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 


Dread Chadhulhu said...

Interesting Blog, my daughter is bilingual L1 English, L2 French (as parent we thought it a good idea to have her go through French Immersion). Anyhow, I to swear like a fisherman too, and yes my daughter did do it a few times, we told her not to do it, and she hasn't sworn in along time. They do get over it pretty quick. Great to see the blog back. :)


Anonymous said...

My wife certainly needs to know that this can work. Our 11 month old daughter doesn't speak yet, but we're doing something similar as you. However, we hardly ever watch TV. Maybe we should a bit?

Versland Vicki said...

Hey Kevin,

It is Vicki. The using bad word thing is son picked it up the one time I used the f. word. It is because of the emotion in these bad words...sticks like glue on toddlers. The English DVDS and reading books helped my sons English.

Kurt said...

Nice blog, Kevin. I deliberately exposed my daughter to all of the colorful language I was raised with. I did this in order that she might "feel" and not just know the meaning of these words. I felt it my duty to prepare her for my raucous family when we return to the states. As a result at the age of 12 she now knows (and can use very well I might add) just about every English obscene word you can imagine. She can dish out some amazing one liners! However, like me, she rarely uses such colorful language as she understands the impact it has on those who might be offended. I had a few awkward moments during our last visit to the USA as she worked on figuring out when and with whom she might talk like a sailor though by now she has largely figured it out. Some might call me a bad parent though hopefully I haven't done any worse for Emily than my parents did for my brother and I. -Kurt :-)

city said...

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