Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability

Top 10 Most-Commented-On Articles at Bilingual Monkeys

In the five years since this blog began, there have been a total of 2,936 comments.

Since comments are one measure of a blog post’s popularity among readers—and since I was curious to study this myself—today I offer a list of the 10 articles that have generated the most comments (excluding the giveaways).

Along with the articles themselves, I highly recommend reading the comments, too. The truth is, I’ve learned a tremendous amount over the years from these comments and through my exchanges with others, and this has helped both broaden and sharpen my thinking on the subject of raising bilingual and multilingual children. (The same is true of my forum, The Bilingual Zoo, which now has 791 threads and 5,442 posts.)

And, of course, feel free to add your comments to this blog, too. I try my best to respond helpfully to each one. :mrgreen:

1. 143 comments
My Best Tips for Raising Bilingual Kids
50 tips, running over 6,000 words, with a free PDF of the whole thing, and a set of videos, too.

2. 127 comments
What to Do When Your Bilingual Child Won’t Speak Your Language
Activating a child’s passive language ability requires addressing the two “core conditions” of exposure and need.

3. 89 comments
What Language Should I Speak in Public with My Bilingual Child?
Be careful that your use of the majority language doesn’t undermine your greater goal for your child’s development in the minority language.

4. 54 comments
What’s the Best Language Strategy for Raising Bilingual Children?
There are various approaches to raising bilingual children. Which one is best for your family?

5. 48 comments
Warning to New Parents Who Dream of Raising a Bilingual Child
Raising a bilingual child often demands more time, energy, and expense than many new parents originally imagine.

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The other day my kids and I went to our local sports center to play ping-pong. After I smashed balls at them for an hour, we watched a few minutes of a basketball tournament for junior high school boys and girls. And one of the girls’ teams had this unusual name…

The Attack Kangaroos

Isn’t that cool (and kind of crazy)?

Well, as we rode our bikes home, I began to wonder what sort of names would suit a team made up of bilingual or multilingual kids. Here are the cool (and kind of crazy) names that I came up with…

Bilingual LightningBilingual Lightning

Mighty MultilingualsMighty Multilinguals

Lingo FightersLingo Fighters

Click for 4 more team names →

The Basic Formula for Bilingual Success

One of the most rewarding things about running The Bilingual Zoo, the friendly (and free) forum I opened in 2014, is the opportunity to follow the progress made by parents and children over time. It’s always a thrill for me when a thread begun by a parent, concerned over a child’s language development, is updated after six months or a year with happy news of stronger progress. This happens regularly, and the latest example is Stefania’s thread, which she updated the other day.

Not only are these successes gratifying to me personally, they also continually reaffirm for me, professionally, what I consider to be the basic formula for bilingual success.

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 Raising Bilingual Kids Is a Vital Part of Our Efforts, From Babies to Teens

Let’s begin with two examples. These examples involve parenting in general, but I think they’ll make this important principle very clear. Then I’ll go on to offer further examples that connect more directly to the challenge of parenting children in more than one language.

Example #1: When my daughter was still a baby, but starting to crawl about, my wife and I made a mission—as all sensible parents do—of “babyproofing” our home in order to prevent accidental injuries. We did things like adding covers to outlets, attaching foam guards to sharp table corners, and installing safety gates at the top and bottom of our staircase. If you’ve already experienced this phase with your kids, I’m sure you undertook similar proactive steps in your house.

Example #2: When Lulu entered junior high school, (which I shared in the recent post The Most Important Point on Our Long Bilingual Journey), we bought her a nice new desk, hoping this would encourage good study habits for the tougher academic challenge she was now starting. However, for the first couple of weeks, she barely used it at all. Despite our repeated appeals, she continued to sit on the floor and do her homework at the low Japanese-style table in our living room, a long-running habit from her elementary school years. Finally, since our pleas weren’t adequately altering her behavior, I began removing the table itself before she returned home from school each day and placing it in a different room for the evening, out of sight. Without that table present, she was essentially “forced” to develop the new habit of sitting down at her desk.

As these two examples demonstrate—one from early childhood, one from later childhood—a key principle for parenting in general, and parenting bilingual and multilingual children in particular, is the idea of intentionally shaping (and reshaping) the space of the home to promote the aims we seek.

When Lulu was a baby, our aim was to keep her safe and we did so by pursuing measures to reshape the space in order to minimize the risk of accident.

More recently, as a 13-year-old, she needed help with the aim of creating a new study habit, and since continuing to nag her about this wasn’t working—not for us nor for her—simply reshaping the space to remove the distraction, without having to say another word about it, proved far more effective.

The crucial point, then, when it comes to our bilingual or multilingual aim, is that we must remain mindful and proactive, throughout childhood, about shaping and reshaping the home environment in strategic ways so that we can fortify the process of language development. In other words, the more effectively you shape the space, the more effectively you’ll nurture progress in the minority language (or languages).

Here’s the next round of examples, more specific to our bilingual aim.

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Are You Making Effective Choices and Decisions For Your Bilingual Journey? (And For Your Life?)

In July, I made the long trip from Japan to the U.S., solo, to see my parents, siblings, and friends. Among these friends was a family I had never met before but had been in touch with for several years as a result of this blog. In fact, this was the first bilingual family that I met in person outside the Hiroshima area. (If you’re curious, you can read about—and see photos of—my previous meetings with Jonathan’s family, Mei’s family, and Nikoya’s family.)

After visiting my mother in Memphis, Tennessee, I went on to my hometown of Quincy, Illinois, where my father lives. And it just so happens that Nellie and her family live in the countryside less than 30 minutes away!

Nellie is originally from Hungary and has had to be extremely resourceful to provide her two adorable children with exposure to Hungarian amid the dominating English environment of the American Midwest. One very creative example of this is the project she undertook with her kids that we shared in the post How a Globe-Trotting Alligator Helped One Family Find Greater Fun and Success on Their Bilingual Journey.

But along with the continuing progress Nellie has made with her bilingual aim, I was also impressed with the intentional efforts that she and her husband are pursuing to strengthen their children’s mindfulness, from a young age, when it comes to making choices and decisions. In the full day I spent with them, I heard a number of reminders addressed to the eight-year-old girl and five-year-old boy, at times when the kids were on the verge of an unhelpful or potentially perilous action. Often posed as questions—“Is that a good decision?”—these reminders wisely sought to elevate the children’s awareness of their own choices.

After bidding farewell to this lovely family, I spent the rest of my trip mulling the idea of personal choices and decisions in connection to my own life. And when I returned to Hiroshima, I quickly had an encounter with my 10-year-old son that made it clear to me how profoundly important this subject is, both for the bilingual journey and for our lives as a whole.

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There are many things to love about bilingual (and multilingual) children. This short video shares 20 of them…

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

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It’s true! No matter how old they are, children want to be bilingual!

Watch this short video, where I read an excerpt from my book Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability, for a motivating perspective on the entire bilingual journey…

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

Get more information about my widely-praised book.

ADAM’S NOTE: One essential lesson for parents to learn early on—or potentially face growing frustrations on their bilingual journey—is the need to add greater realism to the initial idealism we feel going into this experience. Idealism continues to play a vital role in motivating our efforts, but relaxing into a more realistic and flexible mindset, while remaining persistent and playful, day by day, enables us to pursue a path that is both more enjoyable and more effective. In this insightful guest post, Jordana Timerman brings this point to colorful life by sharing the candid story of her first two years as a parent on a bilingual quest. Thank you, Jordana, for conveying an important message that I’m sure will be encouraging for others to hear.

Guest Post: Creating a Little Bilingual Family—If Not Precisely By the Book

Jordana Timerman is a freelance journalist in Buenos Aires, where she grew up speaking English and Spanish. She is the mother of a two-year-old who is being spoken to in English (minority language) and Spanish (majority language) in a disconcertingly disorganized fashion.

Jordana TimermanI try hard not to cringe when well-meaning friends and family speak to my daughter in broken English. According to the “rules” of bilingualism, they should be speaking in Spanish, their native language and the majority language in Argentina where we live. But I’ve found that when people hear me speak to my two-year-old in my native English they automatically trend towards using it themselves with her.

The curious result is my Argentine-born daughter is being treated like a foreigner in her own country. I don’t want to be the language police—I want people to have easy relationships with my child. But as they speak to her, all I can think about are admonishments to parents of bilingual children not to mix languages.

Theory and reality

Before my daughter was born, my partner and I casually agreed that I’d speak English to our children, thus sharing my native language and arming them for an anglo-dominated world. Like pretty much everything else pre-parents blissfully envision, the post-partum result was a lot more complicated.

Language strategies, such as “one-parent-one-language” or “minority language at home,” all sound perfectly rational in theory. But somehow the realities we confronted didn’t fit into the patterns those strategies outlined so neatly.

I found myself uncertain over how to handle the interactions that remain unscripted in these approaches: How should I speak to my child in front of playground friends who don’t speak English? (Really awkward mix for now.) How to navigate daily interactions with babysitters who don’t understand what I’m saying to my daughter? (I sometimes wind up dubbing my own speech—I say it once in English and then repeat in Spanish for the caretakers’ benefit. It’s awful.) Was it alright to keep speaking in Spanish to my partner as we had always done? (It’s very uncomfortable to switch languages once you’re used to using one with somebody, so yes, we stick to Spanish.) A lot of the time I feel like an actor in a bad pantomime.

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Recommended Resources: Great Books and Blogs for Nurturing a Child's Multicultural Spirit

One of the deeper themes of my efforts to support the bilingual and multilingual journey of families in the world—as I stress in such posts as Why Raising a Bilingual Child Matters in a World Gone Mad and Why Your Bilingual Child Is Tied, Profoundly, to Hiroshima and Peace—is the idea that children with ability in more than one language can potentially feel keener empathy for others and contribute to creating a more harmonious world through their outlook and actions.

I realize, of course, that the world is still very far from the peaceful place we wish it was—and I admit to wrestling with a more jaded side, too—but I nevertheless continue to believe that the efforts we make, including our efforts to raise bilingual and multilingual children, do make a productive difference to the larger arc of our evolution as a species.

Great books and blogs

This same idea—that expanding our familiarity with the world and our empathy for others can help promote greater peace on this fragile planet—is the essential aim of two books on nurturing a spirit of multiculturalism that I wholeheartedly recommend: Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World and The Global Education Toolkit for Elementary Learners.

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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.

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Watch this fun video of my original tongue twisters, featuring my cousin Andy!

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

Get the free PDF of these tongue twisters and try them at home or with your students!