Like an increasing number of families in Japan, my children are being raised in a bilingual environment. We started this saga back in the days before the Internet took over the world, and I had to actually buy and read books to fill my mind with anxiety-inducing conflicting opinions. Now I can meet my anxiety quotient with a few clicks each day, much more efficient.
I found then, and now, that there is a lot of information geared towards young children and parents who still have their hair, having not yet ripped it all out in frustration when confronted by relatives or educators who don’t understand bilingualism, or worse, are prejudiced against it.
My kids are now 9 and 11, in 3rd and 6th grade at local Japanese schools. All of their education has been in Japanese. Our home life is basically in English, though the kids speak Japanese with Dad. He just isn’t around as much due to long working hours.
Some friends and I started an English school that focuses on literacy for already bilingual kids. We meet three times a month on Saturday. This is their only “formal” English training. Everything else has been left to me.
Which is every bit as hard as it sounds.
I thought I would share with you today my top tips for raising bilingual kids without losing your sanity. Please bear in mind that mine are 9 and 11 years old. I would love to hear top tips for teenagers, so please share your ideas on the comments!
1) Input input input. I have an unwritten rule that all media in the house should be in the minority language. (In our case, that’s English.) But we all know how much kids love rules…so I make sure to have a plethora of attractive English options, while keeping the Japanese options limited to network TV.
2) Encourage siblings to speak the minority language to each other. I know that this one is hard. Siblings have their own relationship with each other separate from their parents, and we don’t want to be up in there and intruding. Some things like school or homework, is just be easier to discussed in the majority language and I try not to get too worried about that.
Having games, puzzles, something they can do together that uses the minority language is one way to encourage them to use it with each other without having to get in their face about it. “Operation,” for example, is funnier in English. Mad Libs or other word puzzles are great! They keep talking about it, in the same language, for quite a while afterwards.
3)Read- We all know that reading to your children is important, but perhaps even more so for bilingual children. Even when you think your kids should be reading to themselves, keep reading to them. This will help emphasize good grammar structure (sometimes strange patterns can get kind of fossilized within a family.) Also through reading you can expose your children to situations they would ‘t normally have a chance to encounter, and all the vocabulary that comes with that.
4) Identify vocabulary holes. Bilingual people often have greater vocabulary in one language about a particular topic than the other. My children probably don’t know words like “ladle” or “whisk” in Japanese because they aren’t exposed to those terms outside of the home. Conversely, there are lots of words related to school life that they will not learn in English unless I make an effort to imagine where those holes will be and prevent them. I find often that when talking to each other, they fill that space with the Japanese word This phenomenon is called code-switching.
5)Don’t panic over code switching. According to most experts, code switching isn’t really a problem; But as a parent, it can be disconcerting! Personally, I repeat what the child has said with the correct English term, if there is one. I don’t usually make them repeat it in English or point out they have said something incorrect.
6) Use background music. I find that if the background music is in English, pretty soon everyone is speaking English!
7) Routine is your friend. Getting the children to do their English reading and writing was a huge battle in the beginning, but we built it into their morning routine. There are some days when we don’t get to it, and even more when not as much gets done as I would like, but because we have a routine in place and an expectation that it will get done, it’s easier to get back on track and stay there.
8) Keep a sense of humor. Raising kids is hard work, full stop. Adding another language to the mix adds another layer of difficulty. But it also adds another layer of cute mistakes and funny memories. Just now I asked my son to come back by a decent hour, and he exploded that he would come home an hour early. Um, that was “decent hour,” not “descent hour,” which is not even a thing.
Do you have any tips to add? Any insight into bilingual teens? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
If you ask Melanie Oda where she is from, she will answer "Georgia." (Unless you ask her in Japanese. Then she will say "America.") It sounds nice, and it's a one-word answer, which is what most people expect. The truth is more complex. She moved around several small towns in the south growing up. Such is life when your father is a Southern Baptist preacher of the hellfire and brimstone variety.
She came to Japan in 2000 as an assistant language teacher, and has never managed to leave. She currently resides in Yokohama, on the outskirts of Tokyo (but please don't tell anyone she described it that way! Citizens of Yokohama have a lot of pride). No one is more surprised to find her here, married to a Japanese man and with two bilingual children (aged four and seven), than herself. And possibly her mother.
You can read more about her misadventures in Asia on her blog, HamakkoMommy.
I have always been told that I am too sensitive. Even as a child, images, stories and movies that most young children could watch with little to no effect, would leave me upset for weeks. As an adult, this still holds true. I am sensitive. I can’t brush off experiences like many can. I am haunted by people and places. With each trip to Tanzania, I come back emotionally drained and to a suffering bank account! It takes me months to re-calibrate and function properly again. I am told that I think with my heart and not my head, and that maybe I am just not cut out for this type of charity work.
So on this last trip to Tanzania, earlier this month, I built a wall of self-preservation. I decided to focus on all of the positive aspects of Tanzania including the beautiful mountainous landscape, the incredibly kind and generous people, the new infrastructure being built that would improve lives, the success of our current students and graduates, and the refreshing Tanzanian culture where family comes first. I was going to focus on the good and transition easily back into my Canadian life. It sounded like the perfect plan. Keep my focus on “happy thoughts”.
Enter Milambo, also known as Rambo!
Milambo aka Rambo, Tanzania
While visiting the local market to order food packages for Mom2Mom Africa families, he approached us in dirty and ‘barely there’ clothes. He was hungry. So we bought him lunch. He wasn’t done yet. He followed us through the market, asking to be sent to school and explaining a life of begging on the streets. And just like that, my walls came tumbling down. He is the same age as my youngest daughter. It hit me hard. We drove to his home. The smell was overwhelming. His father had left the family. No one had heard from him in years. Milambo’s mother was illiterate; actually the entire family, including Milambo, could not read or write. He was a beggar on the street. That was his job. He was required to provide for his family at 9 or 10 years old (no one knew his real age as they couldn’t read the birth records). He left us all shaken.
Milambo and his brother
Milambo is now a student in our program thanks to the generosity of my friend and travel partner, Brenda. His brother is also a student, in order to prevent the job of beggar to be passed on to him. Their lives are forever changed. They will lift their family out of poverty at some point. They have teachers and our partners on the ground watching out for them, monitoring their progress and health, and making sure they are successful at school. A few short weeks since that chance meeting, Milambo is reading. He walks to school every day with his brother. It is a 40 minute walk and they are always on time and have never missed a single day.
My point is that there is no such thing as being too sensitive. Imagine a world where sensitivity prevailed! Good would happen. I am just the right amount of sensitive to see the world for what it is and to hopefully make a difference.
Sensitivity is not a flaw; indifference is.
If I had kept that wall up, would I have even noticed Milambo? Would his story have affected me? Probably not.
Shout out to my sensitive travel companions and kindred spirits Marieke, Brenda, and Corrina who let me cry, get frustrated, get incredibly angry and then melt again because they do the same… so get it! And special thanks to Milambo, who made all four of us realize that being sensitive is okay and might just be more of what this chaotic world needs.
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Alison Fraser of Mom2Mom Africa
Has there been a time in your life when you were grateful for your sensitivity?
Alison Fraser is the mother of three young girls ranging in age from 5 to 9 years old. She lives with her family in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada. Alison works as an Environmental Toxicologist with a human environment consulting company and is an active member of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC). She is also the founder and director of the Canadian Not for Profit Organization, Mom2Mom Africa, which serves to fund the school fees of children and young women in rural Tanzania. Recently recognized and awarded a "Women of Waterloo Region" award, Alison is very involved in charitable events within her community including Christmas Toy and School Backpack Drives for the local foodbank.
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As parents, we tend to spend a lot of time worrying about the world are growing up in. There seem to be threats lurking everywhere, from seemingly innocuous neighbours who turn out to be child molesters to terrorist organizations and dangerous people being elected to powerful positions.
It is easy to be frightened for our children. It is easy to let the tragedies and the negative messages of the media overwhelm our lives.
From time to time, though, good things happen that give us hope for the futures of our children. That hope is multiplied when something good happens as result of a kid – a symbol of the future – going above and beyond what most people would do.
The story I want to tell you today started at a motel just down the road from me, which is used as a shelter for incoming refugees. Recent arrivals include several Nigerian families who have come to Canada to escape Boko Haram.
One of the Nigerian mothers, who had been in Canada for just two or three weeks, put her three young children onto a city bus so they could get to school. At the bus stop closest to the school, two of three children got off the bus. Their brother, who is in Grade Two, didn’t notice that they had left the bus, and they didn’t notice that he hadn’t followed. The two sisters went to school under the assumption that he was trailing behind, while he continued alone on a bus in a busy city that was new to him.
It didn’t take long for the school staff to notice that the child was missing. They put out a school-wide announcement for him and they searched the school yard.
Meanwhile, on the bus, a Grade Eleven student who was on his own way to school noticed that something was amiss. He had seen the three young children board the bus, and from the way they were chatting it was obvious that they were together. After the two sisters left the bus, he asked the little boy what his name was and what school he attended.
The boy was able to give his name, but being so new to the country, he did not know the name of his school. The high school student took out his phone and used Google Maps to find out the name of the school closest to where the two girls had gotten off the bus. He called the school, told them the boy’s name and asked if he was their student. When they said yes, he promised to get the boy safely to the school.
He got off the bus with the boy and crossed the road with him. The two of them got onto a bus going the other way, back toward the lost child’s school. The child, being under the age of thirteen, was not required to pay a fare. The high school student used his last bus pass, the one he had been intending to use to go home at the end of the day.
About ten minutes later, the child was returned safely to his school by the high school student. The little kid went to class while his principal drove the big kid to his own school. Lives that could have been changed forever by a tragedy instead went on as usual.
Sometimes, life turns on a dime. Most people are so wrapped up in the busy-ness of their own lives that they would not notice a seven-year-old traveling alone on a crowded bus. That child could end up lost, killed, hurt – the possibilities are horrifying. But because of one teenage kid who took the time to observe what was going on around him, and who cared enough to take action when he saw something that didn’t look quite right, this story had a happy ending.
In the comments below, tell us about something good you’ve seen or heard that gives you hope for the future.
This is an original post to World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle of Canada. Photo credit: BK. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.
Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny).
Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. She is now living her best life writing about mental health and addictions, and posting videos to two YouTube channels.
When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum.
Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world.
Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Be sure to check out her YouTube channels at My Gen X Life and Word Salad With Coffee!
Child grooming is a term that describes the befriending of and establishing an emotional connection with a child, and sometimes the family, to lower the child’s inhibitions for child sexual abuse. Many young girls have been married off to older men or have been lured into predatory relationships through this tactic. Some of these girls are said to give their consent, but what does a child know? It’s our duty as parents and society to protect our children. Child grooming is unacceptable and people should be prosecuted for it. In my youth, I experienced child grooming by a man old enough to be my father. I probably would have been married at the age of 14 with loads of children and a truncated life had he not been stopped.
The child grooming started when I was about 14. There was a man about my father’s age who lived in our neighborhood. As is our cultural tradition, I treated him like a father. I would greet him whenever I see him and I never thought anything about his smiling to talk to me and ask me how I was faring. I was just 14 and reading novels was more on my mind than marriage.
Since my school was far from our home and I didn’t have enough money for transport, I had to leave home early to get to school on time. At some point, the man started to meet me on my way to school. I would greet him at the bus stop as we were all brought up to do, and he would pay my bus fare. After the first few times I grew wary. I hate anything free in my life – I still do. Sometimes I would sit in front seat and pay before he got the chance to pay for me. This went on for months and in the the process he started chatting me up and offering me money, which I would always refuse.
I became desperate to avoid him, but he would always be hanging around waiting for me. Of course, I couldn’t insult him or walk away from him, because respect for one’s elders is a critical part of our culture. This old man was a cloth merchant, and was incredibly wealthy by our standards. His children were always well fed and clothed. He would offer me money, more money than I had ever seen in my young life, money that was supposed to tempt a hungry child who had nothing. I would always refuese. One day, he forced the money into my hand and I let it fall to the ground.
I became desperate to escape that old man, but I could not. I switched to a bus stop further from my house, yet he found out and started following me there. I was hunted for over a year by this man and I didn’t tell anyone. Who was there to tell? I didn’t even think it was in my place to tell anyone. We didn’t have that closeness we have with our children today and I pray our children have more with their own children. After a while he started talking about marriage and how he would make my life enjoyable and also he would take me on trips abroad.
The old man even started giving food and money to my parents. Imagine what it was like for a starving family to get such assistance. He was adored in our house. This was classic groomer behaviour: buy the child, then try to buy the parents. Sometimes I try to imagine what would have become of me if I had not been so strong-willed at age 14. Would I have decided I wanted to marry him?
The harassment lasted for a long time, but eventually he left me alone when he realised I was not interested in his thoughts of marriage. When I was 15, he married an even younger girl of maybe 13 years. She was taken out of school to marry him. They had a daughter together, and years later they divorced. All this happened before I even got married at 24.
The old man has since passed away and is no longer a threat to me or any other owman. I cry when I think about this story, knowing how an old man had tried to trap me, and how he eventually trapped another young girl. I know what it was like to live with this harassment and fear. I know child groomers when I see them. When I hear about dirty old men saying a 14 year old decided to marry them, I see a child groomer who should be in jail for putting such thoughts in her head in the first place. Grooming a child with money, promises, love and hope should be made illegal. Many lives have been destroyed by it.
God protect our teenage daughters. They are an endangered species.
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Aisha Yesufu of Nigeria.