Recently, in My Daughter and I Hit a Big Milestone on Our Bilingual Journey Together, I shared how Lulu had graduated from elementary school and would now be entering junior high. (The school year in Japan ends in March and starts up again in April.)
In my mind, I’ve always viewed this transition to junior high school as perhaps the most important point on our long bilingual journey: If I could just sustain my persistent efforts until this point, and nurture a firm, active foundation in the minority language by the time my kids became teens, our bilingual goal would largely have been accomplished. And now that Lulu has begun junior high, and turns 13 soon, I’m happy to report that we’ve essentially fulfilled this aim.
No, this doesn’t mean I’ll dash out today and buy a hammock, then do nothing more but lie there and eat brownies. (Much as I’d like to.) In fact, I’ll continue eating my brownies on the run, doing what I can to help advance my children’s trilingual ability (along with Japanese and English, they’re learning Spanish) through the teenage years, too.
Stepping forward, stepping back
Still, I also recognize that the circumstances of these years—the heavier influence of the majority language school and society on their lives and language ability—will naturally put new limits on the efforts I’ve made to date. While I’ll remain creative and resourceful in addressing this stage of our journey, I also now glimpse what lies on the horizon: Though I think we’ll always feel that there’s “more” we could be doing, we eventually arrive at a place, when they’re teens, where we have to “let go” of this intensity, be satisfied with all the efforts and progress we’ve made through early childhood, and allow our children to then take over this journey as young adults.
Of course, we can continue to encourage and support their engagement in the minority language(s) by maintaining language-filled interactions and activities and providing appealing resources (books, CDs, etc.), but it’s nevertheless true that our period of greatest influence is earlier in the process. If we do our honest best through the first 4380 days of childhood (the first 12 years), we’ll surely realize some very rewarding results: Our children will have achieved a good level of language proficiency that holds the potential for further growth throughout their lifetime.
So, as I now watch Lulu and Roy quickly sprout into young adults, it’s clear that I not only need to continue stepping forward with them, I need to begin stepping back as well and letting them carry on with this quest in their own ways. Ultimately, I know it’s their life to live and I can only trust that they’ll go on using and stretching the language ability I’ve managed to foster so far and that they—and perhaps even their own offspring one day—will enjoy a fruitful multilingual future.
While I finally enjoy my hammock and my brownies.