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Preschool

How can you promote the English ability of your preschool children? Find out in these posts!

Over the years, my family has followed an annual tradition, each August, of driving out to a large blueberry patch that’s located in the countryside about 90 minutes from Hiroshima. We spend much of the day there picking blueberries and breaking for a picnic lunch.

This tradition started when Lulu was two. In fact, we originally stumbled upon the blueberry patch by accident when we were out searching for a larger fruit farm, our original destination.

Here’s Lulu that first year, with our big baskets of blueberries. Lulu was more of an eater than a picker back then (and Roy hadn’t been born yet) so Keiko and I somehow filled these three baskets by ourselves, blueberry by blueberry. We’ve never equaled this haul in the years since!

Our first visit to the blueberry patch.

While we’ve tried to make this outing every August (when the blueberries are ripe), some years have been difficult. In fact, the past two summers I was busy traveling back to the U.S. as my parents fell ill and then passed away.

So this year—despite the fact that my kids, now 15 and 12, are both very busy with schoolwork and club activities during the summer break—I was determined to resume our little tradition.

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ADAM’S NOTE: As I’ve stressed over the years (like in this post), one of the keys to realizing our bilingual or multilingual aim is a creative spirit. And this sort of resourceful and proactive approach is particularly important when your circumstances are challenging and working against your success. So today I’m thrilled to present a new guest post by Ana Calabrese because her outlook and her efforts are such an encouraging example of how jumping into this journey with a creative spirit can generate rewarding success, both for one’s family and even, through our influence, for others near and far. Thank you for sharing your story, Ana! :mrgreen:

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Ana Calabrese is a native Spanish speaker from Colombia raising two bilingual-bicultural kids in California. She founded Spanish Plus Me and recorded her album “Short + Fun Spanish Beats” to promote the advantages of bilingualism and encourage the introduction of the Spanish language to children through the use of songs, movement, and fun. You can find Ana’s songs on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play, and download all the lyrics with translations in English, Portuguese, and French at www.spanishplusme.com.

Ana CalabreseI have always liked the scene in the Disney movie “Big Hero 6” where, in a moment when the younger brother was feeling hopeless and out of ideas for a big project, the older brother carried him on his shoulders and turned him upside down to shake him and move him around their bedroom, encouraging him to look at things from another angle.

Every now and then I feel like I need that kind of shaking up to reset and look for inspiration and encouragement to keep working on helping my kids (8 and 5) to become bilingual. It is challenging when one has to do it in a community with very few resources to add exposure to the minority language and when all their world seems to be speaking the majority language, in our case English.

The most common advice I have heard from other parents raising bilingual kids is to try to find a community of speakers of the target language so they can practice and have that sense of culture. Every day, on social media, I read cases of parents asking for help and ideas on how to raise their children bilingual in Spanish, and every day I also read things like: enroll them in a dual language or immersion program, find friends that speak Spanish, attend events for Spanish speakers, go to parks where Spanish speakers gather, hire an au pair, move to a Spanish speaking country, among others.

Well, that has not been an option for us. There are no dual language or immersion schools in our school district, there is no Spanish story time at our local libraries, there are no Spanish classes at their school or nearby. With the few friends we have that can speak Spanish, they won’t play in Spanish, and no, we won’t move to another country and we can’t hire an au pair. So what did I do? I decided to look at things in a different way. I decided that we were going to promote Spanish in our community, and we were going to be the ones teaching Spanish to our friends. If there were no Spanish resources, we were going to facilitate some of them and share our gift with others. In that way we could also get to know people that appreciate other cultures and languages, whether they were bilingual or not.

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ADAM’S NOTE: In this insightful guest post, Marisa Martínez Mira offers a broader perspective on the bilingual journey, based on her own personal and professional experience. To my mind, this sort of broader perspective is so important for keeping up our commitment and our efforts through early childhood, as these are years that can be very challenging for our bilingual or multilingual aim. Thank you for this encouraging reminder, Marisa! (Marisa is also generous with her wise advice at The Bilingual Zoo, the world’s warmest, liveliest forum for parents on a bilingual or multilingual journey.) :mrgreen:

Bilingual Ability Is Always a Positive Thing

Marisa Martínez Mira is originally from Spain and now lives in the United States with her three-year-old daughter. When Marisa first arrived in the U.S., back in 1996, her goal was to teach Spanish to college students for a year…and she’s still doing that today. While working as a Spanish professor at a university in Virginia, Marisa is also raising her daughter with a multilingual aim: English is the majority language and the minority languages are Spanish, German, and French.

Marisa Martínez MiraLike all of you, I’m doing the best I can to ensure that my daughter (the little fairy above) grows to enjoy the benefits of speaking more than one language, and hopefully she’ll do the same with her own children in the future. At the moment she’s three years old and is a lovely, funny little girl and (at least so far) seems very interested in languages.

My own interest in bilingualism/multilingualism is both personal and professional. I did my MA and Ph.D. in the United States and I specialize in sociolinguistics. For my Ph.D. dissertation, I studied the use of a particular grammatical feature in the Spanish of different generations of heritage speakers, i.e. speakers who, in G. Valdés’s definition (2000a, 2000b), “are raised in a home where a non-English language is spoken, who speak or at least understand the language, and who are to some degree bilingual in that language and in English.” (In my case, those speakers were of Mexican heritage.)

Research has been quite consistent on the following: starting with the second generation of heritage speakers, the majority language becomes the dominant language, to the extent that by the third or fourth generation, these heritage speakers are virtually monolingual. My data corroborated this assumption, although I also discovered that even the heritage speakers with the lowest Spanish proficiency showed better knowledge and understanding of Spanish than those who began to study it later in life because the former had been exposed to Spanish, even if in a limited environment, from an earlier age. This means that, yes, everything we’re doing as parents to promote bilingualism/multilingualism in our little ones will prove to have a positive outcome!

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This Key Strategy Can Empower Your Child's Bilingual Ability Throughout the Childhood Years—and Even for a Whole Lifetime

In the recent post Make the Most of the “Golden Years” of Your Minority Language Influence, I introduced the challenging new stage of my family’s bilingual journey.

Now that my kids—Lulu, nearly 15, and Roy, 12—are both in junior high school and are leading busy, increasingly independent lives in Japanese, I’m afraid my presence in their days, and the English exposure that goes along with it, is far more limited than it was when they were younger. In fact, the balance between the time they spend in Japanese and the time they spend in English has shifted severely. When they were small, this balance was roughly 50-50, and even through elementary school it was a still productive 60-40 or 70-30, Japanese to English. Yet now, with their long days spent almost entirely in Japanese, and my hours with them in English badly squeezed by the lack of time and their growing social lives with friends from school, that ratio has deteriorated to less than 90-10.

I confess, I feel frustrated by this situation, but at the moment it isn’t realistic to consider reshaping these circumstances in any substantial way. The hard fact is, for us, the junior high school years (three of them) will probably be the low point when it comes to this balance between the majority language and minority language. (I’m hoping high school, and beyond, will bring more beneficial English opportunities into their lives.) Therefore, since changing the situation itself, for solely the sake of their English, isn’t a practical option, I have to accept the fact that their English ability will advance more slowly than I’d prefer during this time, simply because the balance of exposure and engagement is now so heavily weighted toward Japanese.

One simple, empowering strategy

Accepting this reality, though, doesn’t mean that I won’t continue to do what I can to engage their English side from day to day. Although their English ability may not grow as quickly or strongly during this stage of their bilingual development, I know it will continue to grow as long as I stay persistent in creative and resourceful ways…while also doing my best to be understanding of their busy lives if they’re not always able to meet my expectations for daily homework in English or other English activities.

In this post, though, I want to stress one simple strategy that can have a very empowering influence on children at an older age—as teens and even as adults—because it has the potential to engage them in the minority language on a regular basis and without the parent’s presence. Yet the key to making this idea work as productively as possible at that older age depends greatly on the actions you take from early on, when your children are still small.

The truth is, for me this was a conscious strategy that I pursued since the time they were very young, with an eye toward the future circumstances that I expected to face during their teenage years. And as long as I continue to make the most of this tactic, I believe it will have a significant influence on the amount of time and attention they give to English, despite the daily dominance of Japanese. By engaging them in English in this way—even without the need for my presence—I can continue to advance their English ability while also embedding the language more deeply in their lives as they grow into adults.

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Want to Raise a Bilingual Child? Remember This: You Get What You Pay For.

I won’t bore you with the details, but over the past couple of months, I’ve had continuous troubles with many parts of my digital life, and especially email. In fact, last week my entire email account for Bilingual Monkeys (adam@bilingualmonkeys.com) suddenly disappeared from my computer, with thousands and thousands of messages vanishing in a matter of moments. (Fortunately, I was able to locate a back-up folder and restore most of them, but still, it was a long and distressing day.)

So if you haven’t received a message from me lately—whether a personal reply to an email you sent or one of my regular newsletters—it’s because I’ve been struggling with this problem of unreliable email. At this point, I hope (I pray) that it’s working properly again. I apologize for the inconvenience, but if you sent a message to me recently, and never received a reply, could you please try once more?

Thinking of the bilingual aim

At the same time, it’s also true that some of these troubles are connected to my aging computer. The desktop PC that I’ve been using for over 8 years has been a real workhorse, but I know it’s now wise to consider replacing it and remaking my digital life in new ways.

Here’s the thing: During my research for a new computer (I’m looking at laptops, in particular), I’ve continually come across the expression “You get what you pay for.” And by the fourth or fifth time I heard someone say this, I couldn’t help thinking of the bilingual aim as well.

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I Know a Lot About...

Over the years, I’ve amassed big piles of papers that hold teaching materials, creative writing, and ideas for future blog posts, books, and other projects. From time to time I’ll sift through these piles in an attempt to file the papers I want to keep and discard the ones I no longer need.

But the truth is, I never seem to get all the way to the bottom of these stacks and so the piles begin rising again as I add fresh papers. One of my goals in connection with our move last August was to tackle this task and finally eliminate all the piles…and yet it’s now eight months later and they’re still growing like weeds.

The thing is, it’s a lot more fun for me to add to the piles with new inspirations than it is to get everything properly sorted in my filing cabinet.

Still, last night, as I was halfheartedly making another attempt at this aim, I came across a paper that was fun for me to rediscover…and might be fun for you to try with your own kids or students.

A humorous twist

When my children were younger, and first learning to read, I created a kind of worksheet designed to promote both vocabulary and early reading. If you’ve been following this blog over the years, you know that my mind is continuously trying to put a humorous twist on language activities for my kids and students because this sort of playful approach tends to make the activity more engaging and more productive. Of course, there’s nothing “wrong” with pursuing the same language targets—like saying the names of animals and reading some simple sentences—in a more conventional way. But, in my experience, a humorous twist holds the power to make the activity more enjoyable and more effective.

So here it is: the worksheet I used with my kids, and then with my younger students (renewed for this post); a simple activity that turned out to be a fun, language-filled success each time I tried it. (In my case, the target language is English, but this activity could be pursued in any language you like, and with any age, really, which means the same idea would no doubt work well with language learners.)

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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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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.

Breaking news! This week I was interviewed about raising bilingual children at the popular podcast Preschool and Beyond. The host is Mike Dlott and we had a great discussion. I hope you enjoy it!

And I highly recommend the many other episodes at this podcast, too—it’s a goldmine of practical information about parenting issues.

Listen to the Raising a Bilingual Child podcast episode at the Discovery Child Development Center website.

Listen to the Raising a Bilingual Child podcast episode at the Discovery Child Development Center website.

Or listen to the Raising a Bilingual Child podcast episode at iTunes.

Or listen to the Raising a Bilingual Child podcast episode at iTunes.

My son had a really fun time last weekend—in the minority language—with our latest homestay guest.

If schooling in the minority language isn’t an option for your family, and travel to a minority-language destination is limited (see Bilingual Travelers, an ongoing series at this blog, for personal stories that share the powerful impact of such trips), it’s important to be proactive and resourceful about finding or creating opportunities from your own location so that your children can interact with other speakers of the target language.

Here are 5 ideas…

1. Online Conversations
Of course, many of us make regular use of Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom to speak to family and friends who live in distant places. This not only provides additional language input but also strengthens the bond between loved ones and our kids. (See previous posts like Bilingual Kids and Grandparents: Make the Most of This Opportunity and A Powerful Twist on the Use of Skype to Promote the Minority Language.)

However, just the other day I experienced a huge new possibility, both for non-native parents who wish to improve their own language ability and for children to engage with other speakers of the target language.

I had been wanting to do this for some time—so I could benefit from more focused time speaking Japanese (my second language)—and I finally tried it on Friday. I paid less than $10 and I spent a full hour speaking Japanese, over Skype, with a native speaker!

The site I used to make this connection is called italki, and while I’m sure there are many other sites like this for people seeking to learn languages, my first impressions of italki have been extremely positive, in all ways.

And here’s the really wonderful thing: If you’re just looking for a friendly speaker of the language for you and/or your children, you’ll find thousands of them at italki, in a wide range of languages, and many of them are charging only around $10 US per hour.

At italki, there are two categories of teachers: lower-priced “Community Tutors” (speakers of the language who are eager to help others achieve their language-learning aims but aren’t professional teachers) and higher-priced “Professional Teachers” (who naturally often charge more for their expertise and instruction).

So, if you’re in need of more opportunity to engage in your target language with other speakers—you alone; an older child alone; or even you with a smaller child on your lap—why not explore this possibility at italki or a similar online resource?

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ADAM’S NOTE: As I often stress, when the basic circumstances of your life work against your bilingual aim, raising the odds of success involves two choices: 1) You can reshape those conditions in more conducive ways, and/or 2) You can be as proactive as possible in your daily efforts. This lively guest post by Matthew John Thoren is an encouraging example of that second solution, where the persistent efforts of a proactive parent have produced happy success through the important early years of the bilingual journey.

5 Key Strategies That Have Enabled Me to Successfully Foster My Son’s Bilingual Ability

Matthew John Thoren is originally from the U.S. state of Vermont and has lived in Japan for most of the last 15 years. While working full-time at a U.S. biotechnology company in Tokyo, he spends as much time as possible playing board games, riding bicycles, reading, and practicing living-room sumo wrestling with his 4-year-old bilingual son. When everyone else has gone to bed, Matthew is either (quietly) working on DYI projects in the family’s new home or shopping for fun English books.

This article describes five key strategies that have enabled me to successfully foster my son’s ability in the minority language, to the age of 4, despite being basically the only source of exposure to this language in my young son’s life.

My wife, my son, and I live in Tokyo, Japan. My wife is Japanese, I’m American, and our son, Soma (a name we considered, but not his real name) is a dual citizen. As a family we have never lived outside of Japan, and my son has spent a total of 18 days in the U.S. on two separate visits. Exposure to the majority language, Japanese, comes from my wife, her parents, daycare, and the community. Exposure to the minority language, English, comes almost entirely from me.

I speak only English to Soma and to my wife. My wife speaks very little English to him and speaks to me in English about 35% of the time. While not native, both my wife and I speak and understand each other’s first language very comfortably. For Soma, there is almost no English language exposure besides me, apart from some TV programs (which is not a fundamental part of our strategy) and a short weekly exchange with family in the U.S. on Facetime or Skype. Despite this, by adhering to the following five tactics, Soma has an English vocabulary of approximately 1,500 words at age four, which is about normal for a child his age growing up in the U.S.

1. Speak only the minority language.

For me, this is the simplest of the five strategies. I speak the minority language to Soma 100% of the time, with absolutely no exceptions. Period. In four years, I have never encountered the need and have never spoken the minority language to my child.

My wife and I generally spoke Japanese to each other before our son was born, but I made the decision that I would only speak to Soma in English. Knowing that I needed to break the habit of speaking Japanese in the house, I began speaking to our son in English well before he was born so that the habit was already formed before he arrived. So, if my son is present, English is the only thing you will hear from me. Period. (The only exception would be if his life is in danger and I knew a warning in Japanese would be more likely to save him!)

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