Sunday, December 30, 2012

“Big Surprise” Language Moments: Part 1

When you are raising any child, there are definitely special language milestones that you remember as a parent. When your child first says, “Mamma” (word may vary according to language). When your child first says “food.” When your child first vocalizes that they need to go to the toilet (an important step in toilet training).

I am sure that many of you out there vividly remember your child’s language milestone moments. If you don’t have kids right now, let it be known, you will be VERY excited about these moments.

I have to admit that part of me now wishes that I had been recording a lot of my son’s “language milestones” on this blog from the moment he started to communicate vocally, but I did not. I am now though and am happy to share many of his linguistic accomplishments, both Japanese and English, with you.

I mentioned in my previous post that my son’s L1 (first language) is Japanese. At times I feel some anxiety about the fact that his Japanese language ability is higher than his English ability. I feel anxiety (a topic for a full on blog post/chapter in a book…in the future) about this, but of course I shouldn’t. My half Canadian/Japanese kid lives in Japan so of course his Japanese is stronger than his English. He spends every day with his Japanese mother going to the local community center for classes. He goes to the local day care for classes as well as the local pool for swimming classes; all of them of course in Japanese.

My brain is boggled though at how much English he is picking up. He can now use basic sentences and basically communicate his wants and needs. He was even able to tell us what he wanted Santa Claus to bring him this year (in English) and that communication ensured that “Santa Clause” was able to get him the gift he indeed desired!

My recent “Big Surprise” moment:

Last week as I was pushing him in his stroller while we were coming back from our local IKEA (I’m on a 3 week Winter holiday and at home with him a lot), he said to me, “Daddy, two boys are going there.” I looked across the road and sure enough, there were two little boys, maybe six or seven years old, running across the road in front of us.

Amazing for me. Not only did it surprise me that he spoke the words, but that they were legitimately connected to a real-world observation.
Cool stuff!

You can follow me on Twitter @jlandkev.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Pitfalls of raising a bilingual child: Part 1

As I have mentioned in previous posts, my wife and I are raising our child to be bilingual. Our goal is to have him fluent in both Japanese and English. I suppose this makes sense since I am Canadian and my wife is Japanese.

Long story short, our current method is pretty straightforward. My wife speaks to my 2 year 5 month old son in Japanese and I speak to him in English. His L1 (first language) is Japanese since we do live in Japan and he is immersed in the language on a daily basis. His L2 (second language) is English. He does hear some English throughout the day by watching DVDs of American and Canadian children’s programs and my wife is teaching him during the day, but his time with a native English speaker on a day-to-day basis is relatively limited. I am of course referring to myself and because of my work/commute schedule only get to spend a few hours a day with him.

I plan to describe the nuts and bolts of what we do to help his language develop in future posts, but today I want to talk about something that is a little amusing and something that parents raising any child, not necessarily a bilingual one will probably face.

I learned two important lessons this week:

 1. Apparently I swear on occasion (use words that aren’t so nice) and am not even aware of it.

 2. My child’s language development is exploding and he has become a parrot. He repeats almost EVERYTHING (good or bad) I say!

Three days ago I was sitting on my living room floor playing with my son and some of his toys. It was early evening and the television was on as well.

My son walked past me to get a toy car. On his way back to the carpet area we were sitting on he decided to walk behind me. Our laundry drying rack was set up behind me with some clothes on it (no electric driers in Japanese apartments). As he tried to squeeze between the rack and me he caught his foot on the rack and tripped. He didn’t fall down, but he said, “Oh Shit!” At least that’s what I thought I heard my toddler spit out. I immediately looked at my wife who was sitting at the dining room table just a few meters away. She looked at me, shook her head and said, “Yup…he said it.”

Earlier this afternoon, my son was sitting at the kitchen table with my wife and I while we had coffee. He of course wasn’t drinking coffee, but playing with some blocks. One of them fell and without missing a beat he said, “Shit!”

To say this embarrasses me is an understatement. I didn’t even realize that I say the word “shit” at home, but obviously he learned it from somewhere and I doubt the Dora the Explorer DVDs he watches while I’m at work taught him that.

My son decorating our Christmas tree this month.

I have heard of similar situations before. My brother in Canada had a similar situation years ago when his oldest child was learning to speak. He also learned like I just did that it isn’t a good idea to use bad language around your little ones.

I have been a teacher for eleven years and since becoming a teacher, have really tried to be aware of the language I use. I very rarely use profanities, but I suppose I learned that on occasion I do. This week I realized that as my son’s language abilities are suddenly exploding (he can speak full sentences in both Japanese and English) I need to be more careful about the language decisions I make!

This is a short video I shot of my son and I a few days ago out for a walk.

In the very near future, I plan to write more posts about specific areas of my son’s language learning. I also plan to interview and talk to other parents raising bilingual children. I will do some live Google Hangouts with some people in similar parenting situations as me as well as interview some people who were raised bilingual.

Remember you can follow me on Twitter @jlandkev 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Japanese Mafia Headquarters...I take a look!

So here’s the deal. I am coming near the end of my training for Osaka Marathon 2012 on November 25th.  With just a few weeks left I need to make some rather lengthy long runs. Most runners, when preparing for a full marathon run a very long run every weekend. That long run builds stamina and gets your body used to being pushed for several hours. The great thing about long runs is that you can explore large parts of the city you live in. I have been from one end of Kobe to the other, but decided something a little new for this morning’s 31km (20 mile) run. I wanted to make it a “destination” run so to speak.

I decided that I would check out the compound that is the headquarters of the Yamaguchi-gumi. The Yamaguchi-gumi is the largest organized crime syndicate in Japan and is what is known as the yakuza.
Many Japanese people had told me where I could find their compound. I suppose it is pretty common knowledge amongst residents of Kobe. It only took me about five minutes doing Google searches to find the exact location last night. I realized that I had run very close to it on several occasions in the past.

Early this morning I ran to the area it is located and walked down the street it is on, snapped a few pictures and made a quick video.

It was exhilarating walking down that side street in a quiet area of Kobe. I probably won’t go there again, but it was cool to do once.

I then continued with my run.

Didn't want to hang around long, but was able to make a silly face in front of the HQ's entrance!

The compound is surrounded by a high wall and thick trees. There are also cameras all over the place!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sunrises in Japan

I suppose some of the best things about being a runner in a cool city like Kobe, Japan are the views I get to see. These days, I normally run in the evenings, but yesterday I woke up early. I woke up really early. 

What did I decide to do?

Go for a run and watch the sun rise over the city. 

A good choice I think.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Weird Japan: Goya Dry Beer?

Japan is a country known for many things, one of them being strange beverages. Every summer, Pepsi comes out with weird and occasionally wonderful limited time flavours. Breweries make limited time beers and a walk through any convenience store in Japan will leaving you happy and confused while looking at the overall beverage selection.

A few days ago I wandered into a Lawson convenience store here in Kobe and was shocked to see Goya Beer on the shelve. Goya or "bitter melon" in English, is an extremely bitter vegetable that I am not particularly fond of, is used to give the beer a bitter edge.

I chose not to buy the beer. if you dislike goya as much as I do, you probably would have as well.

Since I didn't buy a can, I can't tell you how it tastes. I do however have a coworker who fancies himself a "beer afficiando" and he said it "Tastes like barf!"

If you are wondering, Goya Dry is made by Helios Distillery Co. in Okinawa, Japan.

You can find me on Twitter: @jlandkev

Friday, August 17, 2012

Should I bother learning Japanese?

Recently, I have been writing some posts about raising my son to be bilingual. A lot of you out there have been interested in reading about this topic. Of course, everything I write are my own thoughts and opinions. Some of you out there may not agree with the methods we take in my house to make sure my son speaks both Japanese and English fluently, but you of course are entitled to your own opinions. I have my own and am pretty confident about them.

Now, what I have been thinking about lately is my own language development and how that will influence my son’s language.

My Japanese sucks! That is a very true statement.

I was in South Korea for about five years and now, I am coming up to that point in Japan. My Korean was MUCH better than my Japanese is.

Why is my Japanese so terrible? I am lazy. I can make a million other excuses: “I work in an international school and never hear Japanese throughout the day.” “I met my wife outside Japan and we have always communicated in English.” “”When I speak Japanese my left ear gets itchy.” “I’m really dumb!”  (The last two excuses are only partially true).

At the end of the day, I am a lazy guy. Well, I am not lazy in general. I work long hours. I work six days a week often. I produce TONS of online blog/vlog content. I run at least two full marathons a year. I just wrote a book about teaching. I am not lazy about life. I am lazy about learning languages.

At this point in my “Japan journey”…wait…not Japan journey…that makes it sound as if I am a traveler or someone passing through for a year or two to teach and then move back home.

I am pretty invested in Japan. My wife is Japanese and my son is half Japanese. My son was born in Kobe and I was there when it happened. I hope to leave Japan and start our life in Canada within the next couple of years, but even when we move to Canada, I will always have a foot in Japan. I will be coming back to visit my wife’s home, to visit my in-laws, to visit my son’s grandparents and aunt.
What am I getting to with all of this?

Language. Will my lack of Japanese skills work to my advantage as my son learns English? Will it make my life far more difficult?

I see both things happening.

Don’t get me wrong. I can speak some Japanese and understand a lot. I probably know as much Japanese as the average 2-3 year old Japanese child! Problem is, my son is now two and although he speaks Japanese often and I understand it, within the year his skill level will surpass mine.

Now, when my son speaks in Japanese, I just say “Ah yes.” And then rephrase what he just said in English. I am able to do that and it helps a lot. It is a great teaching tool. I never speak Japanese in front of him (he hears it all day from everyone else), but I understand what he says and then I help him say it in English.

Eventually I will have trouble doing that. What do I do when I am alone with my son and he wants/needs something and I don’t understand what he’s saying to me? That is a legitimate fear I have. When I think about that, I start thinking it is time to study again.

Then I hear what other foreign fathers in Japan have to say about the topic.

I have received advice from men who have been here far longer than I and both speak and do not speak Japanese.

Some fathers who speak little Japanese have told me that their kids speak English well because of that. Their children were forced to use English to communicate with their fathers. They knew they couldn’t use Japanese so were motivated to improve their English.

On the other hand, I have met some foreign fathers who speak fluent Japanese and said that it caused issues. Their kids knew that they spoke Japanese well and would understand everything they said in Japanese so never bothered to practice their English. The father’s Japanese skills made the kids lazy!

Where does this leave me? I dunno. I know I should improve my Japanese skills simply for myself. I would be happier here if I could communicate with others more effectively. I know I should...i know I must improve my japanese. That is a no brainer. 


As for my son’s Japanese/English language development…poses some interesting food for thought!

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Great Books for Little Ones

A few days ago I wrote a follow-up post to my “Raising a Bilingual Child in Japan” post from June of this year. My recent post got a lot of attention and to be honest; was a lot of fun to write. I am a father of a two year and one month old boy who is growing up learning both Japanese and English.

This topic is of course near and dear to my heart because I am living it everyday. My son’s mother is Japanese and he is growing up in Japan. His first language is Japanese, but as a trained primary school teacher, I’m trying to build on my knowledge base of language education and help my son learn English as well as Japanese. You of course don’t have to be a trained educator to teach a child a language. I’m not even sure if it helps a lot, but I have tried many techniques I have used on older children here at home. I have of course had to modify them to fit a younger learner.

I think this will become a continuing series of blogs. A lot of people seem interested in the topic.
Today I wanted to talk about a series of English storybooks my son really enjoys. These are bright, colorful and stimulating books that truly engage my son. He simply loves them and wants me to read them to him over and over again.

When my son was a little less than a year old I stumbled across a book called “The Feelings Book” by Todd Parr. It was a colorful board book (made from thick cardboard so young children cannot rip the pages) that had simple and wonderful drawings about various emotions. I brought it home and my son was hooked. Although he couldn’t speak Japanese or English at that point, he enjoyed the bright colors and shapes.

As an elementary school teacher, I have a large collection of picture books in my house. I have read many of them to my son and for the most part, he hasn’t been interested in most. I suppose it has been a learning process for me as well. Just because my six year-old students love a book, doesn’t mean a two year-old child will.

A few months ago I came across another Todd Parr book called “The Daddy Book.” At that point, and it can often change, my son was in a serious “I only want Mommy and have no interest in daddy” phase. I was trying hard to have him show an interest in me. I suppose it was only natural. He would spend all of his days with his mother and only see me after work. It was natural, but I wasn’t happy about it. I thought a book about Daddies would be perfect.

I ordered a copy of “The Daddy Book” from Amazon and as soon as it arrived my son loved it. It was written in simple English, a lot of what my son could understand. The pictures were very simple, clear and colorful. The bright colors stimulated him and definitely held his attention.

My son enjoying "The Daddy Book" by Todd Parr

I loved the book because, like all of Todd Parr’s books, it talked about diversity in the world. It talked about different kinds of Daddies who look different ways and do different things.

Within days my son was requesting the “The Daddy Book” several times a day. It became a morning ritual. Before I would head off to school every morning I would sit down with him and read him the story.  He would even mutter “Daddy Book” in his sleep sometimes.

I have since ordered “The Mommy Book” and “The Family Book” and my son enjoys both of them as well.

I would suggest Todd Parr books to anyone who enjoys reading to their children. They are especially stimulating to preschool children and even babies. They teach important lessons in simple language and their pictures engage young children. His books aren’t just great for second language learners, but for all kids.

Todd Parr himself is a New York Times Best Selling children’s writer who lives in California.

You can follow what I have to say on Twitter: @jlandkev

Monday, August 13, 2012

Pepsi Salty Watermelon and Dwarves

Although I tend to find that serious and somewhat controversial topics (or at least ones I am very honest about) get the most views on this blog, sometimes I just have to keep it light and fun. I can't always be serious.

Here are two videos I have made in 2012 about two very odd and distinctly Japanese products. Both deal with beverages and both were fun to make!

This video was sort of a cliched video if you will. Japan is known for many weird things such as strange seasonal flavours of Kit Kat chocolate bars and Pepsi Cola. It is almost a right of passage for all newbie video bloggers in Japan to make videos about these food products. Although I am one of the most grizzled veterans of the Japan blogging scene, I decided I still wanted to make a video about Pepsi Salty Watermelon.

Earlier in the Spring, there was a type of tea sold in Japanese convenience stores that came with a rather odd omakae. "Omakae" is essentially a free gift you get when purchasing something. You can see for yourselves why I thought the free gifts were odd if not a little gross!

Parents...Help a Teacher Out!

Soft parents aren’t doing their children any favors. That is something I feel very strong about. I realize that there is now a growing movement of parents out there in Canada, America, Japan, etc., who no longer feel it is right to harshly or even mildly set boundaries for or discipline their children. I realize that parents who feel their children should be free to develop any way they want and explore the world as they, the children, see fit, but I think that’s not the best approach.

That is my opinion and I’m sticking to it.  That is my opinion and I am passionate about it.

As someone who has been teaching for more than eleven years and a homeroom teacher for five of those years, I really wish parents would help me out. I wish they would help me out as a teacher. I wish parents around the world would help all teachers out. Throw us a bone! Give us a break. How? By instilling some amount of discipline in your child. I am not suggesting being authoritarian or cruel. I am not asking you to emulate a Marine drill sergeant, but please teach your children what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t. Please teach your children that there are boundaries in the world and often, if we push those boundaries, there may be consequences. Please teach your kids simple things like table manners, how to share with others and say, “thank you.”

You may think I sound silly asking parents to teach such basic rules of living to their little ones, but so many are not in 2012. I see children every day who have no idea even how to be polite or have no clue that there are such things as boundaries.

I can really only speak for things here in Japan, but am told by many that the situation is similar back in my home country of Canada.

Things seem to start at a very young age, parents simply letting their kids have the run of the show. They love their little kings and queens and feel they are harming them or denying them what they deserve if they say, “No.” Little kids running amuck while parents stand back watching them sheepishly or not at all.

A school I worked at would organize family field trips twice a year. Parents would bring their children and teachers would escort them and lead various activities. I would always warn new teachers to be extra vigilant. Although parents were directly told many times that they were, not teachers, responsible for watching their own children, many if not most didn’t. It became a social outing for them and many of the mothers would just gather around, chat, giggle and not watch their kids. Teachers had to work over time chasing around kids and shocked to have a peek into the world of “non discipline” their students were used to.

Even now, as a teacher and a parent, I am so stunned, but at the same time cynically accepting when I see groups of mothers standing around chatting at a playground or on their smart phones as their children run around wildly, playing behind or under parked cars and hurting other children unchecked.
Being soft doesn’t work folks. When you allow your kids to do whatever it is they want, you are sending them all the wrong messages. You are instilling them with a sense of false entitlement. Many kids who were spoiled in an environment with no discipline tend to become those students teachers find all too painful too teach; kids who come to school having no concept of rules. Kids who feel they should get whatever they want, whenever they want it.

I suppose they will grow up to be the sort of people who feel they are entitled to starting salaries of $70, 000 a year walking out of university. That’s not a good thing.

This is a rather ranty post, but that’s ok. I feel strong about the topic and it irks me on a daily basis when I watch people not watch their kids out on the playground. It irks me when I see parents allow their kids to run through a restaurant wildly and say nothing while other diners are being bothered. I get irked when I meet parents who have never taught their children basic life skills and then turn around and get angry with teachers because their child is behind others.

People, get it together, in the long run, your kids will be stronger for it and be more successful as students and young people.

I’m not suggesting being a “hard ass” or whacking your kids around. Too much discipline and too many rules can often be just as detrimental as none at all. I suppose that can at times even be worse.
Parents, be firm with your kids. You are the adults, the caregivers and ultimately the bosses of the relationship. You have a big responsibility. Your job is to get your little one ready for the real world once they leave the nest. Teaching your kids how the real world really works, in a kind and thoughtful way is a good thing. Teaching them that they are the kings and queens of the world, maybe not such a great thing.

My message to folks out there, and you may disagree (but that’s ok cause this is my platform), is to simply do a few things:

 1. Teach your children to respect adults.

2. Teach your kids to respect teachers.

3. Respect teachers yourself (they know more about children than you do).

4. Teach your kids rules and set consequences if they break those rules.     

5. Stick to number 4.

6. Teach your children to share.

7. Teach your children to work hard.

8. Watch your children and keep them safe.

9. Take the advice of teachers. They aren’t attacking you or your child when they address issues. They want to help you and your child.

10. Love your kids.

You can follow my other rants on Twitter: @jlandkev

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Japanese Bicycle Polo

During my 4+ years in Japan I have seen many weird and wonderful things. Bicycle polo was definitely one of them. I saw these guys playing this rather unusual sport a few nights ago while out on an evening run. They were playing in downtown Kobe, Japan.

I'm glad I had my phone with me at the time to capture this odd, but cool looking sport!

You can follow me on Twitter: @jlandkev 

Raising a Bilingual Child - 2 Years Old

This is a follow up to my original blog post about raising a bilingual child.

If you are a follower of this blog you already are aware of my situation, but if you are a new reader (and thank you very much for reading), I’ll fill you in a little on my situation. 

I am a Canadian teacher working at an international school in Japan. My wife is Japanese and we have a two year, one month old son who we are raising to be bilingual. We want him to be able to speak both Japanese and English. He is a duwl Canadian/Japanese citizen so we want him to have the skills and knowledge to function in both cultures/societies.

My son’s language abilities are coming along very well. I am actually quite surprised at how much he is able to speak and understand in both Japanese and English. I have worked as a teacher for eleven years and at my current school there is a day care. I have observed many children who are a similar age to my son and the majority do not speak as much as my son does. I don’t think he is a “linguistic prodigy” or anything like that, but I have a few ideas to why he speaks so much.

First of all, my son is always surrounded by language. Simply put, my wife talks to him a lot. She speaks to him and very importantly, listens and responds to him. Although I am not an expert and haven’t studied the topic a great deal, from my many years as a teacher I have noticed that the children who have the widest language bases, seem to have parents who engage them a lot linguistically. Many of the children I have met who speak very little, have parents who tend not to speak to them much. Also, I have noticed that many children who struggle even with their native language have parents who “talk at them” ns not “ to them.” They simple command them around and never really have conversations and listen to their child’s responses.

My wife is doing a great job at engaging our son. I try my best as well when I am home, but sometimes my work schedule doesn’t allow me to be at home as much as I would like.

Another thing that has been working very well is the fact that my wife is always actively teaching and asking questions to my son. She is constantly asking him, “What’s this?” Whether they are looking at a storybook, magazine, television or outside of the house in the “real world”, she is constantly engaging and teaching him. I basically try to follow her lead. Her form of teaching seems to be working well so I’m going with the flow!

It has become very clear and to know surprise that Japanese has become my son’s first language. When he does speak in Japanese I just translate in my brain and repeat what he said in English. In doing this I have realized that my own Japanese level is very low and I have to begin studying again so I can attempt to keep up with my son.

I’m hunting for more English dvds for my son as well. I realize that listening to any English is good, but I am hunting for ones that can help him learn meaningful language. Of course, watching English television is not the best option, but some weeks I work six days and a dvd is better than nothing.
At the moment I am home for the next eight days. This is a great chance for me to speak a lot to my son. This is a great opportunity for me to engage my son in English.

I better get going, he’s awake now. Time to talk!

Here is a video blog I shot yesterday morning. It's an unusual style for me. You can follow my son and I during our morning together.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sweaty Armpits in Japan

Oppressively hot summer. Oppressively hot summer in Japan. “Arghhh!” I say.

I am now officially on vacation for the next 9 days. It is the Obon (holiday to remember the dead) holiday in Japan and I plan to do the staycation (vacation at home) thing. I plan to spend quality time with my family, daydream about the future sand of course, sweat.

Sweating is a major pastime of people across Japan this time of year. No one really likes doing it, but it is a reality we all must face. It’s hot and humid pretty much everywhere you go. Sadly, for a country that is in theory, or at least in the minds of non-Japanese people, so high tech, the concept of central air conditioning is virtually unheard of.

Japanese people are a resilient lot though. They are used to the heat and just seem to tough it out. As an East Coast Canadian though, I’m not used to it and after 5 summers here in Japan, have never gotten used to it. I whine and wince. I complain and get cranky.

I think it’s time to move to the Yukon! Well, at least for the summer months.

You can follow my sweaty ideas and tweets here: @jlandkev

Friday, May 4, 2012

Raising a Bilingual Child in Japan

Parenting is something that is never easy. Being a first time parent is even more difficult since you basically don’t know anything. You can of course read books on the topic, scan blogs and talk to friends and family with children, but at the end of the day, the best way to learn is by doing. Trial and error seems to be how most new parents make their way through the complicated world of raising a child.

As parents, we are concerned with all aspects of our child’s development (or at least we should be). How are their gross motor skills? How are their fine motor skills developing? Do their vision and hearing seem to be good? Are they developing problem-solving skills? How is their language developing?

Language development is something parents around the world think about on a regular basis. I suppose parents in my situation think about it even more than some.

My wife is Japanese and I am Canadian. We come from two very different countries and cultures. We also grew up with two distinctly different languages. My wife is a fluent English speaker and since we met many years ago outside Japan, English has been our main language for communication.

Our son is of course half Japanese and half Canadian. Before he was even born, my wife and I decided that we would raise him to be bilingual. I have had friends in the past who were half Japanese and they were never taught Japanese. Many years later, as adults, they had regrets and even some anger that they were denied the opportunity to be raised bilingual.

So, how are we doing it? How are we raising a bilingual child here in Japan?

To be honest, the trial and error approach I mentioned before is how we are coping with it. We have also talked to other international families who find themselves in the same situation.

It is pretty simple I suppose. My wife speaks to our son in Japanese and I in English. When we are together as a family, the main language used in the house tends to be English. My wife is a stay-at-home mother so the majority of my son’s day is spent in an all-Japanese environment. During a regular weekday, while I am at work, his day is probably about 80% Japanese. The moment I walk in the door at night though, my wife only speaks English. She realizes that that really isn’t enough English exposure so throughout the day she tends to use some English with him.

Some of my son's picture books.

Throughout the day, my son watches some Japanese children’s programs on television, but also watches English children’s television. We realize that television or DVDs are not the best approach (actually using real language with real people is the best approach), but we have to use what we can.

When my son first began to develop speech, we noticed that he was learning English words. Words like “clock”, “car”, “truck” and “duck.” He seemed to understand Japanese far more though. My wife could give him relatively complex instructions in Japanese and he would understand them. The same instructions given to him in English just left him confused.

My son is now a few months away from his second birthday and in recent weeks has had an explosion of language if you will. He is speaking more and more each day and learning new vocabulary like a sponge. Although he continues to learn more English words, his Japanese is quickly overtaking his English. Now he bobbles around the house babbling in a mix of Japanese and English. Often, my wife has to explain what he is saying since it is really a form of Japanese baby talk.

I have quickly come to the conclusion that my years of “not” studying Japanese while in Japan are coming back to haunt me. Within weeks and months, I will have a great deal of trouble following a conversation with my son. I have recently cracked the Japanese books again and have to make studying the language myself a priority.

We are still not sure what our future has in store for us. I am interested in returning to Canada to work and live, but there may always be a chance that we will stay here in Japan. Either way, we will have to work very hard as a team to ensure that my son can learn and maintain both languages.

Raising a child is a challenge. Raising a child to be bilingual poses additional challenges. I am definitely not an expert on this. I am a parent learning as I go. One thing my wife and I both want is for our son to have a deep appreciation and understanding of both his cultures and the opportunity to speak both languages.

If you have any advice or ideas that might help, leave a comment below.

You can follow me on Twitter: @jlandkev

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Playing Outdoors

Playing outdoors and learning outdoors are things I have been thinking about a lot lately. As both a teacher and a parent, I understand how important it is for not only my son, but also my students to have as many meaningful and fun experiences outdoors in nature as possible.

Sadly, many people out there don’t seem to agree with me. In Japan as well as in my home in Canada, children in general are becoming disconnected with nature. Children are spending more time indoors and often, their parents do little to encourage them to get outside. Many find it convenient if their kids are downstairs playing a game as opposed to being outside running around where they may not know where they are. The growing fears of “stranger danger” lead many parents to keep their kids “safe” by keeping them inside the house.

On so many occasions, whether at the local playground or on a family field trip at school, I have seen too many parents scolding their kids for getting dirty or getting upset when they touch a bug. I’ve been witness to parents teaching their kids that dirt is bad. Bugs are bad. Playing with mud is bad. Running around in the woods is bad. Eventually, these kids will start to believe what their parents are saying. Parents are of course the most important teachers in a child’s life and if these negative messages are being sent to them by the most important of teachers, they will believe them!

As a teacher, I am fortunate enough to have large park within walking distance of my school. It is filled with fields, gardens, ponds, stream and even a small forest. I am lucky enough to get my class outside on an almost daily basis. We wander through the park and explore it on a regular basis. We run, play and learn about nature. My students are becoming bird watchers and love to collect insects. I encourage my students to get their hands dirty and discover the things that live under leaves and rocks.

I grew up in a small town in Canada and the forest was in many ways my playground. I am already encouraging my young son to play with sticks, rocks, leaves and other things he find outside. Hopefully, with lots of exposure to nature and playing outdoors, he will love the world outside as much as I do. 

My son (about 6 months ago) exploring a patch of nature close to our house.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Life in Japan Highs and Lows

It is the Golden Week vacation here in Japan and that is certainly a good thing. I am lucky enough to have nine days of to spend with friends and family. I have been running a lot and daydreaming of upcoming marathons. I have ben playing with my son and spending time with my wife. I have been eating good food and doing what one should do on vacation.

Japan has more than its fair share of public holidays. There are many reasons to love Japan, but the quantity of holidays makes it even easier to love. Vacation in Japan makes me feel good.

I have to admit though, as of yesterday I started to feel bad. Japan has a little to do with that, but news from Canada hasn't helped much.

After ten years in Asia, I am ready to come home. I have made no secret of that. I enjoy life in Japan, but my home has been calling me for some time. My family supports that and are very willing to pack up and move to the land of bears, maple syrup and people who say "Eh?"

There's a problem though. As you all know, I am a teacher. I am a teacher not just in Japan, but am an elementary school teacher in canada as well. there is a serious problem though that I have mentioned before. There are simply too many teachers in Canada and not enough classrooms for them. I was recently reading that a typical new teacher coming out of a teacher education program in canada can expect to languish in supply teaching (substitute teaching) purgatory for five years or more before landing a permanent contract. I'm not willing or financially able to move my family home and not have a steady income.

I have seriously thought about locating in Northern Canada and that is something I will look into further. Again, my family is supportive.

I had a "Plan B" as well. I have put serious thought into applying for work with the Government of Canada. I come from a family of career government workers and myself spent many summers as a student working at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. Finding work with the government would mean a good income and stability; something teaching used to offer when there were jobs for new teachers.

The current Canadian government has recently started to slash and burn the civil service in Canada in a form of austerity measures. News came down yesterday that thousands of civil servants received their pink slips. It appears as if up to 120 of those people at the park that I worked at for so many summers will be affected by these cuts. Lives will be devastated and my home town of Louisbourg will receive yet another kick while it is down. Sad stuff.

It also makes me sad because I had thoughts of working for a government that is now laying off thousands of people across the country.

No jobs for teachers and now, a bleak future for those wanting to work in government. This complicates my "exit strategy" from Japan. This has been a vacation "low."

Friday, April 13, 2012

Hanami in Japan

It is Spring again in Japan. This is actually my 5th spring in Japan. I even have to admit that I am suprised. When I arrived here in 2008, the plan was to only stay here for 2 years and then head back to Canada. A few years later and I am still here in Japan working and living life with my very awesome family.

I have to admit that my favorite time of year in Japan has always been spring. Back home in Canada, I love Fall. Fall in Canada is an amazing time that always brings back incredible memories of going back to school, Halloween, Remembrance Day (a sombre occasion, but as a kid somehow exciting) and of course the anticipation of Christmas.

In Japan, spring is a festive time. it is a time to shake off winter and get ready for Hanami! Hanami basiacally translates to "cherry blossom viewing." In Japan, the blossoming of the cherry trees is a very major thing. Across the country, people head out in the millions to look at the "sakura" or cherry blossoms, take pictures of them, have picnics under them and drink tons of booze. It is a festive and very fun time of year.

I wanted to share a few of my cherry blossom photos from this spring here in Kobe.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

New School Year Resolutions

The new year is upon us!!! Well, the new year is upon many workers in Japan including myself. The new fiscal and school year began yesterday. New company workers (freshmen) put on their best black suits and shines up their shoes in order to walk to work with their heads held high, beaming with pride. Many people across Japan had been transferred and were starting with new branches of their current companies in different parts of Japan. The buzz of nerves, excitement and sake (post 6:00 pm) filled the air.

In my case, the new school year is around the corner. I have spent the last two days doing PD (professional development) workshops and tomorrow, go to school to tidy up my classroom and get ready for my new band of merry, high octane students to run through the doors. With a new year comes new challenges. I will be faced with students who have personalities I must get to know. They will have abilities that are amazing and challenges that will possibly test the limits of my knowledge. They will be eager to learn and at times filled with anxiety to try new things. they will have parents who are supportive and possibly, parents who may not see eye-to-eye with me as a teacher.

The new school year will begin soon and I am definitely ready. Am I 100% ready? Not at all. There are many things to do as a teacher to prepare for the new year. To be honest, it will probably take me several weeks to fully settle in.

A with the beginning of every school year, I also realize that there are things I want to do in order to make myself a better teacher and ensure my students have a great year in my class.

There are some new school year resolutions:

1. Be more organized with my assessment and teaching material (this is easier said then done for someone as disorganized as I am).

2. Spend more time focusing on teacher-parent relations. As a teacher, knowing what is going on at home can give you great insight into a student's behaviour (good or bad) in class.

3. Integrate more fun technology into the classroom.

4. Spend more time learning about local nature and teaching my students about the outdoors. I take my students outside to a giant park each day and it is the perfect outdoor classroom. I have been studying about Japanese birds, but need to learn more about the local flora and fauna (I want my students to love Nature as much as I do).

5. Dust off my literacy teaching skills. I used to be very enthusiastic about teaching comprehensive literacy, but over the past few years, my teaching of reading has become a little stagnant. Time for me to go back to school in a sense and sharpen my teaching skills.

6. Not get so stressed at the end of each term.

7. Do more fun and creative crafts/artwork with my class more often.

8. Brainwash my students and their parents that Canada is the greatest country in the world and they want to travel thee, spend lots of money and help the Canadian economy! (ok....just kidding....but not really)

9. Teach my class here in Japan all about the wonders of Tim Hortons.

10. Make this school year better than last year!

Hopefully I can organize my classroom as well as this one!


If you have ever considered coming to Japan or South Korea to teach, this is a great "how to" guide for you.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Great Stuff about "Teaching in Asia: Tales and the Real Deal"

A hectic day. A busy day. A sad day. A nice day.

After almost a month's vacation I went back to work today. It was of course hectic because I have gotten used to a schedule that basically involves hanging out with my family, going for a run and working a bit on my book or now, public relations/marketing for my book.

It was a sad because I have been with my young son every day for almost a month. I have watched him grow and develop so much, but now.....back to work. I am not complaining about my job, it's a good one. I just get a little spoiled with so much vacation time. 

GREAT day because of two great reviews of my book, Teaching in Asia: Tales and the Real Deal

An amazing written look at the book on Dimitri's blog. He is a university professor who was based in Japan last year.

Next, a nice review from You Tube video blogger LaurenNIHON:

Sunday, April 1, 2012

My Book - Featured on the Qiranger Adventures Podcast

Each week I listen to the Qiranger Adventures Podcast. This morning I was listening to it while making my breakfast and swilling my morning coffee. I was a little more than happy when I hear him, unexpectedly give a great review of my book!

Listen to well known travel blogger Steve Miller discuss "Teaching in Asia: Tales and the Real Deal."

Saturday, March 31, 2012

3 Ways To Make Yourself Feel Good

I have been living abroad for a long time now. In the past ten years, I have spent nine of them in Asia. As a Canadian who loves Canada a lot, that is a long time to be away from home. Why do I do it? Well, I am a teacher and I teach in Japan. I also have a family here.

When I was in my 20's and unmarried, I was quite a social butterfly. I would spend my nights and weekends hanging out with groups of other single expats living in Korea (lived there for a few years).

In 2012, I find myself in Japan with a family. I am also a runner. Running was something I truly started when I first came to Japan in 2008. After some time in Canada, getting my teaching certification, I let my self go physically. In Korea, I was a fun runner (short distances) and a gym rat. Once back in Canada, I became a student and pub aficionado. I gained a lot of weight.

When I came to Japan to teach in 2008, I told my wife I was going to run a marathon. It was on the "bucket list" so to speak. Months later, I achieved my goal. I ran the Osaka Yodogawa Marathon in 4 hours 44 minutes. It was slow, painful and amazing at the same time. I couldn't wait to do it again. I was hooked. I became a runner. Two years later, I ran the same race sub-4 hours. This year I hope to run it much faster than that!

Long story short....I was an expat runner in Japan.

If you have been living the life of an expat in any country that has a very different culture or language, for some time, you can become lonely. That definitely has been something I have had to deal with from time to time. You miss being able to understand all the conversations around you. You miss the culture, good and bad of your own country. You can become homesick.

I got into podcasts in a big way years ago. Canadian and American podcasts helped me feel a little grounded while living so far from home. They gave me the feeling of still being connected with my own culture in a way.

Once I became a runner I started to listen to some running podcasts. About a year ago I came across a running podcast that honestly, made me happy in so many ways.

I was listening to a show I had been subscribed to or a long time. Dirt Dawg's Running Diatribe is a great running podcast (a GREAT show) by a host named Mike living in Detroit, USA. He had mentioned a show called the "3 Non Joggers" a few times. Eventually I became curious and went home one morning after a run and subscribed to their show on iTunes.

I was immediately hooked. The 3 Non Joggers Podcast became not just my favorite running podcast, but my favorite podcast period.

Let me give you a rundown of why I LOVE the 3 Non Joggers podcast:

1. They talk about running and I am a runner.

2. They talk about running, but that is only about 30-50% of the show. The rest of the show is three hosts having INCREDIBLY funny banter!

3.  Russ extraordinaire. A former professional comedian, his delivery is witty, interesting and just damn awesome! He is also an ultra marathoner. He is awesomeness and a half!

4. Gary "the Vale" ... the "Rain Man" of running (referred to that by partners in crime on more than one occasion) is a dead-panned funny co-host sort of guy. He is a sub-3 hour marathoner and 100 mile ultra marathoner. This cat LOVES running and really knows his stuff about the topic.

5. Carl The Mailman ...the other host guy who is not a runner in any way. He is a mailman and funny as HELL! He has a wicked mouth and wicked wit as well! His intelligence shines and is only enhanced by his sharp sarcasm. Oh yeah...he's a creative documentary director as well. 

6. The three hosts have an amazing synergy (to use a cliched term from the tech word of the late 90's). Their off the cuff banter leaves me laughing....often in public where the Japanese people stare at me and judge me...judge me harshly.

7. This is a running podcast, but even people who don't run would probably like it. The back and forth between the hosts is enough to leave a smile on the crotchetiest (maybe not a real word) old fart's face!

8. This show got me through some pretty hard long runs while training for one ultra marathon and 2 regular marathons last year (All in order to raise money for tsunami relief here in Japan).

9. The episodes are so funny and fresh that I have been easily able to re-listen to them time and time again.

10. I have learned a lot about ultra running and have almost soiled myself in public on many occasions because the show is so funny!

ah yeah....

11. They like to drink! I like to drink. I am the kind of runner who loves an ice cold beer or three after a 30 km long run. They do too.....yum yum... (well..Carl don't run...or jog....but that's ok).

If you like running and have a sense of humor you should definitely subscribe to the 3 Non Joggers podcast on iTunes. At this point, they have 65 great episodes.

EVEN if you DON'T run...subscribe anyway. They have such a great rapport that you won't even care!

The 3 hosts of the show!

MOI, on my way to complete the first Osaka Marathon. I'm wearing a 3 Non Joggers technical shirt!

Find these cats on TWITTER here:
3 Non Joggers (Russ)

Shameless plug for can buy my new eBook "Teaching in Asia: Tales and the Real Deal" from Amazon...NOW....SO DO IT!!!!

Tips For New Teachers: Rules and Consequences

Tips for new teachers......

Rules and consequences

As a new teacher it is extremely important that you set very clear rules from day one with your students. You might want to ask the manager or owner of your school about this, but normally, one of the best ways to inform students about the rules is by posting them on the wall. Students will of course need to be constantly reminded of the rules orally, but a visual reminder often makes the rules more tangible.

Of course, what would rules be without consequences? You might not be able to make these up yourself because the school you work in may have certain policies already in place. On the opposite end of things, you may find yourself working at a school that is chaotic and prefers not to have rules for fear of “scaring off students.” The school I talked about in my “Disorganized School” story was one such school. The owner of that school in Korea didn’t want us to consequence students in any way, even if their behavior was bad because he was afraid the school would lose customers. Luckily not all schools are like that.

The consequences you choose to go with your new rules will of course have to be fair and not extreme. The most important thing for you as a new teacher to remember is that you must always maintain those consequences. Sometimes a teacher may say something like, “If you speak during quiet reading one more time then you will have an extra homework page.” The student then does speak again, the teacher tells them to be quiet, but forgets to give the homework page. Those students, as well as the others in the class, have just learned something very important about the teacher. They’ve learned that the teacher’s threats are hollow. From that moment on, the students will continue to probe and push, seeing how far they can get with their new teacher.

Many years ago, the first mentor teacher I had during a student teaching practicum in Canada told me, “Kevin, if you talk the talk you better walk the walk. If you tell students they will have to stay in at lunch as a punishment, be prepared to give up your own lunch to watch them.” Valuable words. If the kids in your class (this of course doesn’t apply to adult learners) know there will always be repercussions for breaking rules, most of them won’t break the rules or at least not as often.

This is a small excerpt from my eBook "Teaching in Asia: Tales and the Real Deal." For more teacher tips like this as well as stories and job hunting ideas, download the book for only $5.99.

You can also read an interview with me about self-publishing on the Our Man in Abiko blog! Check it out today.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Good Reviews of "Teaching in Asia: Tales and the Real Deal"

It has been more than 24 hours since my first book was published on the Amazon Kindle store. I am very happy that I was able to finally see this writing project come to fruition and so happy that people have been downloading the book.

I plan to work hard in the coming days, weeks and months to promote it and make sure it gets a wide audience. So far, many people having been saying kind things over Twitter and on Facebook. People have also been writing some AMAZING reviews on the Kindle Store itself.

Here are just some of the great tweets sent to me (@jlandkev) on Twitter:

There have been many other amazing tweets and I am saving everyone of them!

This morning I woke up to find an email from the well-known Korea-based blogger Steve miller, aka "qiranger" who already did a review of Teaching in Asia: Tales and the Real Deal for his blog and You Tube. Check out his review video!

I appreciate all the great feedback! Thanks everyone.

When new reviews or interviews about the book occur, I'll post all the information right here!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My First Book for Sale!

The day has finally come. After a lot of hard work, a labor of love is complete. After many years of receiving questions from hundreds of readers and You Tube viewers about teaching in South Korea and Japan, I have written a book about it!

If you are interested in coming to Japan or Korea to teach, this is the book for you. Teaching in Asia: Tales and the Real Deal is a great starting out point for your research!

Even if you do not plan to teach abroad, but have an interest in Asia, you may find my stories about life inside and outside the classroom entertaining.

Download it from the Amazon Kindle Store TODAY!

If you don't have a Kindle, you can read it on your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad or Android device! Download the free Kindle Reader here.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The "Teaching in Asia" Home Stretch

Yes folks, we are on the home stretch. Just days away from the release of my first book, "Teaching in Asia: Tales and the Real Deal", I have to admit, I am having trouble sleeping at night. Why am I have this trouble? I suppose that is pretty simple. My mind is racing with thoughts of excitement, nervousness and some anxiety. I have put so much of my energy and free-time into this project and I of course hope it is a success.

I suppose the fact that, as a blogger, my first book will be published period, is a huge achievement itself. Now I know what I am capable of and what I need to do in order to improve. Now I am excited for the next writing project! Hey, if I can write one book, why not another after that? Ideas are already darting around in my brain and I have been jotting down notes.

As I have explained before, "Teaching in Asia: Tales and the Real Deal" is a "how to" guide for people interested in coming to Japan or Korea to teach. it is a great place to start your research. if you are not directly interested in coming abroad to Asia, I think you will sill find the stories entertaining. If you enjoy my writing style and are a regular reader of this blog, then it is basically my blog on steroids!

A question many people ask me is, "Kevin, can I read your eBook if I don't have a Kindle Reader?" Of course you can!

Amazon has a free Kindle reader app for iPhones, iPads, Android devices and of course, PC's and Macs. There is even the Kindle Cloud Reader! If you have a computer, you can read my book!

You can download the free Amazon Kindle readers here: Amazon Kindle Reader

I will be uploading the book to the Kindle Store early next week. If all goes well and there are no technical issues (I have never formatted a book and ePublished before), it will be good to go late next week!

I will make a series of You Tube videos on all my channels and announce it on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and here of course!

Stay Tuned!