfonzo’s “homestays” in various parts of the world, by reading this post…

How a Globe-Trotting Alligator Helped One Family Find Greater Fun and Success on Their Bilingual Journey

…and by visiting Nellie’s blog…

Alfonzo Around the World

Another creative project

Well, Nellie and her kids are back, this time with a fantastic book project that involved Nellie and her nine-year-old daughter, Zita. With Nellie’s solid support, Zita has written and self-published a book about her chickens, with versions in English and in Hungarian!

Dixie's Chicken Sisters in English

Dixie's Chicken Sisters in Hungarian

Full disclosure: Because Nellie and her family live just a short drive from my hometown of Quincy, Illinois, I was able to visit them in the summer of 2017! So I not only had the happy chance to meet Nellie and Zita (and the father and younger brother), I met the chickens, too!

Zita and her chickens

When Nellie told me about their new book project, this became something I was eager to share. As I’ve stressed before, along with persistent daily efforts—like providing ample speech in the target language, reading aloud, and pursuing a regular homework routine—language and joy can be fueled even further through the use of short-term projects: making videotaped interviews or “dramatic” films; creating a picture book or comic book; writing and performing a short play; singing and recording a favorite song (even making up your own); inventing a new game and playing it together; compiling a photo album and adding captions; pursuing crafts or a building task; researching and reporting on some subject of interest; and many more.

Here, then, are Nellie and Zita to tell you all about their bilingual book project. Many thanks to them both for generously sharing their lives with us.

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Dragonfly

In my last post, 5 Key Ways to Fortify Your Home Environment for Bilingual Success, I revealed the happy news that we were moving to a new house—though just one kilometer from the old one—that’s far more suitable for the next phase of our life as a family. (In fact, it’s not really a “new” house—it’s over 40 years old—but it’s a spacious Japanese-style house with a large Japanese-style garden and an excellent location.)

Well, we made the move last week and are now slowly settling in. To be honest, as much as I looked forward to moving, the actual move has been rather stressful and I’m afraid it will take longer than I had imagined for life to calm down again.

Still, I wanted to share with you some first thoughts from this new vantage point, particularly in connection to something strange that occurred two days after we moved in.

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5 Key Ways to Fortify Your Home Environment for Bilingual Success

We’re moving next week!

Honestly, I feel like I finally have some happy news to share after delivering so much sad news this year. (See My Mother Has Passed Away and My Father Has Passed Away, Too.)

We live in Hiroshima, Japan and we continue to rent instead of trying to buy. (Not only are the homes here generally too expensive for what you get, their value actually declines so buying a home isn’t the same sort of investment that it might be in another country. For the time being, at least, I think the freedom and flexibility that comes with renting is a better option for us.)

We’ve been in this house for the past 11 years and, starting last year, I began getting itchy to move. Now that my kids are older—Lulu is 14 and Roy is 11—and our local junior high school is a 40-minute walk (no school buses and the students aren’t allowed to ride bicycles), I felt it was time to find a place that was closer to the school and would have enough space for them to finally have their own rooms. (This can be difficult because Japanese apartments and homes are typically quite small.)

And then, after my parents died in March and May, moving felt even more urgent because, beyond the practical reasons I just mentioned, there arose a deep need to renew my life and the best way to do that, I thought, was from the ground up.

But finding a suitable place in this part of Hiroshima—a popular area where the rents are high—was turning out to be a challenge. In fact, it seemed we might have to wait until next spring for more options to appear (spring, the start of the new school year and work year, is when people often move from one house to another).

But then, just a few weeks ago, I came across what looked like a really promising place and we pursued it quickly. Although it’s an older house, it’s in good shape, it’s reasonably spacious (the kids cheered loudly when we told them they can finally have their own rooms!), and it’s in an excellent location.

While the house we’ve lived in since Lulu was 3 and Roy was a baby has been a good place for their younger years, the house we’re moving to will be a better home for this next phase of our lives as a family. :mrgreen:

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My funny father (the one on the right).

Last weekend we visited my wife’s parents. They don’t live so far from us—about 90 minutes by car—but I hadn’t seen them in over six months because I’ve been preoccupied with large life changes this year: my parents both passed away in the spring—my mother in March and my father in May—and I was making dazed journeys from Japan to the U.S.

My wife and my kids had paid two or three visits to see her parents during this time, but because I hadn’t, I was struck by how much older they appeared. I mean, they’re both still in fairly good health, but her father is now in his early 80s and her mother is nearly 80, too.

The hard reality is, the end of their lives—and the end of the time my children can spend with their maternal grandparents—is approaching, though it’s hard to say how much time actually remains.

This time is finite

That’s the thing: We never really know how much time is left for us to interact with grandparents or other loved ones in this life. And the irony, I think, is that even though we know—we absolutely know—that this time is finite, we somehow behave as if it’s not.

On one hand, I’m happy to say that I did what I realistically could, given the great distance between Japan and the U.S., to maintain an active relationship between my parents and my family. And I did this, of course, not only to milk the minority language exposure that this connection could provide, but also to create a meaningful and memory-filled bond between my children and my parents.

On the other hand, though, I don’t think I fully appreciated how fleeting this precious time would actually be. Even as my parents grew older, and their health began to fail, I still didn’t really grasp the idea that they would die, perhaps even soon, and that our time with them—at least in this world—would come to an end.

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“Bilingual Lives” is a series of profiles of interesting people who are leading bilingual (or multilingual) lives, both personally and professionally. This series was inspired by the memory of my mother, who began a bilingual life that she later regretted not being able to sustain into her adult years. If you would like your life and work to be featured in this series, please contact me.

Bilingual Lives: Ana Cristina Gluck, Author and Publisher of Multilingual Books for Children

Have you ever thought about writing a children’s book?

I think this idea has crossed the minds of many people, particularly parents who read a lot of picture books to their own kids.

And some of these parents, of course, are seeking to raise bilingual children and so the book they imagine writing would be in their mother tongue, to help their kids—and other kids in the world—learn that language and appreciate that culture.

Well, one parent who has fulfilled that wish is Ana Cristina Gluck, a mother of two who is originally from Brazil and now lives in the United States. Ana Cristina, who has a background in graphic design and marketing, wrote the children’s book Minha Familia, in Portuguese, and this book has gone on to earn dozens of five-star reviews at Amazon from grateful parents.

In fact, that book is only one part of Ana Cristina’s larger success because she has created her own publishing company, ABC Multicultural, that produces a variety of children’s books in multiple languages. To date, ABC Multicultural has published 14 titles in languages that include Portuguese, English—and coming soon—German, Italian, French, and Spanish. (And if you enter the giveaway below, you’ll have the chance to win any 3 books of your choice!)

ABC Multicultural

Recently, I spoke to Ana Cristina via Skype about her experience as a writer and publisher, then followed up by email to pursue the interview below. Indie publishing is certainly a challenge (as I know personally!), but Ana Cristina’s proactive spirit is enabling ABC Multicultural to produce high-quality books on a regular basis and positively impact the lives of families all over the world.

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This has been a tough year for me and my family. My mother passed away in March, then my father passed away in May. Because I’ll be returning to the U.S. again this month for my father’s memorial service—and because I need a break from blogging at this time—I won’t be making any new posts in June.

Actually, right now I’m making a short film about my father’s life for his memorial service. I’m bringing together photos that span from his boyhood to his old age, along with photos of his art work, and combining these images with recordings of him singing several of his original folk songs.

Making this film—watching his whole life unfold from beginning to end, in 10 minutes, and hearing his voice still ring out with vigor—has been a remarkable experience: so beautiful and so sad. Human life, no matter how you count the time, passes too quickly and lasts too briefly.

So I’ll be back in July and at that point, too, I’ll have a better idea about how to move forward from here with my work to support families with bilingual and multilingual children.

In the meantime, you’ll find all the many resources I offer for parents at this one handy page.

And speaking of support, I’d love yours, too. The best way to lend support to my work is by reading my books and sharing your impressions with others. I put my whole heart into writing them and people all over the world have responded to them so positively. If you haven’t read them yet, I think you’ll find them well worth your time and the modest expense. (Really, these books don’t cost much but they provide substantial value to the reader and are the main way I can sustain my blog and forum as free sites.)

So if you’d like to give a little something back, getting copies of my books, for yourself or for a friend, and telling others about them, is the very best way to do it.

Thank you, friends, and I hope June is a fun and productive month for you and your family. :mrgreen:

If you’re feeling discouraged or frustrated about your bilingual or multilingual aim for your kids, this video can help. It offers a fresh, empowering perspective that comes from a chapter of my popular book Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability: Ideas and inspiration for even greater success and joy raising bilingual kids.

Remember, you can always find friendly support, too, at The Bilingual Zoo, the web’s liveliest community for parents raising bilingual and multilingual children.

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

Learn more about the book Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability.

Al Beck

Just weeks after my mother passed away, my father has now left this world, too. Al Beck, an artist and teacher whose passion for art and education was widely influential, died at 11:15 p.m. on May 16.

He was 87 years old.

In late March, I hurried back to the U.S. to see my mother and say goodbye. She passed away the day after I arrived at my sister’s house.

During that trip, I also traveled to see my father, who was living in a nursing home three hours away. (My parents divorced when I was a teen and the last time they saw each other was nearly 20 years ago, at my wedding.)

In fact, the day my sister and I drove to see him was April 4, his birthday. When we got there, we found him celebrating with the president of the college where he had been an art professor for many years. There were balloons, gifts, and cake and my father was in a spirited mood.

On his sweater was a child’s badge and ribbon with the words: “Birthday Boy.”

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Breakthroughs-for-Bilingual-Children-top

My daughter will be 14 in June. My son turned 11 in March. If you’ve been following this blog over the years—when I made my first post in September of 2012, they were just 8 and 5—you know that they’ve had very different inclinations when it comes to reading in English, our minority language.

While both have become competent readers through a variety of long-running efforts—which include reading aloud from birth; flooding our home with books, magazines, and comic books in the target language; maintaining a daily homework routine; and making persistent use of the strategy I call captive reading—it’s also true that Roy’s progress has been stronger because, ever since he was small, he has been reading by himself more eagerly than Lulu. In fact, I detailed this important aspect of our bilingual journey in an article I wrote not long ago…

My Bilingual Daughter Is 13. My Bilingual Son is 10. So Why Is Their Level in the Minority Language Basically the Same?

Fundamental shift in motivation

With Roy, because he has long been a more natural bookworm, I’ve mostly just had to continue feeding his desire to read by providing a steady stream of suitable material. (Naturally, this still takes some regular time and energy on my part to find engaging resources.)

Lulu, on the other hand, because she has always preferred active play, has been more difficult to motivate when it comes to independent reading. However, over the past two weeks a fundamental shift in this area has been taking place and I now see that the previous breakthroughs I’ve documented at this blog (see Big Breakthrough with My Bilingual Daughter? and, again, My Bilingual Daughter Is 13. My Bilingual Son is 10. So Why Is Their Level in the Minority Language Basically the Same?) have been steps leading to the manifestation of this moment, alongside her growing maturity.

Here’s what happened…

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Want to strengthen your daily efforts, and your long-term success, at raising bilingual or multilingual children? The challenges at The Bilingual Zoo are designed to do just that by offering ideas and inspiration for a range of key actions that can produce very positive results.

(And you don’t have to be a member of The Bilingual Zoo community to take part—access to our forum is open to everyone—but since membership is free, why not?)

The latest challenge involves what’s probably the most important action of all when it comes to nurturing a child’s language development…

Challenge #13: Talk, Talk, Talk to Your Child

Challenge #13: Talk, Talk, Talk to Your Child

My son and I at a baseball game when he was just a little guy. (He’s now a big guy of 11.)

And here are the other 12 challenges at the Take a Challenge board…

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

Challenge #11: Make Videos of Your Kids

Challenge #12: Mindfully Shape the Space in Your Home

I hope to see you at The Bilingual Zoo, and I hope you find these challenges helpful and encouraging for your bilingual or multilingual goal! :mrgreen:

In this video, I describe important research on success rates for raising bilingual children then explain the implications of this research for parents. The information I share goes right to the heart of successfully nurturing a child’s bilingual (or multilingual) ability and can be found in my widely-praised book Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability: Ideas and inspiration for even greater success and joy raising bilingual kids.

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

Get more information about Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability.