Books by Adam Beck

Writing

What strategies can help nurture your child’s writing ability? Find ideas in 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.

Click to continue →

Author Zita Robertson with one of her chickens

Two years ago, I shared a creative project that was carried out by Nellie Robertson and her two children. They live in the U.S. and Nellie is originally from Hungary, which means that English is their majority language and Hungarian is their minority language.

The project took place over the course of a full year and involved a stuffed alligator named Alfonzo, who they sent on a worldwide trip to enjoy “homestays” with a number of families (including mine!) who then reported on their experiences with their toothy guest.

Alfonzo the alligator

During this time, Nellie and her kids blogged all about Alfonzo’s adventures—in both of their languages—and the result was a wonderful project that was both very fun and very effective.

You can learn all about it, and see photos from Alfonzo’s “homestays” in various parts of the world, by reading this post…

How a Globe-Trotting Alligator Helped One Family Find Greater Fun and Success on Their Bilingual Journey

…and by visiting Nellie’s blog…

Alfonzo Around the World

Another creative project

Well, Nellie and her kids are back, this time with a fantastic book project that involved Nellie and her nine-year-old daughter, Zita. With Nellie’s solid support, Zita has written and self-published a book about her chickens, with versions in English and in Hungarian!

Dixie's Chicken Sisters in English

Dixie's Chicken Sisters in Hungarian

Full disclosure: Because Nellie and her family live just a short drive from my hometown of Quincy, Illinois, I was able to visit them in the summer of 2017! So I not only had the happy chance to meet Nellie and Zita (and the father and younger brother), I met the chickens, too!

Zita and her chickens

When Nellie told me about their new book project, this became something I was eager to share. As I’ve stressed before, along with persistent daily efforts—like providing ample speech in the target language, reading aloud, and pursuing a regular homework routine—language and joy can be fueled even further through the use of short-term projects: making videotaped interviews or “dramatic” films; creating a picture book or comic book; writing and performing a short play; singing and recording a favorite song (even making up your own); inventing a new game and playing it together; compiling a photo album and adding captions; pursuing crafts or a building task; researching and reporting on some subject of interest; and many more.

Here, then, are Nellie and Zita to tell you all about their bilingual book project. Many thanks to them both for generously sharing their lives with us.

Click to continue →

12 Inspiring Real-Life Stories of Bilingual and Multilingual Families

In the post Do This One Simple Thing and I Guarantee You Greater Success On Your Bilingual Journey, I talked at length about how establishing and sustaining a habit of writing about your experience on a regular basis can be an especially powerful way of fortifying your efforts and your progress on this bilingual or multilingual quest. (While also producing a valuable written record of your family’s experience for the future.)

In that post, I wrote…

When it comes to my personal efforts to raise bilingual children, this writing routine is the single most powerful part of the whole equation, the very foundation of my experience which gives greater fuel to all the other actions I take, day after day after day. In fact, this central aspect of my bilingual journey has been the bedrock for these profound benefits:

I’m able to reflect deeply and continuously on the subject of raising bilingual children in general, and on my own children (and students) in particular.

I’m able to remain conscious and proactive in my daily efforts, despite the many other elements of my life competing for my time and attention.

I’m able to effectively address my challenges as they arise, overcoming the inevitable struggles and frustrations with persistence and playfulness.

These, you see, are the very qualities needed to maximize success at raising bilingual children and they’re available to us all, in abundance, by pursuing this one simple action. But even when the payoff for just a little time and energy is so great, I suspect there are many parents who don’t really seize this opportunity.

Then I go on to say…

You simply sit down with your notebook or mobile phone or computer and quietly pour out your thoughts and feelings about raising bilingual children (in any language you prefer): your hopes and dreams, your ideas and plans, your challenges and struggles, your frustrations and disappointments, your successes and joys.

You write about your bilingual journey, on an ongoing basis (let’s say at least once a week), throughout the childhood years. And if you do—in whatever form you choose—I guarantee that you will strengthen those key qualities I’ve described, which, in turn, will strengthen your children’s language development.

Please don’t misunderstand—I’m not suggesting that you have to write about your bilingual journey in order to experience success and achieve the bilingual aim you hold for your children. But I think it’s fair to say that making a regular habit of writing about your experience has the potential to empower your daily efforts and enable your children to reach even greater heights of bilingual ability during childhood.

So today I’d like to point you to some specific examples of parents who are pursuing this very idea right now, and their commitment to regularly writing about their experience is clearly benefiting their bilingual or multilingual aim. In fact, their willingness to share their experience with the world, in real time, is also benefiting other parents as well, who can gain ideas and encouragement from their stories.

Click to continue →

Look How Far We've Come On Our Bilingual Journey (And How Far You Can Go, Too)

Now that my daughter is in junior high school, and nearly a teen, I’d like to offer you a special peek at the progress my kids have made to date in their minority language. (For those who need a bit more context, we live in Hiroshima, Japan and my kids attend local Japanese schools, which means that Japanese is our majority language and English is our minority language.)

The idea for this post arose the other day when we bought a new desk for Lulu (to encourage her to study hard in junior high!) and had to overhaul the room that, until now, had always been our “play room.” After revamping it, and removing old toys and books—Roy inherited Lulu’s old desk and will get to choose his own new desk when he enters junior high, too—we rechristened this space the “study room.”

In fact, among the things I relocated from this room was a huge stack of workbooks and journals that have been part of our long-running homework routine to nurture literacy—and overall proficiency—in the minority language.

The full details on our daily homework routine can be found in Secrets of a Successful Homework Routine, Part 1 and Secrets of a Successful Homework Routine, Part 2 so I won’t go over that ground again here. Instead, I’d simply like to share samples of my children’s work—scanned right from these workbooks and journals—so you can see, very concretely, how far their language ability has progressed over the years as a result of the ranging efforts I describe at this blog and in my book.

I hope these images will help convey the crucial point that success on the bilingual journey is a function of daily diligence and long-term perseverance—and that this outcome can be realized by any determined family that makes the bilingual aim a top priority.

Click to continue →

How I Got My Bilingual Daughter to Eagerly Do Her Homework in the Minority Language

This post is my promised update on the contest I held last month, and I’ll now reveal the tactic I used to address my 12-year-old daughter’s reluctance to using our minority language dictionary when doing her daily homework. (The contest yielded two winning guesses, from Lauren in the U.S. and Heidi in Germany, who will each receive a surprise package of little prizes from Hiroshima, Japan.)

In case you missed my post about the contest, here again is the background behind it, and the problem I posed…


The background

Basically, the contest posed the same problem I recently experienced with my 12-year-old daughter. The challenge, in this case, was her reluctance to look up unfamiliar words in a dictionary, despite being able to use it.

Here’s the thing: The bilingual journey is a continuous stream of challenges like this, throughout the length of childhood, and our greater success depends on how effectively we’re able to address them. While there are times it’s fine to force the outcome we desire (like if I simply continued to insist that Lulu open the dictionary), I suggest that the more effective move, whenever possible, involves a more thoughtful approach, a more creative tactic.

For example, ideally, I don’t just want Lulu to use the dictionary because I tell her to, I want her to actually feel some internal motivation to use it. In other words, when faced with challenges like this, the better objective in considering our course of action is twofold: we want to produce the desired outcome, yes, but moreover, we want the child to genuinely feel engaged and positive about the experience itself. Because when the child feels this way, our efforts are more effective not only for the immediate challenge, but in fact fortify our longer-term success by making her more engaged and positive, overall, about the minority language.

This is why I persistently stress the idea of staying playful and creative in our efforts, at least to the degree we reasonably can, and I try to offer lots of ideas in this direction. Not only does this make the process more fun and joyful for both the child and the parent, day by day, it actually enables us to be more effective and more successful over the whole length of the bilingual journey.

Click to continue →

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

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

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

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

Click to continue →

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

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

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

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

And here’s what Roy wrote…

Make a list of 10 things that are black.

Click to continue →

Last Wednesday was my birthday.

In hamster years, I’m now 1080.

In human time, though, I turned 54.

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

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

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

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

Click to see their actual lists →

The "Home Run Book": A Key Idea for Promoting a Child’s Language Development

One of the recurrent themes of this blog has been my ongoing quest to inspire my bilingual daughter, now 11, to read more frequently in English, her minority language. Although it’s true that her free time is limited, due to long days at our local Japanese elementary school and heavy loads of homework, the deeper challenge is that she simply isn’t, by nature, as hungry a bookworm as her 8-year-old brother.

Still, because I adamantly believe that children who read more develop not only stronger literacy skills but stronger overall language ability, I’ve been determined, all along, to bring out whatever degree of hunger she feels for reading in English. It may be too much to expect that Lulu will become as avid a reader as Roy—and if that’s the case, I accept that—but it’s certainly possible to encourage and elevate this interest in strategic ways.

In previous posts, I’ve described my efforts to promote Lulu’s interest in reading independently, and the amount of time she spends with books and other texts:

These actions and others (in particular, our daily routines of reading aloud and doing homework in the minority language), have had a productive impact over the years: Lulu’s English level, in all skill areas, is on par with monolingual English children who attend English-speaking schools. (I don’t view this competitively, but since my aim for the minority language is native-like ability, the level of monolingual peers serves as our yardstick.)

Although maintaining this parity may be difficult beyond elementary school, assuming Lulu receives no formal schooling in English through junior high and high school, the fact that she’s now a competent reader is the key to achieving even higher levels of language proficiency. In other words, if I can just keep her reading as much as possible, I expect her English level will continue to grow well, despite the busy teen years in which her days will be devoted mostly to activities in Japanese.

And at the heart of all this is my endless search for “home run books.”

Click to continue →

The peppy puppy the prince presented the princess produced piles of poop in the palace.

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t challenge my kids to repeat a tongue twister that emerges naturally from our interactions. The truth is, because tongue twisters are such a fun and effective form of engagement in the target language, my ears are continuously pricked for this opportunity.

22 Funny Tongue Twisters for KidsTwo examples, one older and one more recent…

1. When my son entered first grade, he chose a black backpack for school. Of course, it was hard to overlook the wonderful tongue-twisting appeal of “black backpack” and this has since become a familiar refrain over the past two years as he gets ready to leave the house in the morning.

2. The other day he was wearing a snazzy new soccer shirt and I pointed to it and said “Sharp shirt!” I wasn’t aiming for a tongue twister when I said this, but I jumped on it just the same: “Okay, say that ten times fast!” Roy, Lulu, and I gave it an enthusiastic try and failed miserably (Lulu’s attempts sounded more like “shup shup, shup shup”)…but these two little words successfully served their purpose by promoting laugh-filled engagement in the minority language.

And now, like “black backpack,” I expect that every time Roy wears it, his “shup shup” (sorry, “sharp shirt”) will become a little trigger for language play. (Go ahead, give them a try yourself, if you haven’t already. Ten times fast, “black backpack” then “sharp shirt”!)

Click to continue →

Adam Beck Goes Bonkers in Interview, Reveals “Crazy Secret” for Bilingual Success

I’ve written a lot of words at this blog about raising bilingual children. But I think this short video of me being interviewed by my kids will demonstrate, better than words ever could, the important sense of playfulness that I’ve described in Be Very Serious. Be Very Playful. The Bilingual Journey Demands Both. and other posts.

I hesitate to call this a “method” because it’s simply my nature when I’m around kids. At the same time, I’m quite conscious of its impact on language development because this sort of silly playfulness is highly effective at engaging children in the use of the minority language. And so, though I’m not this nutty all the time, I do express my wild side pretty continuously with my children and my students, and I actively incorporate this playful quality in my ideas for language exposure.

Whatever success I’ve had in working with bilingual children over the years, this penchant for play is at the heart of it all because my actions appeal to the child’s own playful spirit. And when you match the child’s natural instinct for play, you create more effective conditions for exposure and engagement in the minority language, day after day, which, over time, leads to greater heights of bilingual ability.

In other words, this isn’t just frivolous stuff: to my mind, “serious silliness” is not only fun (and thus creates a closer parent-child bond), it’s the very foundation for maximizing a child’s development in the minority language.

This, as the video conveys, is the “crazy secret” for bilingual success.

Click to watch me go bonkers →