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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“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: Beatrice Beckmann

To successfully raise a bilingual or multilingual child, the main requirement is language exposure: the child must receive an ample amount of meaningful input in the target language (or languages) on a regular basis. And the more of this input you can provide, from yourself and/or from other sources of exposure, the greater the odds of fostering active language ability.

The two central pillars for providing this exposure are abundant speech (from you or from other speakers of the target language) and a daily read-aloud routine.

But when it comes to reading aloud, finding suitable children’s books in your target language may be a challenge. In fact, I wrote a whole post about this problem, in which I emphasized the use of “wordless picture books” as one way to effectively address it. See What to Do When It’s Hard to Find Children’s Books in Your Minority Language.

Well, one parent has come up with another creative solution, a winning idea geared for families in the United States with German as a target language. Beatrice Beckmann, a mother of two who moved to New York from Munich, launched KinderBooks in 2016 to provide families with direct access to German picture books and chapter books. With a subscription to KinderBooks, parents can rent and read appealing books on an ongoing basis, and thus strengthen their read-aloud routine and their children’s exposure to German.

When I learned about KinderBooks, it struck me as such a helpful resource for maintaining a steady stream of children’s books into the home…and it’s a shame that there aren’t (yet) more services like this for other target languages, too.


And not only is KinderBooks an affordable solution—with subscriptions starting at just $10 a month (free postage is also included for receiving and returning the books!), Beatrice is kindly offering readers of this blog a $20 discount to try it out. Just use the promo code BILINGUALMONKEYS (valid until March 31, 2019).

Learn more about KinderBooks.

And learn more about Beatrice’s life and work by reading the interview below!

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My Simple Message for the New Year (And Don’t Mind My Messy Hands)

We spent the last week of 2018 in Singapore, a long-overdue family vacation. (That’s me in the photo, licking chilli crab off my fingers.) We had a warm, wonderful week there—Singapore is such a lively multicultural and multilingual place—and it was hard to return to cold Japan and resume our “real lives” here.

Among the busy days of sightseeing, we also had the chance to meet up with a family that I became friends with through this blog. It was actually the second time we met because they first paid a visit to our home in Hiroshima when they were living here. That was nearly four years ago, when their son was just one, and now he’s five and has become a very talkative bilingual boy (English and Mandarin) while making steady progress in his third language (Japanese), too.

Honestly, one of the very best things about running this blog, and my forum, has been the opportunity to connect with kindred spirits who are also on bilingual or multilingual journeys. And because this aim is so central to our lives—it’s such a heartfelt part of who we are—these connections often feel deeper than other friendships, and this is true even when our interactions are solely online.

However, one of my high hopes for 2019 is that I’ll be able to travel to other parts of the world and meet more of you in person. In fact, I’m now scheming to make this happen so please stay tuned and I’ll share more about this when I’m ready to reveal my plans.

The “5 P’s”

For the moment, though, let me just offer a simple message for the new year. We can call them the “5 P’s” for bilingual or multilingual success.

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The Top 12 Blog Posts at Bilingual Monkeys in 2018

2018 was a long, tough year for me and it was hard to blog as frequently as I did over the previous five years. (Yes, Bilingual Monkeys is now more than 6 years old!) But I did what I could to keep the site reasonably active and helpful. Setting aside the sad posts I made about my mother and my father, let me round off the year with a list of the “top 12” posts at this blog in 2018. I admit, it’s hard to be purely objective about how I selected and ranked this list of posts. While I took into account how popular the posts were, in terms of traffic and shares on social media, I also gave some weight to my own subjective feelings about them. (Although I didn’t include any of the articles from the new Bilingual Lives series—to keep this list concise—I encourage you to see these interesting and inspiring profiles of the bilingual/multilingual lives of Delia Berlin, Ana Cristina Gluck, and Victor Santos.)

So, without further ado, here are the “top 12” posts in 2018, from 12 to 1. I hope they can contribute, in some small way, to the greater success and joy of your bilingual or multilingual journey with your children. :mrgreen:

12. My Kids Scream at Me Not to Lick Poisonous Mushrooms
Watch a short video of this memorable moment on our bilingual journey.

11. Fantastic Bilingual Book Project for Children and Parents
With the solid support of her mother, this nine-year-old girl has written and published a book in her two languages.

10. How the Minority Language Can Flower in Your Bilingual Child
The flowering of a child’s minority language depends on both nature and nurture.

9. How to Create Breakthroughs in the Language Development of Bilingual Children
I share recent breakthroughs with my own kids and explain how breakthroughs can occur in your own language journey with your children.

8. 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 through podcasts and video

7. VIDEO: Important Research on Successfully Raising a Bilingual Child
In this video I describe important research on success rates for raising bilingual children and explain the implications of this research for parents.

6. Feeling Discouraged About Raising Bilingual Children? Watch This Video.
If you’re feeling discouraged or frustrated about raising bilingual or multilingual kids, this fresh, empowering perspective can help.

5. Make the Most of Your Precious Time with Grandparents, Whether Near or Far
Your time with loved ones on this earth is finite, is fleeting, so do what you realistically can to maintain an active and loving relationship.

4. Something Strange Happened 2 Days After We Moved into Our New House (And Its Significance to Change and Transformation on the Bilingual Journey)
In this post I share an unusual incident and describe its deeper connection to raising bilingual and multilingual children.

3. 5 Ways for Your Bilingual Child to Interact with Other Speakers of the Minority Language
How can you strengthen your children’s engagement in the target language with other speakers of that language?

2. 12 Inspiring Real-Life Stories of Bilingual and Multilingual Families
Real-time case studies of how strong, steady progress is made at the bilingual aim, day by day, over the months and years of childhood.

1. Upset About Raising Bilingual Kids? That Might Be a Very Good Thing. (Really.)
The fact that you’re upset is precisely what will now enable you to move forward more effectively and experience the greater success and joy that you seek.

While Bilingual Monkeys may have been a little quieter this year, that certainly wasn’t the case at The Bilingual Zoo forum! What a lively year! (The forum is now 4 years old.) As of today, there are 971 members, 1018 threads on 11 boards, and 9436 total posts from parents worldwide. Remember, The Bilingual Zoo is a free service for all, members and guests alike. It continues to be a warm, empowering place for parents and I encourage you to stop by anytime for camaraderie and support. :mrgreen:

Update on My Son’s Bilingual Life at 11.9 Years Old: Funny Photos, Art Awards, and Junior High

It’s been a while since I simply shared news of my family’s own bilingual journey. Despite the heartache of this year for me, I’ve tried to keep up my regular efforts to nurture my children’s progress in our two minority languages, English and Spanish. In this two-part series, I offer updates on the bilingual lives of my daughter (here) and now my son.

Two plastic tubs

Lately I’ve been sifting through big boxes of old photos: me as a child, my parents and my siblings, my years as a young adult, my time in Japan, and my kids when they were small. In fact, I’m slowly putting together two plastic tubs—one for Lulu and one for Roy—that will contain an organized collection of their family history on my side, with photos, videos, audio CDs, letters, newspaper articles, and other documents.

The truth is, since they’ve lived in Japan all their lives and have made only a couple of short trips to the United States, their connection to my history, and my family’s history, is pretty thin. I continue to try sharing this history, as I’m able, but I know it feels distant to them, particularly now that they’ve become so immersed in their Japanese lives.

I guess these plastic tubs are my attempt to leave them with this legacy when they’re older, even after I’m gone. Perhaps they’ll spend time with the contents one day and come to feel a stronger connection to these roots; perhaps not. But it’s what I can do.

Funny photos

So this week I was looking through photos of Lulu and Roy when they were just babies. I was sitting on the floor of the living room as they were perched on the couch, watching TV. Occasionally I would flash a funny photo their way, like this one…

Here’s what Roy was thinking in his baby mind: “What?! *This* is the guy I have to live with for the next 18 years?!”

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