What strategies can help nurture your child’s writing ability? Find ideas in these posts!

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 →

Adam and his bilingual monkeys

I suppose you’ve noticed: Animals often appear in my posts, and I’m not just talking about my two monkeys. :mrgreen:

In fact, in my last post, Adam’s Fables for Raising Bilingual Kids, I used animals to create little analogies about issues involving bilingualism and children.

I even made an earlier post, called Bilingual Kids and the Animal Kingdom, where I shared my life-long love of animals and offered a list of links to many of the posts where animals make an appearance.

In that post, I also explained why my dream of becoming a veterinarian was derailed by an “F” I got in Biology in 7th grade. (Hint: It has something to do with the fact that I don’t like killing insects…though I do make an exception for mosquitoes.)

Today, then, let me offer 50 ideas for activities featuring animals. By leaning on this theme, a powerful favorite of children everywhere, we can effectively engage our kids in the use of their minority language. Some of these ideas will be familiar, but I hope you’ll find a few new suggestions on this list to try at home. Modify them to suit your needs, and pursue them as playfully as you can.

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Last year I wrote a post titled Want to Supercharge Your Success at Raising Bilingual Children? and mentioned a special project that I called “a game changer for parents who are serious about raising bilingual kids, but want to get even more serious—and more successful—at this challenge.”

Although I didn’t reveal full details of the project then, and I finally set it aside—at least for the time being—when I ran into some technical issues and other considerations, I wanted to now follow up and share the basic nature of that idea. While the project was intended to be a group endeavor—because I think it would have a unique impact within a group of committed parents—the idea can still be pursued by individuals on their own and will provide many of the same powerful benefits.

So you needn’t wait any longer for the group version—here’s the individual version, and it remains a game changer for greater success.

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Secrets of a Successful Homework Routine, Part 2

Eighteen months ago, when my kids were 8 and 5, I offered a detailed look at our daily homework routine in the minority language, which began (gently) when they were around the age of 3. In that post—Secrets of a Successful Homework Routine, Part 1—I discuss the value of a homework routine for nurturing literacy and overall language development, and I provide a range of strategies and resources that I’ve found useful to my own efforts. (Many of these resources, of course, are for supporting English, our minority language.)

If you haven’t yet read that post, I encourage you to start there, then return here, in order to view the bigger picture of our homework routine to date.

Now that Lulu is 10 and Roy is 7, and the strategies and resources involved in our homework routine have naturally evolved over time, I thought I would bring you up to date by sharing the “secrets” of our current routine.

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Are Your Bilingual Kids Writing Letters in the Minority Language?

I’ll admit it: my kids have a love-hate relationship with writing letters. They love receiving them, but they hate writing them. I wish this wasn’t the case—it would make my life a lot easier if I didn’t have to expend so much energy getting them to produce these letters for grandparents and others—but I suppose it isn’t realistic to think that the average child under the age of ten would be any more enthusiastic about it. I mean, they love their grandparents in the United States, but producing a decent handwritten letter is hard work for a small child.

Still, I persist, and have persisted in this practice since they were even smaller because I view writing letters as an important part of their language and literacy development. Given the fact that they attend a Japanese public school (our majority language), which makes opportunities to write in English (our minority language) pretty limited, these letter exchanges are pivotal, really, to sustain their progress. (They do a little writing as part of our homework routine each day, which forms the core of our work on literacy, but this wouldn’t be enough by itself.)

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The Funniest Activity I’ve Ever Done with My Bilingual Kids and Students

This might sound like an exaggeration, but it’s honestly not: the activity I’ll share with you today often gets my bilingual kids and students laughing like mad chipmunks. And it hits the funny bone of a wide range of ages, too, from first graders to teens. (I’ve even done this activity when I was teaching at local universities, and these college students learning English as a second language—who were normally so shy and passive—would soon be seized by fits of laughter.)

First, though, I should back up and explain that my use of this activity—I call it “Silly Stories”—can be traced back to my own childhood and the time I spent giggling over a word game known as Mad Libs.

If you’re not familiar with Mad Libs, it’s a game where one player prompts another player (or several other players) for words to complete the blanks of an unfinished story. The text is then read aloud, and the results—often crazy and comical—are met with grins and laughter.

Dozens of Mad Libs books have been issued since the first one was published in the United States in 1958, selling a total of over 110 million copies. So it’s clearly a very successful word game, and I suspect it can be adapted for any target language, adding another powerful tool to your bag of tricks.

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Here’s my 6-year-old son’s Christmas list for this year…
(Please share this with the world—it would make him very happy!)

A Bilingual Child's Christmas List

Want more Christmas fun? Take a peek at these posts…

This Wish to Believe in Santa Claus

Ridiculous Riddles for Christmas


When people walk into my house, the first thing they usually say is: “Gadzooks! You have so many books!”

(Okay, they don’t really say “Gadzooks!”—I’m probably the only one in this hemisphere who uses that expression—but they do show surprise at our overflowing bookshelves. On that note, I suggest a close look at How Many Books Do You Have In Your Home? for research and opinion on why building a good home library is so important.)

The second thing people usually say is: “You have so many games!”

Children love games, of course, and my large collection of games, gathered over the years, is a significant factor in the success I’ve had nurturing the language ability of my students and my kids. And one basic strategy in this area has been the regular use of word games, from an early age, to promote a child’s love of language and bilingual development.

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Sakurajima rises in Kagoshima Bay.

Should you be more like Sakurajima, Japan’s most active volcano?

We spent the past three days in the city of Kagoshima with my wife’s parents, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Located on Japan’s southwestern tip, Kagoshima is home to 600,000 people—as well as Japan’s most active volcano, known as Sakurajima.

Sakurajima billows with smoke and ash.

We took a ferry to the island and watched Sakurajima rumble.

Looming up from the sea just a short ferry ride from the city, Sakurajima is continually brewing with volcanic activity. In fact, even during our visit, it was billowing dark smoke and ash.

But that’s the thing about Sakurajima: it’s always rumbling, but it never really erupts. (Okay, it does blow its top occasionally—and no doubt will again one day—but the last major eruption was nearly 100 years ago, in January 1914.)

And that’s why, when it comes to my kids and their bilingual development, I’m a lot like this volcano.

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The other day I was going through a pile of papers that had grown like crabgrass on the floor of my office here at home and I came across a little story that I’d like to share with you. It was written a few months ago by my two children and me in a version of idea #68 from 96 Things You Can Do Today to Boost Your Child’s Bilingual Ability.

In this case, we wrote several short stories, collectively, by simply passing the papers around and around, adding as much as we liked to each story when it was our turn. (Again, for context, Lulu just turned 9, Roy is 6, and I’m almost 124. English is our minority language.)

The Goat's Yoyo

Poor Goat…

Click for the 2 key reasons →

Singing songs in the target language.

Today is another opportunity to nurture your children’s language development. Every effort you make today, and again tomorrow, will move you and your children a little farther along your bilingual journey. These small steps will gradually add up over time—over days, weeks, months, and years—and largely determine the distance you travel.

But in the end, it always depends on today.

Below, then, is a list of 96 things you can do, right now, to help nurture your children’s language development, whatever your target language. (Don’t worry! You don’t have to do them all today! :mrgreen: )

Some of them are already part of your efforts, I’m sure. And, of course, there are many more than these 96 and I encourage you to add others in a comment below.

But I hope you’ll find this list a useful source of ideas and inspiration, with at least a few new suggestions to try at home. Modify them to suit your needs, and pursue them as playfully as you can. (The accompanying links offer further information from earlier posts.)

1. Read aloud to your child: a picture book, chapter book, or poetry. Pause often and ask questions about the text and illustrations. (The Secret to Raising a Bilingual Child and How to Use Poetry with Your Bilingual Kids (And Why You Should))

2. Look at old family photos and talk about them together. Prompt your child to describe what she sees and share her memories. (How Far Into the Future Do Your Efforts Today Matter?)

3. Try some tongue twisters in your target language. Find them online or make some up. (22 Funny Tongue Twisters for Kids (And Why Tongue Twisters Are Terrific for Language Development))

4. Enjoy a wordless picture book and take turns, page by page, telling the story. Wordless pictures books are a wonderful resource for any age and any language. (What to Do When It’s Hard to Find Children’s Books in Your Minority Language)

5. Encourage your child to read aloud to favorite stuffed animals, dolls, and pets. Match the books with the audience, such as a book about bears for a teddy bear. (It’s a Scientific Fact! Baby Praying Mantises Can Get Your Child Reading More in the Minority Language!)

6. Seek out a high school student or college student who speaks the target language well. Hire the student to serve as a weekly playmate for your child.

7. Make a video of yourself reading books, telling stories, singing songs, and simply talking to your kids, to be played in your absence. (The Busy Parent’s Guide to Cloning Yourself)

Click for 89 more ideas →