As I’ve mentioned before (in the articles Why Communicating in English with My Kids is So Important to Me and How Much Passion Do You Have For Raising a Bilingual Child?), on Mondays I shuttle Lulu to her dance class at an arts center downtown. Normally, it’s just the two of us, but yesterday my wife was busy so I brought Roy along, too. While Lulu was at her dance class, Roy and I went to a coffee shop and I took the opportunity to interview him about his bilingual ability. I had never really posed such questions to him directly—he just turned 6, after all—but it turned out to be a fun conversation that happily confirmed what I had already been sensing: to this point, his feelings toward his own bilingualism seem quite positive.
Here are the highlights from that conversation…
Roy, you have two languages, right? English and Japanese? Why are you able to speak two languages?
Because you’re from America and Mommy’s from Japan so you teach me English and Mommy teaches me Japanese. And I have English homework and Japanese homework.
How do you feel about having two languages, about being bilingual?
Great, because I can speak to American people and Japanese people. And I can speak to you and Mommy, too.
Is there anything bad about being bilingual?
What does it feel like inside your head when you’re using both languages? I mean, when we’re having dinner and you have to switch back and forth, speaking English to me and Japanese to Mommy, what does that feel like?
Complicated, because I have to speak back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
Is that hard to do?
Not so much.
Which one of your languages do you think is stronger? Why?
English, because I read and write more in English.
How do you feel about doing English homework every day?
Very good, because I can learn new words like “complicated.”
Do you like books? What are your favorite books?
I like books about super heroes, like Captain America and Hulk. Hulk is funny because, on TV, he said, “I don’t like that guy.” And Thor said, “You don’t like anyone you meet.”
When do you watch super heroes on TV?
Was it Sunday again?
That’s right. Sunday morning. Why do you like those shows?
Because the super heroes fight the super villains.
Which ones do you like, the super heroes or the super villains?
I like the super heroes because the super villains steal money and stuff. [Note: For more on his obsession with super heroes, and how I’ve channeled that passion into greater English exposure, see POW! How Super Heroes Strengthened My Son’s Bilingual Ability.]
What do you think about the stories I put on the door in the bathroom? (See What Is Captive Reading and How Will It Help My Bilingual Child?)
Great. You make crazy stories, like Little Red Riding Diapers. It’s really Little Red Riding Hood, but you changed it to Little Red Riding Diapers. It’s funny. [Note: Recently, I’ve been creating “fractured fairy tales” from the first captive reading stories I wrote for them.]
Roy, how do you feel about speaking English with me outside the house, like at school?
It doesn’t feel strange to you?
How do you feel when you hear me speaking Japanese with someone?
It’s a little bit funky. When Mommy speaks English, it’s a little bit funky, too. [Note: He did use the word “funky,” probably in the sense of “strange.”]
Sometimes you speak English with your sister, and sometimes you speak Japanese. Why do you use English at times, but Japanese at other times?
When someone says one word of English, it becomes English. When we say something in Japanese, it starts Japanese.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Just a normal man.
Do you think being bilingual will help you in your job?
When the person who gave me the job isn’t looking, I can talk for a minute with my American friend.
Will being bilingual help you in other ways?
I think I’ll go to America and talk to people there.
I also interviewed my daughter! See “I Can Help People”: I Interview My Daughter on Being Bilingual.