Saturday, September 14, 2013

I've MOVED! Come and Join me...

Here's the deal folks. in an effort to consolidate my "internet life" I have decided to consolidate things under the umbrella of BusanKevin Dot Com. I have started posting the videos from my BusanKevin YouTube channel there as well as new written blog posts. I will soon move all of my posts from this site over there.

I will no longer be posting here so if you want to keep reading the strange things I write...come on over to BUSANKEVIN DOT COM and "Like" the site or sign up for my BusanKevin email list (the tab i on the site).

Love yas and see yas over there :)


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Raising a Bilingual Child: Constant Questioning

Raising a Bilingual Child

Teaching Tip: Constant Questioning

I learned a lot working as a kindergarten teacher for five years. I closely observed my students and I watched their parents carefully as well. I asked students about their interactions with their parents. Do they read stories to you? Do you sit together as a family and eat meals together? When you get home from school do you mostly watch television or play with your parents? When your parents take you to the park, do they play with you or sit and watch you?

I learned a lot about what to do as a parent and most importantly, what not to do!

Simply put, many parents don’t talk to their children. They may bark commands at them from time to time or even talk to them as if they were babies, but many don’t engage them.

At one school I worked at, teachers would take their classes to a large public park each morning and play at a playground. I often saw parents who would take their child there, let the child play by themselves while he/she just sat on a bench with a coffee and stared at their smart phone. Other times, a group of mothers would take their children to the park and then ignore them. They saw it as “social time for Mommy” as opposed to playtime and learning time for their child.

On a Summer insect hunt with my son.

All parents are guilty of letting their kids watch a little too much television (especially when you’re trying to cook dinner or clean the house). I’m guilty of that as well. I also find myself at time not engaging my kids as much as I probably should. Luckily, I tend to “snap out of it” and realize that I need to interact more.

Constantly questioning your child is a great way to engage them. Constantly asking them a mixture of closed and open-ended questions about what they are doing and the world around them helps them develop critical thinking skills as well as their language.

When I go for a walk with my son I often find myself asking him a wide variety of questions about everything around us.

Here’s an example:

Me: “Hey Kai, what’s that? (pointing to a leaf on he ground).

My son: “It’s a leaf.”

Me: “What color is it?”

My son: “It’s brown.”

Me: “Why is it brown?”

My son: “It’s dirty.”

Me: “No. It’s brown because it’s old and dry. Why is it on the sidewalk?”

My son: “Cause the tree is broken and the leaf jumped.”

Me: “Ha ha! The leaf didn’t jump off the tree. It fell off. Can you say, ‘It fell off the tree’?”

My son: “It fell of the tree.”

In that exchange I asked him a variety of questions. I also corrected his logic and language when he said the leaf jumped off the tree. Of course, I always correct him in a nice way. Correcting children’s grammar and vocabulary usage is something some parents don’t do enough of. That can definitely lead to fossilization of speaking errors (that’s for another post).

So, remember, if you’re a parent of kids who are in the developmental stages of language acquisition, question them a lot. If you are a teacher, do the same. Even if children are older and their language is developed, by constantly questioning them, you are encouraging them to think and always acting as a teacher.

That’s a good thing!

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter: @jlandkev

Monday, August 26, 2013

Teaching in Japan as a Non-Native English Speaker

There seems to be a myth going around that if you are a foreigner who wants to work in Japan as an English teacher that you must be a native English speaker (English is the your first language). Although that may be true in a country such as South Korea, it couldn’t be more wrong in Japan.

I spent several years working in South Korea in the education sector and in order to get a valid working visa to be a teacher you had to be either from Canada, America, England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa. You had to have received your university degree from an accredited English university as well. I have met some Canadians who were not able to get a job teaching in Korea because they went to a French language university.

In Japan, the rules aren’t as demanding. I’m not really sure why this is the case. Maybe Japan has been open to foreigners working as teachers for a longer period of time. Maybe officials realize that non-native speakers can teach English just as well if not better than many native English speakers. I really don’t know.

Over the years, people from various countries around the world have been emailing me and asking me if it is possible for them to teach in Japan even though English is not their first language. The answer I give them is “YES.” In my years in Japan I have worked with a large number of teachers from a wide variety of countries. Many of them have not been native English speakers. I have had coworkers who taught English from India, Pakistan, Sweden, Philippines, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Spain, France, Malaysia, Singapore, China and Brazil. Many of them were fine teachers.

Many people around the world have a profound interest in Japan. Some love Japan for the food and language. Others are more interested in the pop culture; things such as manga and anime. Some are attracted to the fashion and cool and fast-paced life in a city like Tokyo. Many are interested and want to come to Japan to work and live. Some of those people see the route of becoming an English teacher as an effective path in getting here.

In order to teach English in Japan and qualify for either an Instructor’s Visa (needed to teach in public schools, colleges and universities) or a Specialist in Humanities and International Relations Visa (needed to teach in private language schools and kindergartens), you need a completed university degree (one or two year diplomas/Associates Degrees don’t count) and a very strong grasp of spoken and written English. If you have those qualifications, there’s nothing stopping your from trying to get a job as a teacher in Japan.

Long story short, if you are not from a native English speaking country, don’t let that stop you from trying to come to Japan if you are really interested.

You can follow me on Twitter: @jlandkev

Friday, August 23, 2013

5 Scariest Bugs in Japan

Scariest Insects in Japan

My Top 5 List (I realize that not all are "technically" bugs)

Recently I was asked a question on my YouTube Facebook page about creepy crawly things. Someone who plans to move to Japan shared with me that they are very frightened of spiders and fear they may have an allergy. They wondered if there are many spiders one should fear in Japan.

I think most adults I come across in Japan have a fear of bugs to some extent. When I talk about adults, I am of course referring to both Japanese and non-Japanese. Often that fear seems pretty irrational. 

Many people tell me they don’t like insects simply because of the way they look. Also, for many of these “bug haters” there must have been some sort of change in attitude during their lives. I say that because most children I meet like bugs. Catching cicadas, grasshoppers and mantises is one of the most popular summertime hobbies of Japanese children. At some point though, many turn from bug fans to bug fearers!

I am a self-described insect fan. I have been teaching my son not to fear, but enjoy insects. At the same time however, I do realize that there are some dangerous insects in Japan. There are some bugs that no one should touch. I have also been trying to teach my son that as well.

Here is a short list and a little information about some of the most dangerous and freaky insects in Japan (in no particular order):

Japanese Giant Hornet (Suzumebachi):

Found throughout Japan, the giant hornet can be up to 4cm long with a wingspan of 6cm. These are very powerful and aggressive creatures. Pretty much at the top of the food chain in Japan, preying upon almost any other insect out there. In Japan they are known as the osuzumaebachi, which literally translates to “giant sparrow bee.” Although they can be found in cities, they are most commonly found in rural areas.

The giant hornets dismember their victims with their powerful jaws. It is said that their saliva and venom have the ability to dissolve flesh. Their venom is extremely powerful and is injected through a quarter inch stinger. Their sting is extremely painful and requires hospital treatment. They are considered the most dangerous animal in Japan with more than 40 people dying each year of anaphylactic shock after having been stung. Bears kill 0-5 and venomous snakes only about 10 per year.

Japanese Centipede (Mukade)

These fairly reclusive creatures tend to stay in dark, damp places. They can grow up to 20cm in length and are extremely quick and nimble creatures. They are certainly horrifying in appearance when full-grown and are venomous. Bites from a large Japanese centipede are very painful and may cause swelling, weakness or fever. Their bites are normally not fatal, but some people do have allergies to centipede venom.

Assassin Bug (Sashigame)

Assassin bugs can be found in many parts of Japan. They tend to slowly move around on trees and are capable of a clumsy style of flight. Although they seem to normally move slowly, they can quickly strike at their prey.

They use a long “rostrum” (injector) to inject a lethal saliva that liquefies the insides of the prey, which are then sucked out. The saliva contains enzymes that predigest the tissues they swallow. This is very effective when attacking prey that are much larger than the bug itself.

A bite from this relatively small bug can be extremely painful, especially for a child. Although not extremely dangerous to humans, their bite will cause pain and swelling (a really big ouchie).

Caterpillars – various types (Kemushi)

A wide variety of moth and butterfly caterpillars throughout Japan can cause great discomfort if touched. Many have long barbed hairs with mild venom as a defense against predators such as birds and other insects.

If a caterpillar has long hair, bright colors or both, it’s a good rule of thumb to not touch. It can be difficult to remove all of the barbed hairs from one’s skin and the venom cause pain and itching.

At certain times of year, mainly spring, various types of caterpillars fall out of trees on the ground. This can sometimes be treacherous for hikers trudging through the woods. I have had friends who have suddenly felt pain and realized a caterpillar fell down the neck of their shirt or on their shoulder.

Huntsman Spider (Ashidaka-gumo )
The Huntsman gets its name from its speed and the way it hunts. They are also sometimes known as crab spiders because of their size and shape. They tend to prefer living in woody places such as the forest, woodpiles and wooden shacks and buildings. They also can live under rocks and large pieces of tree bark.

Full-grown male spiders can have a diameter (legs) of 10-12 inches, about the size of a dinner plate. Some people confuse them with tarantulas because of their appearance.

The Hunstman spider does have venom that it uses to immobilize its prey. They have been known to inflict defensive bites that are quite painful and lead to swelling, but their venom is not normally considered dangerous to healthy humans. They are often considered beneficial since they feed on insect pests such as cockroaches.

So there you have it. Not all of these are technically insects (six legs, 3 body parts – abdomen, thorax and head – 2 antennae), but they fit into the “creepy crawly” zone nonetheless.

You can follow me on Twitter: @jlandkev

Raising a Bilingual Child: The Daddy Show

Raising a Bilingual Child


Teaching Tips: The Daddy Show

A constant thought in my mind is “What can I do to help my two children develop their English language skills while living in Japan?”

I have done and am currently always researching and looking for new ideas. Also, my background as a kindergarten and elementary school teacher has helped a lot. It is a constant learning process however and I want to share some helpful tips I’ve learned with anyone else their raising children in a multi language environment.


The Daddy Show:

I came across this idea while reading a blog sometime ago. I can no longer remember when I read it exactly of even which blog it came from, but it is an idea that stuck in my head.  Since I have a background in video editing (one of my hobbies being video blogging) this seemed like such an awesome idea. Even with very limited skills in using a video editor, anyone could do this as well.

I have basically created a short “television” show that my son can watch when I am not at home. He of course has a small library of English DVDs that he watches throughout the day, but I wanted him to have more of a chance to listen to my voice and “interact” with me when I was at work.

Basically what I did was choose 3 short story books that my son likes. I chose “Me and My Dad” by Mercer Mayer, “The Daddy Book” by Todd Parr and “The Feelings Book” also by Todd Parr. I chose 4 or 5 songs that my son enjoys like “Bingo”, “Open Shut Them”, “If You’re Happy and You Know It”, etc. I then mixed a lot of dialogue in there. I would ask my son questions like “How do you feel today?” and then leave a pause so he had time to answer.

I set up my iPhone on a counter, sat down and started filming. I had to make several takes of some of the sings, but it was a lot of fun to do. I then downloaded all the video clips onto my MacBookPro and began to edit them in iMovie. If you have a PC you can easily use can editing program like Windows Movie Maker. There are also many free editing suites out there that are relatively easy to use.

I added some titles at the beginning and then before each song and story, clearly introduced what I was about to do. When I shot the video I looked straight into the camera as if it were my son. I also addressed the camera as my son. That way, when my son watched the DVD, I was making eye contact with him and he really felt it was “for him.”

In the end, my first episode of “The Daddy Show” was about 20 minutes long. I plan to make more in the future and now I’ll be including my daughter in them. Of course, you can make it “The Mommy Show” if you’re a mother or name it anything you want.

If you have any problems with using an editor like iMovie, there are free and easy to follow tutorials on and of course, as with any editing program, there are many video tutorials on YouTube. Just do a quick search and any questions you have can be quickly answered.

Hope you liked my teaching tip and hopefully you can make your own “TV show” for your kids or friends.

You can follow me on Twitter: @jlandkev



Friday, August 16, 2013

I Want to go on an Adventure

Have you ever wanted to do something amazing? Have you ever wanted to do something so cool that you could look back on it for years and years and be proud you did it? Have you ever wanted to do something so “off the wall” that would be able to amaze people with the tales for years to come?
I definitely do. My inner adventurer is screaming to be let out. I have been daydreaming and thinking about various adventures I want to go on for years now. Some are here in Japan where I live, but most are not. Many are in Canada and elsewhere.

There are really only two things that don’t allow me to run off and be an adventurer at the moment. The first is the fact that I have two small children. I try to help out as much as I can at home and I love being with my kids. An adventure that takes a few days would be ok. An adventure that would take months or weeks might be another story.

The second thing holding me back from running off into the great outdoors and doing something incredible…money. Big adventures don’t tend to come cheap. You need to pay for transportation, equipment, food and what about lost income. I am the breadwinner in my family and if I am off trudging through a forest, running through a desert or kayaking down a river, how do the bills back home get paid?

Before I talk about overcoming these obstacles, lets take a look at some of my recent “adventure ideas.”

The Arctic Marathon: that’s right! Every year there is a marathon at the North Pole. It seems like a pretty cool event. I have run many full marathons before, but this one would be an amazing race to take on. This would also make for a great story to film (thinking about making documentary about any adventure I make). I’ve researched it a bit and it is REALLY expensive to take on. Even the recommended gear to wear is REALLY expensive.

Les Marathon des Sables: Known as one of the toughest foot races in the world, this is a stage race that takes place over a week in the Moroccan desert. I have been seriously dreaming and planning this one for about four years now.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail: I have been thinking about hiking America’s most famous trail ever since I read the book “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson when I was in university. Hiking all the way from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine would be a dream.

Hiking Ontario’s Waterfront Trail: Hiking from Cornwall to Windsor along the Great Lakes. The Waterfront Trail is almost 1,400km of hiking and exploration goodness. What I like about this trail is the fact that I have family members who live in towns along the route (I can visit them). I also like the fact that I’d be having an adventure in Canada.

Walking Across Japan (or part of it): What an amazing time that would be. It would take months, but the experience would be worthy of a book or documentary or both! There are so many amazing places to see and so much culture to learn about. Taking on a challenge like this and for a good cause would be a pretty cool thing!

Racing the Planet: This is a race series that sees runner doing stage races across 4 of the world’s biggest deserts. It looks amazing. It looks like the adventure of a lifetime.

Some of these adventures I’m dreaming of are more doable than others. A Racing the Planet run as well as the Marathon des Sables would only take a few weeks out of my life. Some of them would involve months.

If I were to take on an adventure I’d have a few solid goals from the get go. First, I would choose a charitable cause and fundraise for it. I would use this adventure as a way of raising my fundraising profile.

Next, I would upgrade my camera equipment and film my adventure. I would record lots of footage as well as my thoughts. I’d later take all the footage and turn it into a documentary style film.
How the heck would I get the money to buy “adventure gear”, travel and take part in the adventure, keep my family financially secure while I was on my adventure and buy the proper equipment to make my documentary?

There are basically two possibilities. First, I could pursue sponsorship. I could approach various companies and ask them to help fund my adventure and in return give them more exposure and advertising. This might be a possibility since I do have some decent social media clout due to my YouTube channels and friends within the YouTube community.

The second way to raise fund is to crowd source it. I would come up with my idea. Map it out and plan it in a very detailed way. I would make budgets and then start getting creative with my filming and editing. I would need to make a “pitch” video and then start a Kickstarter or maybe search for funding on Indiegogo. With my social media reach this might be a possible way to go.

Honestly, I would probably take both approaches. I’d seek sponsorship and the crowd source it as well. In order to make this more appealing to both companies and people (so they will part with some money/equipment) I would need to make my adventure exciting. Something people would find cool. Something people would really get behind and be excited about. I would then have to clearly show folks how I will “bring them along” on my journey and let them share in it. Once my adventure is complete, I’ll need to produce something great. A short documentary and or a book would be ideal. Making sure people know that if they support me they’ll get those cool end products for no additional charge might make the proposition more appealing too!

Time to get serious and start planning my adventure. Are you going to back me up? ;)

You can find me on Twitter: @jlandkev

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Raising a Bilingual Child: Parents Communicating

Raising a Bilingual Child

Good Communication and Planning With Your Spouse
One of the keys to being able to raise bilingual children is strong communication with your spouse. It’s also good to have a clear action plan and make sure that you’re on the same page.

In an earlier post about only speaking English at home I talked about a Japanese wife who had anxiety about her husband only using Japanese with their kids. The situation in itself is absolutely fine. If you have no interest in your children learning English (or another language) and fine with only one, there are no issues at all with both parents speaking Japanese. The mother was feeling anxiety though because she wants her children to speak English as well as Japanese. By the sounds of it, the two parents are definitely not on the same page. Have they ever sat down and talked about their children’s language development? Have they discussed future plans? Who knows, but these are things that parents need to talk about.

I think my wife and I have been pretty good so far with discussing our children’s language learning.  After the kids have gone to bed at night we have sat up and talked about what DVDs would be good for our son, which kindergartens would be best and how my wife will use English in the house. We thought about English kindergartens as well as Japanese kindergartens for my son. We’ve decided to send him to a Japanese kindergarten next year and are now thinking about how will reinforce his English once his Japanese language development takes off.

About a year ago, when my son’s Japanese language skills really started to take off I started to feel stress and anxiety. I thought to myself at times, “Man…I wish I was raising him in Canada now.”

Although I am a trained teacher and have read a lot about the topic I couldn’t help myself, but get stressed. I KNOW that we are in Japan so of course he’ll develop Japanese first. I KNOW he uses Japanese all day long so of course it would be his first language. I said to myself, this is all ok. No problem. I said this to myself, but still started to feel anxiety when I saw one language developing more rapidly than the other.

I then talked to my wife about my feelings. She was great. She listened and reassured me that she would also work hard to make sure our son learned as much English as possible. Her reassurance definitely made me feel better. I think that fact that we have been communicating our feelings about teaching our children has helped reduce stress a great deal.
I think some important questions spouses can ask each other if they are in a similar situation are:

What language goals do we want for our kids? (Bilingual, unilingual, trilingual?)

How will we help develop our child’s second language?

Will we be solely responsible for the second language development or send our child to an English-language preschool/kindergarten/international school?

If our child goes to an international school, how will their primary language develop? How will their understanding of Japanese culture (where they live) develop?

If our child goes to an English kindergarten elsewhere, how will they have a chance to make local friends?

English kindergartens tend to have very small class sizes. Will my child lose out on social opportunities and his/her ability to develop social problem solving skills (ones they would develop in a larger class)?

Will I get cable/satellite television so my child has English language television to watch?

Will I buy them English language DVDs? Which ones? (Put some serious thought into this one. It’s easy to choose DVDS that have no educational quality or your kids will have no interest in.)

Will I make my home an English-only environment in the evenings? (Forcing a language on someone may cause him or her to resent it.)

Will studying my child’s first language help me teach him his second language? (Probably yes since you will know what they are saying in their first language and then you can teach them how to say the same thing in their second language).

How can we make language-learning fun?

How and at what age will we start to teach them to read and write? (Speaking and listening comes easily compared to these. Speaking and listening can be learned passively just by being immersed in the language environment whereas reading and writing must be actively taught and reinforced with much practice).

What do we do if at some point our child refuses to use his/her second language? (language rebellion)?

There are many other questions families will find them asking themselves and each other through out their child’s education.

Communication within the family is a key to raising successful language learners. It’s also an important factor in reducing any stress that may arise in the family. It’s extremely important for parents to be on the same page!
You can find me on Twitter: @jlandkev

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

10 Reasons to Hate Japan in the Summer

The dog days of summer just don't want to end here in Japan. Summer has been hot. Summer has been long. Summer just got a lot longer starting last week when a heat wave rolled across Japan.

Everyday has been close to 40C. It's rough. I spend a great deal of my day bitching and complaining about the heat. I'm not alone in this though. Almost every Japanese person I know has been complaining even more than I have.

I've decided to make a list of the top 10 things I really hate about struggling through a Japanese heat wave.

1. Wet clothes! My clothes are soaking wet the moment I leave the house. I'm not alone here. As I look around the train platform in the morning or afternoon I see a sea of pain contorted faces. People wearing sweat soaked shirts and dresses. It's definitely necessary to bring an extra shirt to work in the morning!

2. Air conditioners in Japanese houses are small and struggle to cool down the rooms they're placed in. With the a/c units cranked to cool it still takes hours to cool down my apartment to a tolerable level.

3. I find myself complaining a lot more than I normally do!

4. You go I to a convenience store to buy an ice cream to cool down. The instant you step outside, it instantly melts and drips down your hand and arm.

5. Get on a crowded train filled with sweaty businessmen! Smells like a large dead animal was carefully placed in the ventilation system.

6. Being outside too long makes me grumpy and dizzy.

7. My beer gets warm really fast!

8. Even more Japanese women are sporting parasols (that's right...still used in Japan) and they don't pay attention when they walk in crowds with them. It's "almost getting your eye poked out by a parasol" season!!!

9. I'm unable to rip the a/c unit out of my daily commuter train and bring it home...cause the one in the train actually works!

10. The crazy people I see on the train every day seem to become even crazier! 

You can find me on Twitter: @jlandkev 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Raising a Bilingual Child: Only Speaking English to my Children

Teaching Tips: ONLY Speaking English to my Children

Some of you out there may find yourself in a situation similar to the one I’ll talk about today. You may be in a different country and the language in question may not be English, but your situation may be similar.

I am in Japan. I have two very young children and a Japanese wife. We want our children to be completely and effortlessly bilingual. I work during the day and my wife stays home raising our kids. She takes them out everyday to play with their friends in the playground and they are very active in other ways. They go to the local community center, kindergarten and day care for various classes throughout the week. My son even takes swimming lessons. All of these are done in Japanese of course. We are in Japan after all. This means the majority of my kids’ days are spent immersed in the Japanese language.

My wife works hard to add some English throughout the day. She speaks to them at times in English and they watch DVDs of children’s programs from America, Australia and Canada. When I come home from work in the evening and on weekends that is really their chance to learn English. That is their opportunity to interact with a native English speaker using natural English. Time for them to play with their Daddy!

In a way, my poor Japanese skills have worked to an advantage for both my kids and me as I try to teach them English. At three years of age, my son already knows that English is his father’s language and Japanese is his mother’s.  Since I don’t speak Japanese (trying to remedy that at the moment), I must communicate with him in English and vice versa. Within our household it is a win/win situation.
Now, even if I could speak Japanese fluently I wouldn’t use it in front of my son during our day-to-day interactions. If I did, I would be robbing him of his chance to hear and utilize the Native English speaker living under his own roof. I would be taking away his teacher.

We live in Japan and every time my children head out the door Japanese surrounds them. They practice the language constantly and it is of course their first language. They don’t need me to speak it to them. Understanding Japanese does of course help me though. Often, my son may not know how to express himself in English. He asks me a question or makes a statement in Japanese. If I understand what he is saying, I can model the language for him in English. He speaks to me in Japanese; I repeat what he just said in English and then make him repeat it. The “modeling” style of language teaching works extremely well and the more Japanese I understand, the better I will be at using this method.

My wife has told me that some Japanese women she has met who are married to foreign men such as myself worry when their husbands only speak Japanese to their kids. Pre-school to early elementary school is what is known as the critical phase of language acquisition. That's the time when a child can learn a new language with no accent and sound like a native speaker (or at least close to it).  One mother shared her worries with my wife. She said that her kindergarten-aged children could only speak Japanese and was stressed because when they travel to America to meet her husband’s family, the kids would not have the ability to communicate. 

That’s something I think about often. I live far away from my family in Canada and someday I plan to return there with my family. For whatever reason, even if we stayed in Japan, half of my son’s family (and the majority of relatives) are Canadian and don’t speak Japanese. When we visit Canada and spend time with them, how will he be able to communicate with his grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles? He simply wouldn’t be able to. He’s be missing out on so much.

I suppose, another thing I would worry about, if I spoke Japanese to my son would be teaching him my bad pronunciation and broken grammar.

At the end of the day, whether my family moves to Canada or stays in Japan, my children will have wonderful advantages if they are able to communicate flawlessly in two languages. By using only English when I am with them, I am giving them the chance to always be with a teacher. I just have to remember to always be encouraging, make them comfortable to speak English and correct (in a caring way) the mistakes they make.

You can follow me on TWITTER: @jlandkev

Monday, August 12, 2013

Raising a Bilingual Child: Code Switching

Code Switching  - Up close and personal

I have to admit that watching my son’s language development is absolutely amazing. I grew up in “one language” household. My family used English. Now, my family in Japan uses both English in the house and outside as well.

My son is now a newly minted 3 year-old. As I’ve mentioned before, his first language is Japanese and his second language is English.  His speaking skills are quite high and it is clear that he can communicate much more fluently in Japanese, but what I have noticed recently is the dramatic increase in his code-switching skills.

In linguistics, code switching is switching between two or more language varieties, in the context of a single conversation.

When my son was only one year old he started conversing in both English and Japanese with family and friends. At that point he didn’t realize that there was a difference between the two languages he was learning. He would speak to his little friends in a mixture of English and Japanese and they would just look at him blankly. Their Japanese skills were also just emerging, but of course, they didn’t understand any English. Not long after he was two years old, a switch in his brain was flipped and he realized that when he was at the local kindergarten, community center or playground with his friends and their mothers, he should only speak Japanese. 

The most basic and obvious examples of code switching with my son are in the home when he interacts with his mother, who is Japanese and myself. When I come home from wok in the evening, he runs down the hall yelling “Hello Daddy” and then he commences to tell me about his day’s adventures in English. When I respond to him in English, he runs back down the hall and tells my wife what I just said, but in Japanese.

At the dinner table he sits at the end and we sit on either side of him. The majority of his day is spent “living in Japanese” so when I come home my wife and I speak English to each other and to my son (and now daughter). We haven’t set an “English Only” rule in our house that some other people do. We just tend to use English because my Japanese skills are not strong. Also, even though I am currently learning Japanese, I choose not to use it around my son since his only daily opportunities to hear natural English are with me.

Our normal dinner experiences are in English. At times though, my son will tell me a story in English and then immediately turn to his mother and repeat the story in Japanese. Other times, he will share it with her in English.

Watching his code switching skills evolve is a constant and wonderful process.

You can follow me on Twitter: @jlandkev

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Walking Away from the Not So Good

Change can be a scary thing at times. Other times it can be en extremely good thing. Sometimes change is a very necessary thing.

I have been through many changes so far this year. Some have been wonderful; the birth of my second child; some have not been o wonderful.

Employment-wise, this has been a rocky year for me. I have been in Japan, living and working as an international school teacher since 2008. Earlier this year I completed my final contract with the only employer I knew since coming to Japan. They wanted me to stay on and continue working there, but I felt it was time for a change. I needed a change and wanted to break away from the secure and somewhat predictable existence that had become my work life there.

I searched for jobs online and realized a few things (things I had actually realized long before). The two things I learned:

       1. There are not so many jobs for teachers in Japan.
       2. The pay schools offer teachers really sucks!

The standard par for a language school teacher or international kindergarten teacher in Japan is only about 250,000Yen per month. With current exchange rates, that adds up to about $31,000 per year. By Canadian standards, with a family my size living in a city as large as the one I do, that’s about $6000.00 below the poverty line according to Statistic’s Canada. Some teaching jobs in Japan pay even less than that. If I were teaching in Canada right now (with my years experience), I’d be making more than double that salary.

I was able to find a new job quickly (benefit of having a teaching credential) and was promised a lot. The pay was to be decent and there were to be other perks. Once I began working at my new company I quickly realized that many of the things promised to me during the interview and contract signing process were fabrications. I also quickly learned that things weren’t going to change for me.

I suppose I really only had two options. I could do things the Japanese way and just suck it up and complete my year contract or I could doing something bolder and make a change. I decided to do the latter. There’s no point in putting your blood, sweat and tears into a job when you’re not receiving the things promised; even more so, when you have a family to support.

My wife and I searched for another opportunity. I focused on jobs in Canada (really hard to get one when you are not in Canada I discovered) and she looked for ones in Japan. She came across what looked to be a good opportunity for me. 

I pursued it and…SUCCESS!

I found a new job and then gave my notice at the company that had “promised” me so much.

Today is my last day of work at my old company and tomorrow I start a new and exciting challenge. Things will be very different. I will have more pay, shorter working hours, less responsibility and more time to work on improving my Japanese.

Today is a good day.

Tomorrow will be an even better day I think.

Someday, when I am no longer living in Japan, I will tell you about this in more detail.

Follow me on Twitter: @jlandkev

A Day in Osaka

Just a couple of pictures I took yesterday in Osaka (where I work). A small butterfly enjoying a flower and a cool little alleyway.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Making Friends Abroad: Samurai Running

I have been in Japan for 5 years and in Asia since 2002. During my time here, I've met a lot of really amazing people, but I have to admit, it has been difficult to meet fellow foreigners who share my enjoyment of running.  I know they are out there. I see foreign runners from time to time, but I don't feel comfortable stopping them while in mid-run.

I have had the good fortune of meeting some Japanese runners in my time here, but of course would like to met more. I often feel uncomfortable approaching local runners due to the fact that my Japanese language skills aren't very strong.

Last year, my friend Scott Brown, an elite masters runner based in Sakai, a suburb of Osaka suggested forming a running club. He suggested the name "Samurai Runners" and it would be a great way for foreign runners in this part of Japan to network, exchange advice and information about races as well as to socialize. A foreigner running club could give like-minded runners the chance to go for runs together an maybe even organize informal running events. The idea of local Japanese runners joining makes it an even more fun concept.

Earlier this morning I created the "Samurai Runners - Kobe" Facebook Page. Scott is making one for the Osaka area. Hopefully in time, this group can grown into a fun social group.

If you are in the Kansai area or anywhere else in Japan, you are MORE than welcome to join by "Liking" the page. I even plan to set up virtual running events as well as an opportunity for runners in Japan to do charity activities.

So, if you live in the Kansai area and want to join a new running group, LIKE the "Samurai Runners - Kobe." Also, if you are planning to travel to Japan on vacation or for business and want more information about running in the area, become a member.

More information about the Osaka "Samurai Runners" group will come soon!

You can also follow me on Twitter: @jlandkev 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Second Baby Blues?

T-minus 6 days. That's the due date of my second child. If she comes then, I'll be home with my family during Golden Week. If she comes earlier, I may be racing to Kobe from work and hopefully will get to the hospital in time to see my new little daughter arrive. Hard to say though, I hear the second one comes quickly.

Amazing, the way that I feel. I've been through this before. My son was born nearly 3 years ago, but now I'm filled with nervous anxiety again. It feels like I'm becoming a father again for the first time. I'm assuming that emotions like this are common among parents about to have a second child.

Ah well...I'll keep you fine folks posted.

Until then, I'll just try to have fun and be silly with my family!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Running Around Kobe

I haven't been running much lately. If you at all follow my blog, you know I am a runner. I suppose lately I've been a non-practicing runner.

I have applied for Osaka Marathon 2013 and tomorrow will apply for Kobe Marathon 2013. Soooooo....I went for a run today!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Japanese Crime Fighters

I saw something pretty cool today. I suppose it was a cool thing because of the positive outcome. I saw something I've never seen during my entire 5 years living in Japan.

I saw a crime...

Now, the actual crime itself wasn't cool. Crime by default isn't cool. It was cool because I witnessed some
good Samaritans apprehend a potential criminal.

I was in a subway station in downtown Osaka today after purchasing some bookcases for my new classroom. Myself and a colleague had just put our boxes down in front of the entrance so I could buy a ticket.

I walked to the ticket machine and I could hear yelling of some sort in the distance. I could then see a man, in his late 20's running (not very quickly) while holding a woman's handbag. He was desperately rummaging through the bag as he ran. An elderly man was in chase yelling that the man was a thief!

Suddenly, a business man, in a suit lay chase. He was a fit looking guy in this late 30's. Within seconds he was behind the guy and tackled him from behind. As they got up another couple of men standing nearby grabbed hold of the suspected thief as well. Within minutes a policeman came, grabbed the guy and threw him up against the wall.

The man who did the tackle started to walk away and I intercepted him. I walked up, shook his hand, patted him on the back and thanked him. That put a huge smile on his face.

I wrote about this on Facebook shortly after I witnessed it. Some people asked I I helped capture the guy. I didn't. I didn't have to!

Felt pretty awesome seeing regular people doing good and making the world a enter place.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My train smells like ASS!

Nasty, Nasty Trains in Japan

So here's the deal. April 1st marked the new fiscal year in Japan. I live in Japan and recently changed jobs. I used to work relatively close to my house in Kobe and my commute was relatively painless. With the new fiscal year and the new job came a new commute. My new commute is a long one to the middle of Osaka and three train lines and about 90 minutes each way, I get from my house to work.

I've been spending a lot of time on a very crowded train this week and I've come to realize a few things:

1. The direction a train goes in can mean a lot to a poor ole commuter. I'm taking the same train I have for the last few years, but this time it's heading in a different direction. Last year, it was heading towards some small cities and wasn't very crowded. This year it's heading the Japan's third largest city, Osaka and its a freakin cattle call! Bloody packed with commuters.

2. The second thing I've come to notice had to do with number one. The trains are bloody packed with "salarymen" ( non-descript, black suit wearing office workers). They are so crowded that they lead to the next few observations I've had.

3. They stink! The trains simply smell bad. Pack a small metal box with hundreds of people and there is a very dynamic array of aromas. You can smell body odour, last night's (or this morning's) alcohol, garlic, pickles, farts and more!

4. They are HOT! Too many people combined with no understanding of climate control cause excessive suffering. Japanese trains kick the heat on near the end of winter and don't turn it off til spring has ended and summer has arrived. It really makes no sense and my advice is to not even attempt to figure it out. There is no answer!

My conclusion is:

Trains used to commute in the city are not fun. It's not a deep conclusion, but it's all I got!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Learning Japanese and English at the same time

Late last year and earlier this year I began writing about raising my son to be a bilingual child. His first language, Japanese, was progressing quickly and his English was coming along as well.

Fast forward ahead to April 2013 and my son is now 2 years 8 months old. Naturally, both languages have been progressing rapidly and his ability to communicate with others and express himself has grown by leaps and bounds. He can speak to his mother and Japanese adults/children in full, yet simple sentences. He is also able to understand most of what he hears.

Having entered the world of the Terrible Two's so his favorite phrases in both Japanese and English are, "I don't want to" and "I can't."

In English, his basic vocabulary continues to grow quickly. His language bank of nouns, verbs and adjectives is expanding, but he can struggle when it comes to putting them together. Sometimes his storytelling sessions are very easy to understand while at other times it's more of a challenge for me to fully comprehend.

I think one of the most interesting recent aspects of his language development has been his language switching. He now seems to have made the distinction in his mind that he speaks Japanese to Mommy (who is Japanese) and English to Daddy (moi...a Canadian dude). My wife often speaks English to him and even a few months ago he would reply to her in English, but now he won't. He only speaks to my wife in Japanese no matter what language she uses with him. On top of that, he even seems somewhat annoyed when she does speak to him in English. I'm assuming that people out there in a similar family makeup have had similar experiences.

We're continuing to give him the opportunity to watch lots of English TV and movies which have helped. He definitely learns from watching Cars, Toy Story (1,2 and 3), Finding Nemo and others and it's obviously helping his listening skills as well.

His English progress may start to slow over the next two months though. He will be attending Japanese day care leading up to the time my wife has our second child and for about a month afterwards. That coupled with my longer working/commuting hours with my new job means he'll be exposed to almost no English on a daily basis until June.

I'm sure he'll be fine, but I have to admit that I'm somewhat stressed about his upcoming "lack of English."

I'll let you know how things go in upcoming posts.