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Al Beck

Just weeks after my mother passed away, my father has now left this world, too. Al Beck, an artist and teacher whose passion for art and education was widely influential, died at 11:15 p.m. on May 16.

He was 87 years old.

In late March, I hurried back to the U.S. to see my mother and say goodbye. She passed away the day after I arrived at my sister’s house.

During that trip, I also traveled to see my father, who was living in a nursing home three hours away. (My parents divorced when I was a teen and the last time they saw each other was nearly 20 years ago, at my wedding.)

In fact, the day my sister and I drove to see him was April 4, his birthday. When we got there, we found him celebrating with the president of the college where he had been an art professor for many years. There were balloons, gifts, and cake and my father was in a spirited mood.

On his sweater was a child’s badge and ribbon with the words: “Birthday Boy.”

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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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Want to strengthen your daily efforts, and your long-term success, at raising bilingual or multilingual children? The challenges at The Bilingual Zoo are designed to do just that by offering ideas and inspiration for a range of key actions that can produce very positive results.

(And you don’t have to be a member of The Bilingual Zoo community to take part—access to our forum is open to everyone—but since membership is free, why not?)

The latest challenge involves what’s probably the most important action of all when it comes to nurturing a child’s language development…

Challenge #13: Talk, Talk, Talk to Your Child

Challenge #13: Talk, Talk, Talk to Your Child

My son and I at a baseball game when he was just a little guy. (He’s now a big guy of 11.)

And here are the other 12 challenges at the Take a Challenge board…

Challenge #1: Read to Your Children Every Day

Challenge #2: Play Background Music Regularly

Challenge #3: Maintain an Effective Homework Routine

Challenge #4: Make Use of Captive Reading

Challenge #5: Read More Poetry

Challenge #6: Do Something Playful and Quirky

Challenge #7: Write About Your Bilingual Journey

Challenge #8: Make This the Highest Priority You Can

Challenge #9: Make Good Use of Inspiring Quotes

Challenge #10: Travel to Your Minority Language Country

Challenge #11: Make Videos of Your Kids

Challenge #12: Mindfully Shape the Space in Your Home

I hope to see you at The Bilingual Zoo, and I hope you find these challenges helpful and encouraging for your bilingual or multilingual goal! :mrgreen:

In this video, I describe important research on success rates for raising bilingual children then explain the implications of this research for parents. The information I share goes right to the heart of successfully nurturing a child’s bilingual (or multilingual) ability and can be found in my widely-praised book Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability: Ideas and inspiration for even greater success and joy raising bilingual kids.

View this video at Bilingual Monkeys TV and subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Get more information about Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability.

“Bilingual Lives” is a series of profiles of interesting people who are leading bilingual (or multilingual) lives, both personally and professionally. This series was inspired by the memory of my mother, who began a bilingual life that she later regretted not being able to sustain into her adult years. If you would like your life and work to be featured in this series, please contact me.

Bilingual Lives: Delia Berlin, Author of Bilingual Picture Books

Ever wonder about the value of bilingual books for kids?

Delia Berlin, an author of bilingual picture books who grew up in Argentina and Brazil yet has lived in the United States through her adult years, wrote a very insightful guest post on this subject…

A Writer’s Perspective on the Value of Bilingual Books for Children, Families, and Schools

Honestly, Delia’s post had me looking at the value of bilingual books in a broader light and because I felt she made her points so persuasively, so eloquently, I became eager to view the books she had written. Delia then kindly sent me several of her titles and I found them full of great warmth, gentle humor, and graceful writing. (Be sure to enter the giveaway below for a chance to win one of her books!)

So when I decided to launch this new series, to celebrate bilingual lives, it seemed to me that Delia—who has led a very active bilingual life, both personally and professionally—would make an inspiring example for others. I thank her for agreeing to be featured in this way and I hope you enjoy the story she has lived—and the stories she has written—as much as I have.

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7 Interviews with Adam Beck, Author of "Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability"

This post brings together seven interviews that I’ve given about raising bilingual and multilingual children (and other matters that may surprise you) through podcasts and video.

Podcast Interviews

Raising a Bilingual Child – Episode 37
Preschool and Beyond, with host Mike Dlott

Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability – Episode 125
Bilingual Avenue, with host Marianna Du Bosq

How to Raise Happy Bilingual Children – Episode 5
Bilingual Kids Rock, with host Olena Centeno

Culture Clash! Something’s Different Here – Episode 12
(I’m the second of three speakers in this podcast episode.)
The Thoughtful Travel Podcast, with host Amanda Kendle

Traveling with Kids is Good for Everyone – Episode 19
(I’m the third of three speakers in this podcast episode.)
The Thoughtful Travel Podcast, with host Amanda Kendle

Video Interviews

Meet Adam Beck, Author of Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability
Miss Panda Chinese, with host Amanda Hsiung Blodgett

Boost Your Bilingualism – Episode 5 of the BilingualWe Series
PuraVida Moms, with hosts Christa Jimenez and Heather Robertson

Bonus Interview!

Adam Beck Goes Bonkers, Reveals “Crazy Secret” for Bilingual Success
My kids interview me on video at Bilingual Monkeys!

My Mother Has Passed Away

April 12, 2018

Katrine Aho

My mother, Katrine Aho, has passed away. She died at 7:54 p.m. on March 26.

As sad as her passing is, I’m very glad and grateful that I was able to return from Japan to the U.S. to see her one last time and say goodbye. In fact, I was nearly too late because I had planned to leave Japan on March 30, but then her condition worsened so quickly that I was urged to come sooner.

By the time I got there, on the evening of March 25, it was clear that she had little time left. Her eyes opened just once, when she realized I had arrived, and her voice was already a faint whisper. I sat by her side, held her hand, spoke to her softly, and choked my way through the letters my wife and children had written to her.

And I was with her when she died the next day at the age of 82.

I know 82 isn’t young, and I know my mother had lived a full and productive life, but the truth is, her health had been quite good…until she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last spring. The prognosis for this type of cancer is very poor—many patients live less than a few months—but my mother gamely underwent chemotherapy and this helped extend her life by nearly a year.

My one real regret—and this is the heartache I’ve felt ever since I settled in Japan and had children—was that my mother and my kids had so little time together in this world. While I did all that I could from afar to create a close and continuing relationship between them (as I described in the posts 3 Good Ways to Boost a Bilingual Child’s Language Ability and Loving Bond with Grandparents; Bilingual Children and Distant Grandparents: What We’ve Done; and Bilingual Kids and Grandparents: Make the Most of This Opportunity), the hard reality is that the several visits we made to the U.S. to see her in person amounted to less than a month in total.

I know she wanted to spend more time with them (Lulu, in fact, was her only granddaughter), but the circumstances—the tremendous distance and cost, as well as work and school on our end—made this so painfully difficult.

And now she’s gone. And now there are no more chances. The finality of this fact is crushingly sad.

At the same time, there’s heartfelt joy that, despite the shortcomings of our situation, my children and my mother were able to know one another as well as they did. My mother was a very sweet, very talented person and a special, loving presence in my kids’ lives. I have no doubt that they will remember her, far into the future, with deep fondness.

And it’s true, as well, that they shared the bond of bilingual childhoods. A few years ago, I interviewed her about her bilingual past (see “I Spoke Both Finnish and English”: I Interview My Mother on Her Bilingual Childhood) and she mentioned being thrilled that her grandchildren seemed to have the bright bilingual future that she eventually lost as she grew up.

I loved my mother, and I always, always will. I feel profoundly blessed that I had the chance, before she passed on, to tell her this in person and thank her for all that she did for me and for my family. This post, with the pictures and videos below, is my small way of celebrating her life and sharing the great goodness that she gave this world.

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Breaking news! This week I was interviewed about raising bilingual children at the popular podcast Preschool and Beyond. The host is Mike Dlott and we had a great discussion. I hope you enjoy it!

And I highly recommend the many other episodes at this podcast, too—it’s a goldmine of practical information about parenting issues.

Listen to the Raising a Bilingual Child podcast episode at the Discovery Child Development Center website.

Listen to the Raising a Bilingual Child podcast episode at the Discovery Child Development Center website.

Or listen to the Raising a Bilingual Child podcast episode at iTunes.

Or listen to the Raising a Bilingual Child podcast episode at iTunes.

My son had a really fun time last weekend—in the minority language—with our latest homestay guest.

If schooling in the minority language isn’t an option for your family, and travel to a minority-language destination is limited (see Bilingual Travelers, an ongoing series at this blog, for personal stories that share the powerful impact of such trips), it’s important to be proactive and resourceful about finding or creating opportunities from your own location so that your children can interact with other speakers of the target language.

Here are 5 ideas…

1. Online Conversations
Of course, many of us make regular use of Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom to speak to family and friends who live in distant places. This not only provides additional language input but also strengthens the bond between loved ones and our kids. (See previous posts like Bilingual Kids and Grandparents: Make the Most of This Opportunity and A Powerful Twist on the Use of Skype to Promote the Minority Language.)

However, just the other day I experienced a huge new possibility, both for non-native parents who wish to improve their own language ability and for children to engage with other speakers of the target language.

I had been wanting to do this for some time—so I could benefit from more focused time speaking Japanese (my second language)—and I finally tried it on Friday. I paid less than $10 and I spent a full hour speaking Japanese, over Skype, with a native speaker!

The site I used to make this connection is called italki, and while I’m sure there are many other sites like this for people seeking to learn languages, my first impressions of italki have been extremely positive, in all ways.

And here’s the really wonderful thing: If you’re just looking for a friendly speaker of the language for you and/or your children, you’ll find thousands of them at italki, in a wide range of languages, and many of them are charging only around $10 US per hour.

At italki, there are two categories of teachers: lower-priced “Community Tutors” (speakers of the language who are eager to help others achieve their language-learning aims but aren’t professional teachers) and higher-priced “Professional Teachers” (who naturally often charge more for their expertise and instruction).

So, if you’re in need of more opportunity to engage in your target language with other speakers—you alone; an older child alone; or even you with a smaller child on your lap—why not explore this possibility at italki or a similar online resource?

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"Betty & Cat" bilingual books

Today I’d like to give a loud shout-out to author Hennie Jacobs and her uniquely bilingual children’s books. While it’s true that, as a rule, I no longer feature specific titles for bilingual children’s books at this site (continuing to do so is beyond my capacity), I feel that Hennie has taken an inspired approach to the challenge of creating “bilingual books” and I want to share her work with you.

What makes Hennie’s books different from the many other bilingual books I’ve seen is the way she incorporates the two languages in her “Betty & Cat” books. (To date, Hennie has produced three books in this series, in various pairings of these languages: English, French, Dutch, and Spanish.) While typical bilingual books for children will tell the story twice, with mirror translations of the text, Hennie has written books with two characters—“Betty” (a dog) and “Cat” (yes, a cat)—and each character speaks a different language. In other words, these stories are told through code-switching, with the dog speaking one language and the cat speaking the other language.

Here’s an example of this from the book she kindly sent to me, a Spanish/English version of At Home with Betty & Cat. Note that the dog speaks Spanish and the cat speaks English. Throughout the book, their voices—and the two languages—alternate in the same way.

At Home with Betty & Cat

First page from the book

Although this twist on traditional bilingual books may seem simple, it must be handled with considerable skill so that the story holds together well. My impression is that Hennie has achieved this aim admirably, creating clever and colorful books that bilingual families and schools will find fresh and fun as well as beneficial to their bilingual goal. (Kudos to artist Christine Duvernois, too, for her lovely and playful illustrations.)

At the same time, I should note that because the books contain no translation of the text, readers and listeners need to already have some ability in the two languages used, otherwise it may be difficult to enjoy them fully without a dictionary at hand.

To learn more about the appealing “Betty & Cat” books, read the revealing interview (below) that we pursued through an email exchange. You’ll find further information, too, at Hennie’s website.

Hennie has also agreed to provide free copies of her books to two readers of Bilingual Monkeys (and two books each!) so be sure to enter this giveaway, which closes on Friday, March 16.

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ADAM’S NOTE: As I often stress, when the basic circumstances of your life work against your bilingual aim, raising the odds of success involves two choices: 1) You can reshape those conditions in more conducive ways, and/or 2) You can be as proactive as possible in your daily efforts. This lively guest post by Matthew John Thoren is an encouraging example of that second solution, where the persistent efforts of a proactive parent have produced happy success through the important early years of the bilingual journey.

5 Key Strategies That Have Enabled Me to Successfully Foster My Son’s Bilingual Ability

Matthew John Thoren is originally from the U.S. state of Vermont and has lived in Japan for most of the last 15 years. While working full-time at a U.S. biotechnology company in Tokyo, he spends as much time as possible playing board games, riding bicycles, reading, and practicing living-room sumo wrestling with his 4-year-old bilingual son. When everyone else has gone to bed, Matthew is either (quietly) working on DYI projects in the family’s new home or shopping for fun English books.

This article describes five key strategies that have enabled me to successfully foster my son’s ability in the minority language, to the age of 4, despite being basically the only source of exposure to this language in my young son’s life.

My wife, my son, and I live in Tokyo, Japan. My wife is Japanese, I’m American, and our son, Soma (a name we considered, but not his real name) is a dual citizen. As a family we have never lived outside of Japan, and my son has spent a total of 18 days in the U.S. on two separate visits. Exposure to the majority language, Japanese, comes from my wife, her parents, daycare, and the community. Exposure to the minority language, English, comes almost entirely from me.

I speak only English to Soma and to my wife. My wife speaks very little English to him and speaks to me in English about 35% of the time. While not native, both my wife and I speak and understand each other’s first language very comfortably. For Soma, there is almost no English language exposure besides me, apart from some TV programs (which is not a fundamental part of our strategy) and a short weekly exchange with family in the U.S. on Facetime or Skype. Despite this, by adhering to the following five tactics, Soma has an English vocabulary of approximately 1,500 words at age four, which is about normal for a child his age growing up in the U.S.

1. Speak only the minority language.

For me, this is the simplest of the five strategies. I speak the minority language to Soma 100% of the time, with absolutely no exceptions. Period. In four years, I have never encountered the need and have never spoken the minority language to my child.

My wife and I generally spoke Japanese to each other before our son was born, but I made the decision that I would only speak to Soma in English. Knowing that I needed to break the habit of speaking Japanese in the house, I began speaking to our son in English well before he was born so that the habit was already formed before he arrived. So, if my son is present, English is the only thing you will hear from me. Period. (The only exception would be if his life is in danger and I knew a warning in Japanese would be more likely to save him!)

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