I WANT TO BE BILINGUAL1

Deepti and her son recording their podcast.

ADAM’S NOTE: Along with your persistent daily efforts to nurture the minority language—in particular, talking to your child as much as you can and reading aloud—I also encourage you to pursue short-term projects, which can provide a powerful boost for language exposure and engagement. Make videotaped interviews or “dramatic” films; create a picture book or comic book; write and perform a short play; sing and record a favorite song (or make up your own); invent a new game and play it together; compile a photo album and add captions; do craft-making or building activities; research and report on some subject of interest; and many more. (See the links at the end of this post for a number of encouraging examples.)

In today’s guest post, Deepti Gupta offers a wonderful example of her own: a podcast that she has created with her young son. When Deepti wrote to me about her new project, I was eager to share it with all of you because creative efforts like this, which are so engaging and effective, can offer tremendous inspiration for families of any target language. (And even if you don’t understand Hindi, I urge you to listen to a podcast episode, like this one. It overflows with not only language but much laughter and joy as well.) So many thanks to you, Deepti and Josh! And all the best with your lovely podcast! :mrgreen:

Deepti Gupta is an actress and Audie nominated audiobook narrator and voiceover artist. Originally from India, she lives in the United States with her American husband and 6-year-old son, who is bilingual in English and Hindi. Learn more about Deepti’s professional work at DeeptiGupta.com.

Last year, my 6-year-old son, Josh, began listening to an English language story podcast called What If World. The stories on this podcast are fun, creative, and super imaginative. Josh enjoyed them so much, he could listen to episode after episode.

Because I’m committed to raising a bilingual, Hindi-speaking child, I decided that I needed to find something similar for him to listen to in Hindi. So I looked for Hindi story podcasts online and on apps like Saavn, an Indian music streaming service. What I found was a few podcasts in Hindi but with the same old Hindi stories and the language used didn’t sound like how we speak Hindi. Bookish Hindi doesn’t help a young child who is learning to express himself in this language.

So I started wondering if I should start a podcast myself. But what would it be about? I could have just narrated stories from the Panchtantra and the Upanishads and created a podcast of these traditional tales. But I wanted something that would capture the imagination and interests of children in today’s world. How do you create new content that kids of this era can relate to? Where both snakes and robots can be in the same story? I was at a loss.

Our first podcast episode

Last December we went to an event called Makers Faire at the Los Angeles Central Public Library. This is a fair where all kinds of innovators and creative folks gather to showcase their inventions and creations. We got to see Eric O’Keeffe of “What If World” in action. He created a podcast episode on the spot with the participation of kids in the audience. Josh had the chance to give a suggestion for the story, too.

I think both he and I were inspired by what we saw and experienced. The joy of creating and letting our imagination take flight. I have a home studio where I record my audiobooks and sometimes Josh would sit in my booth and narrate his own made-up stories or just gibberish stuff. He loves these “recording sessions,” and they’re fun for both of us. So I wondered if he and I could create something together. And it was now clear to me that a storytelling podcast was the right direction.

Not long after that, on a fine Saturday morning in January, we decided to take action. He was in good spirits and I was excited at the prospect. In half an hour, we recorded our first podcast! It was exhilarating! Josh then made the logo for our podcast, a picture of the two of us recording in the booth. That same day I edited the audio, chose a platform, and launched our new podcast, called Josh Ke Saath. (“Josh Ke Saath” means “Along with Josh” and also means “With Enthusiasm.”) I shared it with other families and the response has been amazing.

Josh Ke Saath

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

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

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

Thinking of the bilingual aim

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

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

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I Know a Lot About...

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

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

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

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

A humorous twist

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

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

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"Bilingual Earth": An Exciting New Book Project

I’m beginning an exciting new book project this month!

My first book, Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability: Ideas and inspiration for even greater success and joy raising bilingual kids (published in 2016), relates my personal story, as an educator and parent, nurturing the language development of hundreds of bilingual and multilingual children, including my own two kids. Through the experiences I share in this widely-praised book, I present a range of key perspectives and principles that can enable parents everywhere to realize the same kind of success and joy that I’ve achieved for over 20 years.

My new book is the natural sequel to the first book and will complement it well: while my first book is based on my own story, the new book will be based on the stories of other experienced parents. Tentatively titled Bilingual Earth: Secrets of Success from Parents of Bilingual and Multilingual Children Around the World, it will feature many insightful and encouraging success stories from families who live in a range of countries and circumstances. The book will thus serve as another practical and empowering guide for raising bilingual and multilingual kids.

The idea for Bilingual Earth has risen from my blog and my forum, where parents have shared so many helpful experiences and useful tips. While I hope these experiences and tips will be available online for years to come, I feel it’s also time to create a collection of personal stories in the form of a hands-on, reader-friendly book. And I plan to gather these stories by speaking directly to parents, around the world, through interviews conducted both online and in person.

Timeline for the book

I would like to release the completed book in the fall of 2020, which means that the process, from start to finish, will last around 18 months.

April~August 2019: make travel plans; begin conducting interviews online; begin writing the book

September-October 2019: travel to the United Kingdom and European countries to conduct in-person interviews; continue writing

November 2019~March 2020: continue conducting online interviews and, if possible, travel to another part of the world to pursue more in-person interviews; continue writing

April~June 2020: share the manuscript of the book with early readers and receive feedback

July~September 2020: reflect on this feedback; revise and finalize the manuscript; prepare the final draft for publishing

October 2020: publish and release the book

Be part of this new project!

Through my Patreon page, you can follow the whole process of this new book project—from planning to interviewing to writing to publishing—while gaining a range of valuable advice from these interviews through my special Patreon stream, and even actively contributing your input to help make this the best book it can be.

By joining me at Patreon, you can also receive a variety of other special benefits, including the valuable PDF 19 Vital Reminders for Bilingual and Multilingual Success, which is a crystal-clear blueprint for successfully raising bilingual and multilingual children.

Learn more at my Patreon page.

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Today was scheduled to be the last day for my special offer at my Patreon page, the PDF…

“19 Vital Reminders for Bilingual and Multilingual Success”

But I’ve decided to simply make this an ongoing “bonus” for joining me at Patreon. So for everyone who joins me there, now or in the future, I’ll promptly send you this special PDF, which runs 2,305 words and is a crystal-clear blueprint for successfully raising bilingual and multilingual children. In fact, I have no doubt that any parent with this list of vital reminders, and the determination to follow through with their efforts, will enjoy the satisfying success they seek over the course of their family’s bilingual or multilingual journey. (Really!)

Get “19 Vital Reminders for Bilingual and Multilingual Success” (and more exclusive rewards) by joining me at Patreon.

Make the Most of the "Golden Years" of Your Minority Language Influence

Can you spot my son in this photo of his sixth grade class?

The other day my son graduated from elementary school. In Japan, elementary school lasts until sixth grade, then students move on to three years of junior high, then three years of high school.

Since the school year ends in March and starts up again just a few weeks later, in April, this means that Roy will soon be entering his first year at our local junior high school while Lulu will be in her third and final year there, gearing up for high school entrance exams.

Honestly, it’s hard for me to believe that they’ve now both finished elementary school. In fact, in the first few years of our bilingual journey together, I viewed this moment as a major milestone—and a destination that seemed far away…

If I can foster strong all-around ability in English (our main minority language) by the time they enter junior high, they’ll be in a good position to build on that ability themselves for the rest of their lives.

This doesn’t mean that I won’t now continue my efforts to advance their language ability. I’ll still do what I can, for as long as I can. But I also know—and I suspected as much when my kids were still small—that the older they get, the less influence I have over their English side because they become increasingly immersed in their Japanese lives at school and with friends.

Case in point: Just as I was writing that last paragraph—sitting in a coffee shop not far from our house—I saw Roy, chatting and laughing (in Japanese) as he strolled down the sidewalk with three friends, on their way to the large park in our neighborhood.

Now, of course, your journey may unfold differently—and so I don’t want to overgeneralize—but it’s worth keeping in mind that you, too, could one day face a similar situation in which the majority language of school and friends naturally becomes the more dominating presence in your children’s lives. And this is why I encourage you to very actively make the most of the stronger minority language influence that you have prior to the time they enter adolescence.

In other words, do what you realistically can to foster their minority language side, during their younger years, so they can reach a good level of ability by the time they become older and more independent.

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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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13 Things You Should Definitely NOT Say to Your Bilingual Kids to Get Them Speaking Your Language

First of all, if you want to get your children speaking more in the minority language, here are several key posts that can help you do this…

7 Steps to Get Your Bilingual Child Using the Minority Language More Actively

What to Do When Your Bilingual Child Won’t Speak Your Language

5 Ways for Your Bilingual Child to Interact with Other Speakers of the Minority Language

As the title of this post stresses, I don’t recommend that you try to get your children speaking more in the ways below. Still, if you insist on proceeding—despite my stern warning—you should at least practice a little on your own, before approaching the reluctant child in question. Again, I can’t condone these tactics, but go ahead and prepare properly by saying each one out loud in a firm voice, inserting the name of your target language in every blank space.

1. If you speak __________, I’ll let you eat nothing but candy.

2. Santa Claus only brings presents to good little boys and girls who speak __________.

3. That’s fine. You don’t have to speak __________. And don’t worry about your poor mother’s broken heart, either.

4. (Spoken in a deep growl while hiding beneath your child’s bed in the dark) Oh my! A child who doesn’t speak __________! They’re the most delicious kind!

5. Stop chewing on the bars of that cage! I told you, I’ll let you out when you start speaking __________.

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You’ll find photos of the happy couple below!

I spent a week in China at the end of January. Despite the fact that I’ve lived in Japan for more than 20 years, and China is a just a few hours away by plane, it was my first time there.

I went to China because a close friend from college was getting married in Beijing and he asked me to be his best man at the wedding. Though he’s American, and lives in New York, he married a Chinese woman that he met through his international travels for work.

The wedding was a very joyful event, and that joy was experienced in two languages, with an interpreter providing the necessary Chinese or English through the proceedings. I speak only a few phrases of Chinese—so, of course, I was happy that I could also follow along in English—but I felt quite at home with the bilingual nature of the wedding.

And joy, I recognized clearly, needs no language at all to be felt by the human heart. Joy is an emotion, an experience, that’s beneath language, beyond language, a universal force that underpins and empowers the very different lives we live out all across this earth.

Joy, perhaps, is our basic reason for being.

And joy, as I continually stress, is also the most effective fuel for generating happy progress on this bilingual or multilingual journey. 😉

My first experience of China

While the day of the wedding was the height of joy felt that week, the whole trip was a joyful experience for me. Above all, I loved spending time with my friend—who I had only seen in person two or three times over the previous 30 years—and making new friends, too. I felt so comfortable with these people, so relaxed. The truth is, I tend to be more of a loner in my life offline so this feeling of close camaraderie was deeply appreciated and savored.

At the same time, everything else about the trip—the hotel, the food, the sightseeing, the weather—was fantastic. I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I was planning this trip, but my first experience of China was so positive that I’m already considering ways that I can connect my work with the people there and make more trips to China in the future. (Feel free to reach out if you’re in China, or have contacts in China, and you could suggest some possibilities!)

32 pictures and a special giveaway

Here are some photos from my week in Beijing. They’re in roughly chronological order except for the wedding, which took place mid-week and has been bumped to the top.

Below the photos, you’ll find a fun giveaway of golden coins for Chinese New Year. (Chinese New Year starts today and lasts until February 19.) In fact, there will be two winners in this giveaway: the first name picked gets the golden coins and the second name picked, the runner-up, gets…well, you’ll just have to scroll down to see the special prize that awaits the second winner. :mrgreen:

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