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