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My Family

Curious to hear more about my own family and our bilingual quest? Just take a peek at these posts!

Special Contest: Guess How I Handled This Problem with My Bilingual Daughter and Win a Cool Package of Prizes from Hiroshima, Japan

Want to get a surprise package from me and my kids, all the way from Hiroshima, Japan?

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Trinkets from Japan

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Treats from Japan

The contents of your package may vary a bit from these things, but it will include at least 10 fun items for your family. And all you have to do is be a winner in this special contest! (There can be up to 3 winners.)

Click to learn more about the contest →

Big News for 2017 at Bilingual Monkeys

Happy New Year! I hope 2017 is a good year for you and your family and I hope my work—this blog, my forum, and my book—can help you experience even greater success and joy on your bilingual journey.

Before I share my big news for this year, let me point you toward an important article I posted last January. This article is still just as relevant today, and in fact, will always be relevant for the aim of raising bilingual children. So if you missed it last year, be sure to take a look now…

7 Must-Make Resolutions for Parents Raising Bilingual Kids

7 Must-Make Resolutions for Parents Raising Bilingual Kids

My big news

To kick off the year, I have three things to tell you…

1. JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL

My daughter will enter junior high school in the spring. (The school year in Japan runs from April to March.) It’s like her years in elementary school just blinked by and Lulu is no longer the little girl I’ve featured at this blog for the past five years—she’s becoming a young woman.

In terms of our bilingual journey, this change will mark a challenging new stage. The fact is, the junior high school in our area is twice as far from our home as the elementary school. So, on top of a long school day, club activities after school, and heavier loads of homework, she’ll have to leave the house even earlier in the morning. All of this means that the daily routines I’ve been able to maintain over the past six years of elementary school, in order to advance her (and her younger brother’s) progress in the minority language, will have to be reshaped in creative ways to fit this new reality. Things like reading aloud, which I’ve always done at breakfast, and daily homework after school in the minority language—two central routines of our journey to date—will be tested, and yet I’m determined to do what I realistically can through the busier teen years, too.

And, as always, I’ll report on our experiences at this blog—both the successes and the struggles—with an eye toward offering ideas and inspiration for your own journey.

Click for more big news →

Meeting the King's Family and Enriching My Bilingual Children's Language Exposure

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that one of my best weapons for promoting exposure to the minority language is my endless urge to say dumb things to my students and my kids.

It’s true, and I detailed this idea in one of the most popular posts at this site: Why Saying a Lot of Dumb Things to Your Bilingual Kids Is So Valuable to Their Language Development. The truth is, the more you make a habit of saying dumb things—and generating playful conversations that can engage your children in the target language—the more exposure you’ll create in that language and the more effective that input will be. Do this regularly, over the course of childhood, and such efforts at “imaginary talk” can have a powerful impact not only on the progress made in your children’s language development but also on the joy you experience together in your relationship.

Here’s a very clear example, from last Sunday. Let me try to recreate the conversation, while adding little notes of explanation, as needed.

“What an exciting day!”

See this photo? It shows a store in Hiroshima that sells used clothing; it’s called King Family.

King Family

So on Sunday morning, before Lulu and Roy have come to the kitchen table for breakfast, my wife shows me a flyer, touting a big sale at King Family, and says she wants to go. I grunt in agreement (I don’t like shopping for clothes) and she leaves the room to start a load of laundry.

Moments later, my kids sit down at the table with me and begin to eat their breakfast.

Let’s pick up the conversation from there…

Click to continue →

Since my book about raising bilingual children was released in the spring, I’ve been interviewed a number of times. These videotaped conversations—connecting me, in Hiroshima, Japan, to kindred spirits in other parts of the world—have been a real joy for me and I’ve been grateful for the invitations to speak about this subject.

The truth is, I’m generally not a big talker, but when the subject is bilingual children, which I have a boundless passion for, I’m afraid it’s hard to get me to stop!

Amanda Hsiung Blodgett, popularly known as Miss Panda Chinese, learned that recently when we spoke for almost an hour about a range of issues related to raising bilingual kids. It was a very lively discussion (watch out for my annoying puppet, Princess Pup!) and I’m happy to now share it with you.

Watch this video at Miss Panda Chinese.

I recently tried a new activity that worked so well, I want to share the full details with you. In fact, below you’ll even find scans of the actual stories produced by my kids and their grandmother. I hit upon this idea while reflecting on the serial stories I’ve written, as a form of captive reading, that feature my children in starring roles in order to strengthen their engagement in the minority language (for us, that’s English).

Let’s call this new activity “Story Exchange” and the basic idea involves having the child write a story in the target language that features a partner—like a grandparent—as the main character. The partner, in turn, writes a story that puts the child in a starring role.

The idea is quite simple, but it’s very effective, and in a variety of ways…

  • It provides a creative change of pace from writing letters.
  • The idea of writing a story about a family member or friend is inherently engaging.
  • When creating their stories, children practice and stretch their writing ability in the minority language.
  • After receiving the stories written for them, children feel genuinely motivated to read the text. (Who doesn’t want to read a story that stars you?)
  • Children can also exercise their drawing ability by adding an illustration to accompany the story.
  • The stories themselves become special keepsakes that could last a lifetime.

Click to continue →

My son is 9 and the other day I gave him a simple writing task, as part of our daily homework routine, to help stretch his ability in English, our minority language.

But as it turns out, I found the results quite revealing in terms of our entire bilingual journey together.

The simple task involved making a list of things of a certain color; in this case, a list of 10 things that are black.

That was all. I offered no further direction or guidance.

And here’s what Roy wrote…

Make a list of 10 things that are black.

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Here's the Bright Side to Bilingual Kids Getting Sick

My son is sick today. He woke up with a headache and fever and stayed home from school. (Summer vacation hasn’t quite begun yet in Japan.)

Of course, I’m not happy that he’s sick. Like any parent, I don’t like to see my kids suffering, even if that suffering is only mild. And in my case, since I work from home (and my wife works outside the home), when my kids are sick this means there’s another presence in the house pulling at my attention.

Still, though I want them to be healthy and in school, I’ve also come to see the bright side of these occasional days of illness at home.

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The Larger Arc of Captive Reading—and Our Lives As Human Beings

For nearly a decade, I’ve pursued a strategy I call “captive reading” and this tactic has made a tremendous contribution to my children’s language and literacy development. At this point, as my children are getting a bit older (they’re now 12 and 9) and their ability in the minority language has reached a fairly advanced level, I’ve now taken what is probably the final step in my captive reading efforts, one I’ll try to sustain through the rest of their childhood.

But before I share that final step, let’s look back at the larger arc of this strategy since my daughter was 3. Obviously, from age 3 to age 12 there has been great growth in her language development and, in line with this growth, I’ve used a progression of captive reading forms and materials over the years.

Below is the broad chronology of my efforts, based on the main blog posts that have described these ideas. For full details, please turn to the original posts.

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Last Wednesday was my birthday.

In hamster years, I’m now 1080.

In human time, though, I turned 54.

As the years continue to hurtle past, my birthdays, I admit, are starting to get me a bit down. When I look back, it feels like I’ve done quite a lot in my lifetime…but I also wonder how much of this activity has really been of significance.

I guess I was seeking some confirmation of my worth in the world when I set the homework for my kids that afternoon. Along with other tasks, I made an unfinished list for them to complete: “7 Things I Like About Daddy.”

Of course, my kids groaned when they saw it, but they couldn’t really refuse when I whined, “Come on, guys! It’s my birthday!” (That’s certainly one good thing about birthdays: They serve as your trump card for getting people to carry out your needy requests.)

And, so prodded by guilt, my children went to work.

Click to see their actual lists →

Lulu's great-grandfather

My grandfather was a social worker who led the National Refugee Service during World War II, helping refugees settle into new lives in America. His parents had immigrated from Romania and he was their first child born in the United States.

My family and I were looking at old photographs last night and made an astonishing discovery.

My father’s father—my grandfather and my children’s great-grandfather—was born on June 28, 1904.

Given the fact that the time in Japan is always one day ahead of the United States, the date of my daughter’s birth—June 29, 2004—means that Lulu and her great-grandfather were born exactly 100 years apart.

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Raising a Bilingual Child? Raise the Odds of Success!

Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start. —Nido Quebein

Think of it this way: Raising a child to be bilingual is about odds and each family’s odds of success will be higher or lower depending on their particular circumstances and how proactive they are about shaping these conditions in effective ways.

My experience as a teacher at Hiroshima International School demonstrates that the odds of a Japanese child successfully becoming bilingual are extremely high when that child acquires Japanese from the family and community, and English from the school environment. Of course, the degree of that ability in English will depend on such variables as the age at which the child enters the school and how long that attendance lasts. Still, I think it’s safe to say that, generally speaking, strong bilingual success for children who are exposed to the majority language at home and the minority language at school is virtually assured.

A different scenario

Many families, though, face a very different scenario, with circumstances that inherently make the challenge of fostering active ability in the minority language far more difficult. In other words, such circumstances, instead of working in the family’s favor—as in the example above—work against their success.

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