I WANT TO BE BILINGUAL!

Toddlers

How can you get your child off to a strong bilingual start? See these posts for ideas!

ADAM’S NOTE: During my recent travels in Europe, I met several non-native speakers of English who are making determined efforts to raise their children in this language. I even had the chance to stay with a family in Poland and see the fruitful progress that they’re experiencing. Today’s guest post, by Elzbieta Rzeszutko, another parent in Poland using English with her kids, calls this “intentional bilingualism,” which I think captures the essential spirit of a non-native aim, in any language, very keenly. In fact, whether we are native speakers of the target language or not, being “intentional” about our efforts—day by day and year by year—is the overarching key to success. Elzbieta, thank you for sharing your encouraging story with us! :mrgreen:

Guest Post: Non-native Speakers Can Bring Up Bilingual Kids, Too!

Elzbieta Rzeszutko is a Polish mother, in Poland, raising her two children, 5 and 3, in English. Though not a language teacher, she has a passion for teaching and a mission to persuade people that education can be fun. She shares her proactive approach with others through her popular blog At the Tip of My Tongue (written in Polish, this is the English translation of the Polish name) and through media appearances.

Elzbieta RzeszutkoThough my husband and I are Polish, and we live in Poland—a largely monolingual country—the language that we use with our two children is English. Because we believe strongly that bilingualism is so beneficial, we think it’s worth pursuing even if your knowledge of the target language isn’t “inborn” but acquired. In other words…

Non-native speakers can bring up bilingual kids, too!

And I’m happy to say that we’re experiencing success at our bilingual aim. The other night I was carrying my five-year-old daughter to the loo and her limp body, hanging loosely over my shoulder, suddenly mumbled: “Fox in socks on box.” A half-conscious child at this age who starts rhyming in the minority language is living proof of success to me.

[Adam’s note: This snippet of rhyme is from a wonderful Dr. Seuss book called “Fox in Socks” that I read many, many times to my kids when they were small!]

So, yes, I’m a non-native speaker of English and our approach is most frequently referred to as “non-native bililingualism.” However, I much prefer to call it “intentional bilingualism” because I have been as intentional as I can be about my efforts.

In this post I’ll share with you some of the ideas and strategies that have made up our bilingual journey to date.

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Lulu giving her speech in the finals of the speech contest.

Two threads of my life, both of them months in the making, have suddenly come together with the same message.

The first thread involves my 15-year-old daughter and an English speech contest (recitation contest) that took place on Saturday. This event was the culmination of a long process that began in the spring, when her English teacher at school encouraged her to take part.

When Lulu, now in her third and last year of junior high at a public school here in Hiroshima, told me about it, I first expressed surprise that I hadn’t heard anything about this speech contest in her first and second years. (I’m always the last to know things around here!) But then I, too, encouraged her to participate.

Writing the speech

The contest involved writing a short speech—to be presented within a time limit of five minutes—and giving this speech at the city-wide competition involving students representing junior high schools in Hiroshima. (Hiroshima has over a million people so there are a lot of junior high schools.) The winners from this round of city schools would then go on to the finals that brought together the winners from the junior high schools throughout Hiroshima Prefecture, which covers a sizable chunk of western Japan.

It was the finals that took place on Saturday.

But first, back to last spring. Before Lulu could even enter this speech contest, she needed a speech. So we brainstormed together and came up with a theme. Then I asked her to write a first draft. While it’s true that this first draft was a mess, I also knew that, as long we both stayed persistent, it could be improved through draft after draft.

And that’s what happened.

The date for the contest

So, finally, she had her speech—and I’ll share the full text with you below, so you’ll know what she spoke about.

At that point, in late May, we still hadn’t received information from her English teacher about when the city-wide round would take place…and then suddenly her teacher was on leave, awaiting the birth of her first child.

As it turns out, it took far more effort than expected to get that information from the school, but we eventually learned that the city-wide contest would be held on September 7, after the summer break.

Unfortunately, I would be out of town on that date, having already made plans for a trip to Europe to interview parents for a new book on raising bilingual and multilingual children.

Practicing the speech

Still, I could help her prepare for the contest and so we began practicing her speech. (I also have a background in theater arts, so I was eager to work with her in this way.)

First thing to know: Lulu has been terribly busy this year, not only studying hard for school but also studying hard for high school entrance exams, which will take place early next year. In fact, most days she attends a juku (cram school) in the evening, which means that we could only practice together after that, when both of us were tired. But night after night (with only rare exceptions, when she was just too tired), we did.

Second thing to know: Lulu isn’t very big, but she’s brave. She’s been in the public eye before on a number of occasions—dancing, playing piano or guitar, reading aloud at presentations (sometimes in Japanese, sometimes in English)—but this was the very first time she would be memorizing a speech and standing on stage alone to deliver it. And, frankly, when we first began practicing, her presentation left a lot to be desired. I mean, she could recite the words well enough, but her delivery was so wooden, so stiff.

In fact, I wasn’t sure how successful I could be in getting her to open up and express herself more fully and naturally, but since the writing process had also been a test of persistence, I figured that we would surely make progress over time, no matter how far she finally got.

And so we both stuck with it, though it’s true that this process was made more difficult by the fact that she insisted on practicing the speech with her back to me…because she would break out giggling when she faced in my direction.

Results of the first contest

Finally, I left for Europe on September 2, which meant she was on her own for the last few days. On September 7, my wife took her to the city-wide contest, held at an auditorium in downtown Hiroshima. Considering the time difference between us on that day—I was in England and she was in Japan—it’s hard to say exactly what I was doing when she was standing on stage, delivering her speech, but perhaps—and fittingly, as you’ll soon see—I was in the midst of interviewing a parent about their bilingual or multilingual journey.

Soon after, though, I received the news by text: Lulu had won the contest in Hiroshima and would advance to the area-wide finals, scheduled for December 7.

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ADAM’S NOTE: Over the past few years, Tiara Harris has sometimes shared video clips with me of her super-cute kids speaking Japanese and I came to admire the very proactive efforts she is making so that she and her children can both become bilingual in this language and their native English. As a result of the success she’s experiencing, Tiara is also becoming a growing force at YouTube with a variety of helpful and appealing videos at her Chocolate Sushi Roll channel. Thank you for sharing your encouraging story with us, Tiara! And keep up all your good efforts, for your family and for families out in the world!

Tiara and her children

Tiara Harris is a native English speaker from the U.S. state of Georgia raising two bilingual children. As a military family, they frequently must relocate, but Tiara is determined to maintain the goal of having a bilingual family. Currently, they live in Japan and Tiara is making efforts to foster her young children’s ability in Japanese while studying Japanese herself and teaching English to Japanese children. She created a YouTube channel, called Chocolate Sushi Roll, to inspire other monolingual families to be brave and take the leap toward bilingualism.

Konnichiwa! (That’s hello in Japanese!)

If you had met me four years ago, I could only have greeted you in English and (maybe) Spanish…from the few Spanish words I learned from sleeping through my Spanish class in high school. I wasn’t interested in learning another language and never realized the opportunities and depth that can come with it.

Moving to Japan

I am—well, was—a monolingual mom from a completely monolingual family. We’re a military family and, to our dismay—at least at first—we became faced with relocating to Japan. To be honest, I dreaded going and was even refusing to go until one month before the move because I love living in America and I wanted to stay close to my family. But my husband urged me to come with him so he wouldn’t have to be stationed in Japan by himself.

So we went to Okinawa in 2014 and we were there for two years. I became a tour guide for Americans and learned about the culture and history and a lot of fun facts for the 30-minute bus tours. But I still had no interest in learning to speak Japanese.

Then, during our second year in Okinawa, we were blessed with a baby boy, Jason.

And my whole perspective changed.

At that point, because Jason was born in Japan, I decided that he should speak the language. And, in fact, before I even realized it, this was already starting to happen. I had been taking Jason to baby play classes with native Japanese mothers and their babies. One day I noticed that when the teacher said to clap, Jason clapped. And when the teacher said to clean up, his little hands started reaching to clean up. I was so surprised! This baby is learning Japanese!

By then, though, Jason was already a year old and it was time for us to return to America. And I was now pregnant with a baby girl.

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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:

3-year-old girl in England

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!)

The adorable three-year-old girl was sitting on the stairs, telling me all about her “babies”—her dolls and stuffed animals that were adorned with band-aids (“plasters” she called them, in the British English she spoke) because, she said, they were ill or had gotten injured.

And at that moment, in my very first homestay of the trip, I flashed on my own daughter when she was the same small, incredibly-cute age and I suddenly missed that time terribly.

A large lump rose in my throat.

Halloween, years ago

Below is Lulu when she was three. She’s now 15 so that was 12 years ago. And fittingly for this week, she was dressed up for Halloween. Her Halloween costume was “red”—that was what she wanted to be, she had told us eagerly in her chipmunky voice. “RED!”

Lulu at Halloween

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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:

Ana_Raising-Bilingual-Kids-1

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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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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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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