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.
Mixed feelings at this milestone
At this important milestone, with Lulu and Roy both beyond elementary school, I admit to having mixed feelings. On one hand, I’m generally very satisfied with their level in the minority language. (See my recent post My Bilingual Kids Are Formally Tested in Their Minority Language Ability for the First Time (And the Results Are Revealing)). Yet at the same time, I feel wistful over the fact that much of my language journey with them—even 90% of it—is now part of our past as well as uneasy when I think of what lies ahead—the remaining 10%—and realize that I’ll be contending with the heavy presence of the majority language throughout their teenage lives.
So the “golden years” of my minority language influence are now basically over—a stunning thought—and that saddens me. But I’ll take a big breath (maybe a few), then move forward again. And I’ll seek to evolve along with this evolution, renewing my efforts to advance their ability in our minority language through this next phase of our bilingual journey together.
Lulu graduated almost exactly two years ago…