Click to Look Inside: MAXIMIZE YOUR CHILD'S BILINGUAL ABILITY

Why I’m Like This Rumbling Volcano (And Why You Should Be, Too)

August 27, 2013

Sakurajima rises in Kagoshima Bay.

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

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

Sakurajima billows with smoke and ash.

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

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

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

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

Sustaining a homework routine

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that one of my highest aims for my children is strong literacy in our minority language—in our case, that’s English. This goal, though, is a significant challenge for us because our majority language is Japanese and not only is the Japanese writing system completely different from English, learning it is a demanding task throughout childhood which leaves little time and energy for literacy practice in another language.

Still, we’ve managed to make solid, steady progress, to the point where Lulu and Roy have attained good reading and writing ability for their respective ages. How?

Sakurajima rumbles behind me.

Rumbling volcano, rumbling father.

Because we’ve had a reliable homework routine since the kids were small, and because I’ve been strict—both with myself and with them—about maintaining this routine, day in and day out.

In other words, much like Sakurajima, I’m continually rumbling: I hold a firm expectation that this homework will be done each day, and done well. And this rumbling tends to be enough to sustain an effective routine—the few times I’ve erupted about homework were only due to a lack of satisfactory effort.

Still rumbling, six years later

In Secrets of a Successful Homework Routine, Part 1, I describe how I established a daily homework routine with my kids from the time they could first grip a pencil—from around the age of 3—by making use of gentle activities like dot-to-dot books so our “homework habit” could take root early and then grow over time.

If their majority language had also used the Roman alphabet, like English, I might not have felt the need to begin this process as soon as I did, but with Japanese literacy looming in elementary school, I was determined to give literacy in English a good head start. At the same time, by establishing this routine early in our journey, it could be made second nature to us all—like brushing our teeth—and would then be easier to maintain through the years that followed.

Six years later, our homework routine is still going strong, fueled by my persistent rumbling. In fact, this expectation for completing their daily homework is now so firmly established that my kids will generally get to their work without much prompting or complaining. And on those occasions when things are left undone, or not done well, I simply rumble the consequences (no gum—a favorite treat when their homework is finished—and no TV before dinner) and they always muster the motivation to try once more.

Ashes rain down from Sakurajima.

Ashes rain down from Sakurajima, closer to the summit.

Making discipline easier to swallow

One last, important point: If I was simply strict—a taskmaster—I suspect I would face greater difficulties with sour attitudes or outright rebellion. But being firm when it comes to daily homework doesn’t mean that I’m a disciplinarian throughout the day. Actually, most of the time I’m silly and playful with them, and I think this sweeter side helps make my stricter times a lot easier to swallow. (It’s like that song from the movie “Mary Poppins”—which we watched the other day—where Julie Andrews sings “just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”)

So if literacy in the minority language is important to you, too, set a homework routine and stick with it. And as you rumble like Sakurajima to sustain this daily habit, also make sure that your firmness is balanced well with a softer, playful side.

Volcanoes are hot, but caves are cooler! See The Dark Secret to Success at Raising Bilingual Kids.

How about you? Is literacy in the minority language an important goal? Are you firmly maintaining an effective homework routine?

1 cyrille, le praticien du bilinguisme August 30, 2013 at 11:54 pm

Hello Adam,
The only routine close to homework that I have is to carry an “N” and to rumble about mistakes with accusative (Simply add an N at the end of the word). I always show it when it is missing but it is a bit more complicated when they used it whilst they should not have.
Cyrille

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2 Adam August 31, 2013 at 7:49 pm

Cyrille, let’s keep up the rumbling! :mrgreen:

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3 Fiona MacLeod-Green November 10, 2013 at 5:58 pm

I have the rumble the other direction – English is the dominant language, Japanese the minority language, and neither parent is a native speaker. But we persevere 😀 And yes, I think routine is everything!

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4 Adam November 10, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Fiona, let’s keep at it, day by day! Ultimately, it all comes down to perseverance, a point I make in The One Thing You Absolutely, Positively Must Have to Raise a Bilingual Child.

Best wishes to you and your family!

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5 Aileen April 24, 2014 at 10:02 pm

Great to see a Tiger Dad at work, firm, no nonsense, and my favourite Nike maxim, “just do it”!

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6 Adam April 26, 2014 at 6:29 am

Warm greetings back to you, Tiger Mom!

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