Reading

What strategies can you use to nurture strong reading skills and a love for literacy? These posts offer helpful ideas!

Chameleon Reader

If only Chameleon Reader had been around when I was teaching bilingual kids, and when my own kids were small! It would have been such a fun and effective way to nurture their ability in our minority language!

Full disclosure: Over the past eight years, since I began this blog, I’ve regularly gotten requests to review books and products and services with some connection to raising bilingual kids. And in many cases, I’ve received free “review copies” of these things, which is also true of Chameleon Reader. However, I only blog about resources that I can genuinely recommend and Chameleon Reader is honestly the single most useful and flexible product I’ve ever seen for supporting parents and teachers in their efforts to nurture language development in children. (And I have no financial stake in saying so.)

At the same time, I do have a couple of minor quibbles with the version of the product that I tried out at home—and I’ll mention these, too—but the fact remains that Chameleon Reader is such an incredibly clever and helpful device that such quibbles do nothing to detract from my full (even overflowing) enthusiasm for it.

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Play This Great Indoor Game with Your Kids (And Get Them Eagerly Reading, Too)

The other day at The Bilingual Zoo, one mother (thanks, Judit!) described a game she was playing with her young son in the house and how much fun it was for them both. And, at the same time, how it got him reading eagerly in their target language.

Reading about her experience, I fondly recalled the times I played this game with my own kids when they were small. And I thought: “Yeah, they’re now teenagers, but I bet they would still enjoy it, and since they’re here at home, day after day, and getting a bit bored, maybe this would liven up their afternoon.”

And so I picked up some treats from the store—the motivating rewards—and sat down to prepare the game for them, which took about 20 minutes or so. Then I got them going (with the promise of prizes) and, yes, even these sometimes-moody teens were all smiles as they raced through the house on their hunt for treasure.

Because that’s what this is: a treasure hunt game.

And here’s how to play…

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I Did Something the Other Day That I Thought I’d Never Do

The other day I took my son to the library.

No, going to the library isn’t the thing I thought I’d never do. In fact, I used to go to the library all the time—every week, like clockwork—to borrow books to read to my kids.

So it isn’t the library itself—it’s why we went to the library.

For the sake of the minority language

The library is downtown, sitting in a small park, and the parking lot is some distance away. It was a sunny morning and I was feeling kind of nostalgic as we walked toward the building, which I had visited so regularly in the past but hadn’t been to in several years.

As I thought of the reason I was now returning to the library, I recalled the blog post I had written when my kids were still in elementary school:

Why I Don't Want My Kids to Do Well in School

The point I made at the time was that, for the sake of the minority language (English), I felt it was better if the majority language (Japanese) didn’t progress too quickly. I was being facetious, of course, when I said that I didn’t want them to do well in school. I wanted them to do well, but as long as they were doing well enough, that was fine and probably best for the larger arc of their bilingual development. I didn’t want them to do too well back then because I hoped to keep their English side as strong and as active as their Japanese side, at least as long as I possibly could.

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Just in time for Christmas!

I WANT TO BE BILINGUAL!

I WANT TO BE BILINGUAL! is the perfect book for parents—especially new parents and parents of younger kids—who dream of raising bilingual or multilingual children. Written by Adam Beck, author of the popular guide Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability, this playful book is a unique “picture book for adults” with delightful illustrations by Pavel Goldaev. Narrated by a lively baby, the book emphasizes the most important information parents need for realizing joyful success on a bilingual or multilingual journey. I WANT TO BE BILINGUAL! is an appealing and empowering book that makes a great gift for yourself or for a friend.

Watch this video at Bilingual Monkeys TV, my YouTube channel.

Early reviews from parents give the book glowing praise…

“I loved it!! This precious little book contains all the basic information you need to get started with your kids’ bilingualism. It faces the themes in a funny, entertaining way, as it’s actually the baby speaking! Since I read it, I keep it on my night table to have a look at it every time I feel my determination falter. Even though it’s a book for adults, it looks like a book for children, and kids love its funny drawings!”

“Perfect for expectant or new parents hoping to raise their child in a bilingual (or multilingual) environment! Adam Beck’s characteristic playful style comes through beautifully in this book, aimed at new parents. In this book, we see the benefits of growing up bilingual – from the baby’s point of view. Pavel Goldaev’s illustrations fit perfectly with Adam’s text. This is an ideal gift for expectant or new parents who hope to raise their child bilingually or multilingually. It can even be a fun, helpful reminder for those of us further along in our bilingual parenting journey, if we forget why we’re doing this.”

“I WANT TO BE BILINGUAL! is a picture book for adults, written from the perspective of a baby that wants to be able to speak all the languages the parents speak. The baby tells about the emotional, cognitive, social, and economic benefits of growing up bilingual, and guides the parents through the first phases of biliteracy. Adam Beck gives hands on advice in a fun and joyful way, which, together with the wonderful illustrations by Pavel Goldaev will surely empower many parents to embark on this exciting journey of raising a bilingual or multilingual child successfully. I WANT TO BE BILINGUAL! is a perfect gift for expectant or new parents!”

“When I was looking at this book my kids automatically came to me and asked what book it was because the illustrations were so cute and relatable to them. Then they went: ‘Read it to me, Mommy!’ If you are a new bilingual parent and don’t know where to start, this can be a cute summary for you. You can also read/narrate this book to your kids to boost their confidence in their bilingualism from an early age.”

I WANT TO BE BILINGUAL!

Get a copy of I WANT TO BE BILINGUAL!

I WANT TO BE BILINGUAL! is available at Amazon, Amazon UK, other global Amazon sites, and other booksellers.

Get the paperback at Amazon.

Get the paperback at Amazon UK.

Get the paperback at The Book Depository. (And get free shipping to anywhere in the world!)

SPECIAL OFFER UNTIL DECEMBER 31!

Join me at Patreon and I’ll send to you a *signed* copy of I WANT TO BE BILINGUAL! I’ll send the paperback right to your home, or workplace, anywhere in the world! (All I ask is that after you join me at Patreon, at any tier level, you then maintain your support there for at least 3 months.)

Join me now at Patreon and I’ll send you a signed copy of my new book!

Bulk orders for the paperback—for groups and booksellers—can be made by contacting Adam Beck directly at: adam[at]bilingualmonkeys.com

Please help me spread the word

  • Enjoy the book and share your impressions by posting a review at Amazon, Amazon UK, the global Amazon sites, Goodreads, and other sites online. (Even a short review is fine!) Reviews are so important for spreading the word about this special little book to other parents and I’d be really grateful for your support in this way. (I’d love to hear from you personally, too, with your impressions!)
  • Tell others about the book through social media and word-of-mouth. Many thanks for sharing these links…
    1. the link to this page about the book:
    http://bilingualmonkeys.com/i-want-to-be-bilingual-book

    2. this link to my author page at Amazon:
    https://www.amazon.com/Adam-Beck/e/B01EKPRIE6/

    3. this link to my author page at Amazon UK:
    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Adam-Beck/e/B01EKPRIE6/
  • If you run a blog or website, please consider posting something about I WANT TO BE BILINGUAL! For inquiries related to reviews, interviews, or other posts, please email me directly: adam[at]bilingualmonkeys.com

Thank you so much, everyone! :mrgreen:

Adam Beck and Simon Farrow

For five weeks in the fall of 2019—from September 2 to October 9—I traveled from Japan to Europe to meet bilingual and multilingual families in person and interview the parents for a new book I’m writing that brings together a range of “success stories” on the subject of raising bilingual and multilingual children. Along with the 15 interviews I conducted in England, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Spain, and Italy, I’m now pursuing additional interviews with parents in other parts of the world via Skype. This series of posts shares some reflections from my recent travels. To follow my book project in greater depth—including the posts I wrote detailing my experience of each destination on my European tour—please consider joining me at my Patreon page and lending support to my work. (You’ll get some special rewards at the same time!)

Another special highlight from my trip was the opportunity to meet in person, for the very first time, the artist who worked so hard on the illustrations for my novel, How I Lost My Ear, a funny, action-packed epic for older children and adults that was published in January 2018. In fact, before we met, I had spoken to him only once, over Skype, and that was just briefly. Otherwise, we communicated through email: many, many, many messages over the full length of 2017 that ultimately resulted in a total of 136—yes, 136!—fabulous illustrations for the book.

The truth is, without his illustrations, I could never have fulfilled my highest vision for the story. I worked on the text for 10 years, and while I was finally satisfied with it, feeling that it was the best creative writing I had ever done, I also knew that the right illustrator could bring the playful spirit of the story fully and vividly to life. And from the very first illustrations he sent to me, I knew I had been blessed to find Simon Farrow.

How I Lost My Ear

How I Lost My Ear

How I Lost My Ear

How I Lost My Ear

How I Lost My Ear

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Great-Reading_Fifa

Want to read some engaging, widely-praised books this summer? Please take a look at my popular nonfiction and fiction for language-loving families! (Yes, bearded dragons included!)

“the ideal guidebook for parents”

Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability: Ideas and inspiration for even greater success and joy raising bilingual kids

Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability

“A pure gem! Adam Beck has created a truly wonderful and easily readable book that parents everywhere will enjoy and that bilingual families and children will benefit from.” —Dr. Annick De Houwer, leading researcher of child bilingualism and author of Bilingual First Language Acquisition

“Who but Adam Beck can tie together the complexities of raising a bilingual child with such wisdom, warmth, and wit? An in-the-trenches father, he shows how fun speaking another language at home can be. His work tells you not only the benefits and the methods, but delves deep into how to motivate both yourself and your child. He gives the percentages of success for the various bilingual strategies (One parent, one language: 74.24%), but for those who heed his advice, count on 100%.” —Christine Jernigan, PhD in foreign language education and author of Family Language Learning

“Not long after I started Spanish Playground, Adam Beck began writing his blog Bilingual Monkeys. As I read his early posts, I recognized a talented educator and a kindred spirit. His book Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability was released last year, and since then I have recommended it often to parents raising bilingual children. Without fail, their reaction is ‘Thank you. This is exactly what I need.’” —Jennifer Brunk, longtime educator and founder of the popular site Spanish Playground

“If books are food for thought and if continuing to learn about bilingualism is an essential part of a bilingual parent’s mental diet, then Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability is nutritional superfood…the ideal guidebook for parents who are sure of their commitment to bilingual parenting but in need of ideas and ongoing inspiration.” —Michele Cherie, writer and founder of the blog Intentional Mama

“a master storyteller…un-put-down-able”

How I Lost My Ear
(a humorous, action-packed novel, for children and adults)

How I Lost My Ear

Look at this wonderful new review!

By Rich Follett for Readers’ Favorite, a book review website…

“Adam Beck’s How I Lost My Ear is a marvelously comic, wonderfully wise, delightfully imaginative and deliriously unpredictable epic adventure. In Boony Point, young Ben Boyd covets a pair of ruby red bongo drums, seemingly tailor-made for his superstar tryout for the Marching Moose – the town’s pride and joy. Never mind that bongo drums have not previously been seen or heard in the community’s iconic marching band; Ben is determined and has the most deliciously eccentric support crew in the history of children’s literature to help him reach his goal.

Along the way, Ben contends with a practical-joking grandma fixated on crab apples harvested with the dew still on them, a monster to slay, a mystery to solve, the twists and turns of his never-ending quest to be a Member of the Marching Moose, and his own deep-seated need to overcome his unwanted nickname: Butterfingers. The drama is high, the pathos is non-stop, and the comedy is as whimsical and witty as any to be found in the realm of fiction for the young. Although How I Lost My Ear is listed as being intended for pre-teen readers, it has much to offer readers of any age who are willing to allow themselves to be young at heart long enough to become swept up in the merriment. Adam Beck is a master storyteller and a master of invention, and How I Lost My Ear is un-put-down-able.

Simon Farrow’s playful illustrations are a perfect match for Beck’s unique storyline. They capture both the eccentricity of the characters and the absurdity of the incredible situations in which they find themselves, time and again. Adam Beck’s How I Lost My Ear is always fresh, always a surprise; in short, an ideal antidote for the mundane cares of ordinary life for readers of all ages.”

I hope you’ll read my books! And I’d be really grateful, too, if you would share your impressions with others through online reviews at Amazon and Goodreads and through word of mouth! Many thanks!

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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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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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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“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: Beatrice Beckmann

To successfully raise a bilingual or multilingual child, the main requirement is language exposure: the child must receive an ample amount of meaningful input in the target language (or languages) on a regular basis. And the more of this input you can provide, from yourself and/or from other sources of exposure, the greater the odds of fostering active language ability.

The two central pillars for providing this exposure are abundant speech (from you or from other speakers of the target language) and a daily read-aloud routine.

But when it comes to reading aloud, finding suitable children’s books in your target language may be a challenge. In fact, I wrote a whole post about this problem, in which I emphasized the use of “wordless picture books” as one way to effectively address it. See What to Do When It’s Hard to Find Children’s Books in Your Minority Language.

Well, one parent has come up with another creative solution, a winning idea geared for families in the United States with German as a target language. Beatrice Beckmann, a mother of two who moved to New York from Munich, launched KinderBooks in 2016 to provide families with direct access to German picture books and chapter books. With a subscription to KinderBooks, parents can rent and read appealing books on an ongoing basis, and thus strengthen their read-aloud routine and their children’s exposure to German.

When I learned about KinderBooks, it struck me as such a helpful resource for maintaining a steady stream of children’s books into the home…and it’s a shame that there aren’t (yet) more services like this for other target languages, too.

KinderBooks

And not only is KinderBooks an affordable solution—with subscriptions starting at just $10 a month (free postage is also included for receiving and returning the books!), Beatrice is kindly offering readers of this blog a $20 discount to try it out. Just use the promo code BILINGUALMONKEYS (valid until March 31, 2019).

Learn more about KinderBooks.

And learn more about Beatrice’s life and work by reading the interview below!

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We moved in August and I’m now gradually organizing the many books and papers that I’ve amassed over the 22 years I’ve lived in Hiroshima. One box contains the early board books that I read to my kids—who are now 14 and 11—when they were just babies and toddlers. I’m in the process of repacking the box, to store safely away in a closet, but I thought I might stop and share with you the 10 board books that I read most often to my children (hundreds of times each!) and that I hope they will one day read to their own newborns and thus begin the journey of handing down the minority language to the next generation.

While these books were originally published in English, I’m sure many of them have been translated widely into other languages and may also be available as larger-sized picture books. And let me note, too, that while I naturally have a sentimental attachment to these books, I’m not suggesting that these are the “best” board books for small children. While I would certainly recommend each one, this is simply a humble list of the board books that I read most often to my kids during those early months and years. (In the comments below, please share your favorite board books, particularly newer titles that I’m not so familiar with.)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
One of the most popular children’s books on Earth, from the brilliant Eric Carle.

The Very Lonely Firefly

The Very Lonely Firefly
Another lovely book by Eric Carle. The last page contains tiny flickering lights, like fireflies.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
So much fun to read aloud. As my kids got a bit older, they would even act out the story as I read it.

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