Exciting new book project! Books by Adam Beck

My Family

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

UPDATE: Good news! My kids have officially passed their very first proficiency test in English, our minority language! And amazingly, their final scores—a combination of both the reading/writing test and the speaking test—were almost identical! My son’s score was 2445 and my daughter’s was 2439 (out of 2600 total points). Many thanks to you all for cheering them on! They had big smiles when they opened their large envelopes and found the certificates inside! :mrgreen:

EIKEN, Test in Practical English Proficiency

My son turns 12 in March and my daughter will be 15 in June. But until last month, they hadn’t been tested in any formal way to assess their ability in English, our minority language. So I signed them up to take the EIKEN test, which is a widely-used English test in Japan and is given several times a year in locations across the country.

The EIKEN test consists of seven “grades,” or levels: the lowest test level is Grade 5, then 4, then 3, then Pre-2, then 2, then Pre-1, and finally the highest test level, Grade 1. You can take the test of any level you choose (you don’t have to start at level 5 and work your way up), and ability at the higher levels is tested in two parts on two different days: the first part of the test assesses reading, writing, and listening; and the second part (but only if you pass that first part) is the test that assesses speaking.

Of course, I’ve long had my own estimate of their English ability, but I thought it would now be helpful, in these three ways, for them to begin challenging the higher EIKEN levels:

  1. The test results could provide further insight into the strengths and weaknesses of their current language ability.
  2. These tests would give us some new structure and goals for their language development. (Now that they’re getting older, and getting immersed even more deeply in their Japanese lives, it’s important for me to pursue concrete ways, that preferably have some continuity, to continue advancing their English side.)
  3. Passing test scores at the higher levels of the EIKEN test could potentially benefit them in the future when they seek to enter high schools and universities, or when they’re eventually looking for work.

The three highest test levels

Last year, with an eye on registering them for the first testing date in 2019, which took place in late January, I printed out samples of the three highest test levels from the EIKEN web site—levels 2, pre-1, and 1—and had them give these a try.

Since, in the past, I had helped a number of my students prepare to take various levels of this test, I already was pretty familiar with the range of difficulty and I was able to judge which level would be most appropriate for my own kids.

I say “level”—not “levels”—because Lulu and Roy, despite nearly a three-year gap in their ages, are now basically at the same level of general English ability. In a post I made in January 2018—My Bilingual Daughter Is 13. My Bilingual Son is 10. So Why Is Their Level in the Minority Language Basically the Same?—I explained the reasons why and stressed the point that Roy’s greater passion for books and reading has resulted in a greater quantity of input over a shorter amount of time. (Thus, doing your best to maximize your child’s “bookworm potential,” from early on, can have a hugely productive impact on his overall language proficiency through the years of childhood.)

After examining their sample tests, my sense of the appropriate test level for their current ability was confirmed: level 2 would be too easy; level 1 would be too hard; and level Pre-1 would be just about right.

To help you understand the sort of levels I’m talking about, here are vocabulary and reading samples from each of these levels.

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My Simple Message for the New Year (And Don’t Mind My Messy Hands)

We spent the last week of 2018 in Singapore, a long-overdue family vacation. (That’s me in the photo, licking chilli crab off my fingers.) We had a warm, wonderful week there—Singapore is such a lively multicultural and multilingual place—and it was hard to return to cold Japan and resume our “real lives” here.

Among the busy days of sightseeing, we also had the chance to meet up with a family that I became friends with through this blog. It was actually the second time we met because they first paid a visit to our home in Hiroshima when they were living here. That was nearly four years ago, when their son was just one, and now he’s five and has become a very talkative bilingual boy (English and Mandarin) while making steady progress in his third language (Japanese), too.

Honestly, one of the very best things about running this blog, and my forum, has been the opportunity to connect with kindred spirits who are also on bilingual or multilingual journeys. And because this aim is so central to our lives—it’s such a heartfelt part of who we are—these connections often feel deeper than other friendships, and this is true even when our interactions are solely online.

However, one of my high hopes for 2019 is that I’ll be able to travel to other parts of the world and meet more of you in person. In fact, I’m now scheming to make this happen so please stay tuned and I’ll share more about this when I’m ready to reveal my plans.

The “5 P’s”

For the moment, though, let me just offer a simple message for the new year. We can call them the “5 P’s” for bilingual or multilingual success.

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The Top 12 Blog Posts at Bilingual Monkeys in 2018

2018 was a long, tough year for me and it was hard to blog as frequently as I did over the previous five years. (Yes, Bilingual Monkeys is now more than 6 years old!) But I did what I could to keep the site reasonably active and helpful. Setting aside the sad posts I made about my mother and my father, let me round off the year with a list of the “top 12” posts at this blog in 2018. I admit, it’s hard to be purely objective about how I selected and ranked this list of posts. While I took into account how popular the posts were, in terms of traffic and shares on social media, I also gave some weight to my own subjective feelings about them. (Although I didn’t include any of the articles from the new Bilingual Lives series—to keep this list concise—I encourage you to see these interesting and inspiring profiles of the bilingual/multilingual lives of Delia Berlin, Ana Cristina Gluck, and Victor Santos.)

So, without further ado, here are the “top 12” posts in 2018, from 12 to 1. I hope they can contribute, in some small way, to the greater success and joy of your bilingual or multilingual journey with your children. :mrgreen:

12. My Kids Scream at Me Not to Lick Poisonous Mushrooms
Watch a short video of this memorable moment on our bilingual journey.

11. Fantastic Bilingual Book Project for Children and Parents
With the solid support of her mother, this nine-year-old girl has written and published a book in her two languages.

10. How the Minority Language Can Flower in Your Bilingual Child
The flowering of a child’s minority language depends on both nature and nurture.

9. How to Create Breakthroughs in the Language Development of Bilingual Children
I share recent breakthroughs with my own kids and explain how breakthroughs can occur in your own language journey with your children.

8. 7 Interviews with Adam Beck, Author of “Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability”
This post brings together seven interviews that I’ve given about raising bilingual and multilingual children through podcasts and video

7. VIDEO: Important Research on Successfully Raising a Bilingual Child
In this video I describe important research on success rates for raising bilingual children and explain the implications of this research for parents.

6. Feeling Discouraged About Raising Bilingual Children? Watch This Video.
If you’re feeling discouraged or frustrated about raising bilingual or multilingual kids, this fresh, empowering perspective can help.

5. Make the Most of Your Precious Time with Grandparents, Whether Near or Far
Your time with loved ones on this earth is finite, is fleeting, so do what you realistically can to maintain an active and loving relationship.

4. Something Strange Happened 2 Days After We Moved into Our New House (And Its Significance to Change and Transformation on the Bilingual Journey)
In this post I share an unusual incident and describe its deeper connection to raising bilingual and multilingual children.

3. 5 Ways for Your Bilingual Child to Interact with Other Speakers of the Minority Language
How can you strengthen your children’s engagement in the target language with other speakers of that language?

2. 12 Inspiring Real-Life Stories of Bilingual and Multilingual Families
Real-time case studies of how strong, steady progress is made at the bilingual aim, day by day, over the months and years of childhood.

1. Upset About Raising Bilingual Kids? That Might Be a Very Good Thing. (Really.)
The fact that you’re upset is precisely what will now enable you to move forward more effectively and experience the greater success and joy that you seek.

While Bilingual Monkeys may have been a little quieter this year, that certainly wasn’t the case at The Bilingual Zoo forum! What a lively year! (The forum is now 4 years old.) As of today, there are 971 members, 1018 threads on 11 boards, and 9436 total posts from parents worldwide. Remember, The Bilingual Zoo is a free service for all, members and guests alike. It continues to be a warm, empowering place for parents and I encourage you to stop by anytime for camaraderie and support. :mrgreen:

Update on My Son’s Bilingual Life at 11.9 Years Old: Funny Photos, Art Awards, and Junior High

It’s been a while since I simply shared news of my family’s own bilingual journey. Despite the heartache of this year for me, I’ve tried to keep up my regular efforts to nurture my children’s progress in our two minority languages, English and Spanish. In this two-part series, I offer updates on the bilingual lives of my daughter (here) and now my son.

Two plastic tubs

Lately I’ve been sifting through big boxes of old photos: me as a child, my parents and my siblings, my years as a young adult, my time in Japan, and my kids when they were small. In fact, I’m slowly putting together two plastic tubs—one for Lulu and one for Roy—that will contain an organized collection of their family history on my side, with photos, videos, audio CDs, letters, newspaper articles, and other documents.

The truth is, since they’ve lived in Japan all their lives and have made only a couple of short trips to the United States, their connection to my history, and my family’s history, is pretty thin. I continue to try sharing this history, as I’m able, but I know it feels distant to them, particularly now that they’ve become so immersed in their Japanese lives.

I guess these plastic tubs are my attempt to leave them with this legacy when they’re older, even after I’m gone. Perhaps they’ll spend time with the contents one day and come to feel a stronger connection to these roots; perhaps not. But it’s what I can do.

Funny photos

So this week I was looking through photos of Lulu and Roy when they were just babies. I was sitting on the floor of the living room as they were perched on the couch, watching TV. Occasionally I would flash a funny photo their way, like this one…

Here’s what Roy was thinking in his baby mind: “What?! *This* is the guy I have to live with for the next 18 years?!”

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Update on My Daughter’s Bilingual Life at 14.5 Years Old: High School, Tears, and English Tests

It’s been a while since I simply shared news of my family’s own bilingual journey. Despite the heartache of this year for me, I’ve tried to keep up my regular efforts to nurture my children’s progress in our two minority languages, English and Spanish. In this two-part series, I offer updates on the bilingual lives of my daughter and my son. First Lulu, then Roy (here).

High school on the horizon

Lulu is now 14.5 years old, a mostly upbeat young woman. Incredibly (at least to me), she’ll start her last year of junior high school next April, which means that she’s already begun the taxing process of getting into the high school of her choice. This involves studying a lot harder than I ever did as a young teen; attending a “cram school” several evenings a week to strengthen the subjects she struggles with most (like her numbers-challenged father, math is not her forte); and, eventually, taking an entrance exam for her chosen high school (as well as a back-up school or two).

At this point, she hopes to get into one of the most competitive high schools in Hiroshima, which offers an international studies program. Her chances are good, I think—and her English ability is a valuable factor on her side—but only time will tell if this aim can be fulfilled.

While it’s true that this process is forcing her to become more disciplined (I’m amazed, frankly, at how long she can study when she’s facing a week of tests at school), it’s a rather stressful experience, too, and I’m afraid her time and energy for our minority languages—not to mention other interests and pure fun—is being squeezed badly.

Still, on most days, she continues to complete the modest amount of homework that I give her in English and Spanish—a routine (starting with English) that began over a decade ago. (See Secrets of a Successful Homework Routine, Part 1.) And I remain mindful, too, of the importance of spending time with her—for the sake of our relationship as well as her English ability—and so I’m trying to make this an ongoing priority. (Lulu is a sporty girl and I’ve found that playing catch in front of the house is a good way to engage with her for short bursts of time.)

While I’m generally pleased with her level of English ability, it’s also true that her lack of time for reading and (especially) writing in English means that her progress in these areas is slower than I would prefer. But, considering that she’s always attended Japanese schools, her foundation for further growth into more advanced levels of literacy is now firm.

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Look! I’m Shaking Hands with a Kangaroo!

With the passing of my parents in the spring (my mother in March, my father in May), my main message for this year has been…

Make the Most of Your Precious Time with Grandparents, Whether Near or Far

This is important, of course, not only for the language exposure they can potentially provide, but, more fundamentally, for the fleeting chance to nurture a meaningful bond between grandparents and grandchildren.

With this in mind, I arranged for us to take a family trip with my wife’s parents—my children’s Japanese grandparents—this past weekend. In this case, there was no benefit of extra input in the minority language, but that naturally wasn’t the motive: while my mother-in-law and father-in-law are both pretty spry for their early 80s (they can still easily ride bicycles!), it’s also true that their health is now more fragile and it’s hard to know how many more trips like this we’ll be able to take with them.

So we went to the lovely, peaceful town of Hagi, located on the Sea of Japan, about three hours by car from Hiroshima. Hagi is an old castle town, remarkably well preserved and full of splendid sights.

In fact, Hagi is truly one of my very favorite places, not only in Japan but in the world. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may even recall that I shared our last trip to Hagi four years ago.

This post won’t include as much background about Hagi itself (so if you’re curious, please see that previous post) and, as always, I need to maintain everyone else’s privacy by not showing their faces too fully. Still, I’d like to invite you to join us, through photos, for a sense of our time together…and particularly, this memorable time my kids could spend with their grandparents.

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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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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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