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Make the Most of the “Golden Years” of Your Minority Language Influence

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.

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…

My Daughter and I Hit a Big Milestone on Our Bilingual Journey Together

How about you? Is there more you can do to make the most of these “golden years” of your minority language influence?

2 Responses

  1. Hi Adam!
    Yes it gets harder and harder to be able to influence their ml as they reach teenagehood. It is such an emotional turmoil for us native parents. My 18 yr old will be doing his final French exam this year, after it will be up to him what he does with it. My two 14+ yr old have no more French at school and have given up French Sat school about 18 months ago. I couldn’t battle anymore Adam. So the only exposure is me talking, texting (!) to them (but that’s limiting the vocabulary I feel) and their annual trip to their grandparents. My heart is full of sorrow about it. One of my twins is smitten with Japan at the moment and is trying to self teach. I know it is because he has had another language in his life that he didn’t even not think he couldn’t take on the challenge. So that’s a positive. On another note, my head is already thinking girlfriends and grandkids… will I still be able to speak my mother tongue to my children? Will they want me to in front of their partners? Will they let me teach my grandchildren? I am still hoping that suddenly they’ll be interested…

    1. Nathalie, as I watch my children become more immersed in the majority language culture and language, these are concerns that I share with you. At the same time, I believe that all the efforts we’ve made over the years have impacted their lives in a variety of positive ways and that this important part of their identity will continue to be an active force through the rest of their lives. How this will play out in the world, we don’t know and we can’t control. But if we simply go on doing what we can to feed their minority language side, even as teens and young adults, I think that will be enough. So I feel your frustration, but it’s also true that you and your children have come a long, long way together. Loud cheers to you, Nathalie, for achieving so much success to this point! And now, let’s carry on from here as best we can!

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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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