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“I Can Help People”: I Interview My Daughter on Being Bilingual

Lulu reading Harry Potter.My kids are constantly in competition, even squabbling over such silly things as who got out of bed first in the morning or who can eat the most pancakes for breakfast. So it was no surprise that when Lulu found out about my interview with Roy (see “It’s a Little Bit Funky”: I Interview My Son on Being Bilingual), she demanded to be interviewed, too. (As I was planning to do it, anyway, she saved me the trouble of having to persuade her. :mrgreen: )

Lulu is 8, turning 9 in June, and our conversation, like the conversation I had with Roy, revealed her feelings toward being bilingual—and all that comes with it. For the most part, she seems happy to have two languages, but she also struggles a bit with the burden of additional homework in the minority language and has mixed emotions about being singled out for her English ability.

Here are excepts from our conversation…

Lulu, what do you think about being bilingual?
Because I have two languages, I can help people.

How can you help people?
I can teach people English so they have two languages, too! [Her response was partly prompted, I think, by the experience I describe in A Powerful Way to Inspire a Positive Attitude in Your Bilingual Child.]

Are there other good things about being bilingual?
I might make more friends because people are interested in me.

Is there anything bad about it?
I have a lot of homework.

How do you feel about doing English homework every day?
It’s a little hard because I have to do English homework and Japanese homework and I get tired. And if I don’t do my best, you get angry sometimes. [Note: It’s true, I’ve lost my temper a few times when she does less than her best. I try to be patient, and sensitive to her situation, but I still expect my kids to do their best, whatever the task.]

What do you think about books and reading?
I don’t really like reading that much. I like to write more. [Note: Lulu has become a capable reader, but motivating her to read more, in both languages, is an ongoing challenge. By nature, she’s a very active child.]

Because sometimes I don’t know what it says [when I’m reading]. When I’m writing, I don’t have to write hard words, so it’s easier.

What’s your favorite book?
Harry Potter, because they get in trouble, like me, and they use magic. I like magic.

Do you like the stories I put on the door in the bathroom?
I want exciting stories, with chapters, like “Super Poop.” I liked it when they were fighting in the toilet and searching for treasure on the mountain. [Note: “Super Poop” was a long, zany “serial story” that I wrote for my kids. For more on this idea, see Turn Your Kids into Eager Readers with This Fun, Simple Strategy.]

Which one of your languages is stronger, English or Japanese?
English, because sometimes I don’t know the meaning of Japanese words. English spelling is hard, though.

How do you feel about speaking English outside the house?
People kind of stare and I don’t like it. I feel shy because everyone’s looking at me.

What are they thinking, though?
They’re thinking, “Wow,” because they can’t speak English and I’m still a little kid.

Do you ever use English at school?
The teacher asked me to sing a song in English and everyone was watching me.

How did that make you feel?
I liked doing it, but I felt a little shy.

Have you used English at school any other times?
Sometimes I read an English book to my friends.

How do they react?
They go, “Wow.”

What do you think when you hear me speak Japanese?
(Laughing) You have to practice more! And Mommy’s the same, too. You guys have to practice more!

Lulu, what would you like to be in the future?
Right now, a dancer. But maybe when I’m a grown-up, it might change.

If you became a dancer, how would being bilingual help you?
I could go around the world because I speak English and Japanese.

How about you? Do your children sometimes feel burdened by homework in the minority language, or self-conscious about using the minority language in public?


10 Responses

  1. You can tell your little girl is proud of the fact that she can speak two languages. It’s quite interesting how she can already perceive that people like her because she is good at something. At my children’s school pupils were asked to describe their peers and start with “So and so is cool because…”. They all said “…because s/he can speak a different language” about my two. And whenever my daughter has friends over, they want her to teach them Czech and you can tell how good it makes her feel 🙂 Kids are canny. Neither of them have ever been shy about using Czech in public – not sure how I achieved that really… Actually, occasionally, I have spoken to them in English around other people if I expect the other people to get involved in our conversation (like at our tennis club) and my kids have said to me, in Czech, “Mum, why are you talking in English?” lol. Great website, keep up the good work!

    1. Jana, I enjoyed hearing your positive experience, thanks. It’s great that your children haven’t been shy about using the minority language in public, and I hope my kids can follow in their footsteps! :mrgreen:

  2. I really liked this interview you did with your daughter, I think many parents will find it relateable as our children feel or have felt the same way at some point of time, and I especially like your honesty about your losing your temper upon occasion. That’s something parents may have in common more than teachers…especially when we feel the stakes or need for bilingualism are higher. I always laugh when I think about my hubby once let the Sunday schoolchildren walk all over him as relief teacher…he said it didn’t matter because they weren’t his kids, but he would have been a lot stricter with his own. We always have double-standards when it comes to expectations and goals with our own kids!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Aileen. This is exactly right! I sometimes wish it weren’t so, but I’m a lot harder on my own children than I am on my students! My students think I’m a creampuff, but I don’t think my kids would describe me in such tasty terms!

  3. It was great to hear about bilingualism from your daughter’s perspective, Adam. It’s good to see how she views being bilingual so positively.

  4. Hi,
    I just found your blog, and appreciate it so much. I am an American married to a Frenchman, living in France. We both speak English at home with each other and with the children (2 girls, 4 years and 7 months). Just wondering if you have a homework resource page for different ages? I saw that your daughter referenced homework in English. Thanks.

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Welcome to Bilingual Monkeys!

I’m Adam Beck, the founder of this blog and The Bilingual Zoo, a lively worldwide forum for parents raising bilingual or multilingual kids. I’m also the author of the popular books Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability and Bilingual Success Stories Around the World. I’ve been an educator and writer in this field for 25 years as well as the parent of two bilingual children, now 19 and 16. I hope my work can help empower the success of your bilingual journey.

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