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