Monday, January 14, 2013

Constantly Talking: a teaching tool

One piece of advice I give to new teachers, especially ones teaching second language learners is to constantly speak to them and ask them questions. This of course gives them more opportunities to hear English as well think in the language and speak it.

Practice, practice, practice! 

The more you practice anything, the better you will become. Learning a language is no different.
This of course carries over to parenting and raising a child to speak more than one language. I suppose it will even help a child who is learning only one language.

When my son was an infant, I read in a book about raising children that I should have a constant running dialogue when I am with them. Even when he was too young to speak or communicate in any way, aside from crying, I should speak. At bath time, the running dialogue might sound something like, “Now I’m going to wash your arms. I’m cleaning your arms with soap. Isn’t the water nice and warm? Now I’m rinsing the soap off your arms. Does that feel nice?”

It completely makes sense why this would be good for your child. While they are with you they hear your voice and are surrounded by the language they will someday speak. It’s another form of mental stimulation. Sounds straightforward and easy, but I often find this type of running dialogue difficult to maintain. I suppose it is a little mentally taxing for me and sometimes I simply forgot to do it.

When my son was younger and even now I find myself zoning out when I am doing something that required concentration such as giving him a bath. When I would zone out, I would stop speaking.

Today I went for a walk with my son and spoke to him the entire time. I asked him questions about the vehicles we saw as well as the plants and flowers we walked past. “Is that a white or a blue car? Look at the ambulance. Is it loud? Did you see all of the pink flowers on the tree? Do you want to go to the supermarket? What kind of juice do you want?”

I realize that English is my son’s second language and I need to pick up my game and start exposing him to more of it.

I have to admit that while I need to pick up my game as a teacher at home, my wife has been doing a fantastic job all along. She has that constant dialogue with my son and speaks to him in both Japanese and English.

Another thing we have been doing all along, but more now that our son is speaking a lot is discussing his “linguistic future.” We spend a great deal of time talking about how we can work together to make sure his English skills are strong. We have been discussing what type of schools he should attend. We have also been discussing how we will teach him to read and write English if he attends a Japanese school.

Luckily I’m not stressed about that since I have been teaching of many years and have spent the last 5 years teaching young children phonics and writing.

Interesting times!

More updates and ideas to come.

You can follow me on Twitter: @jlandkev

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Flash cards with a 2 year old

Today my son turns two and a half years old. He’s growing like a weed as they say back home and his language continues to grow at a frightening (for me anyway) pace. He simply loves speaking in both English and Japanese.

Last Monday, I began work after a three-week holiday. During my holiday, I spent most of my time with my family. That of course meant that our house was pretty much an “English Zone.” Living in an English environment for almost a month was a great boost for my son’s language, but as with every vacation, it had to come to an end. Last Monday I started work again and it began with a six-day work-week for me.

Yesterday when I got home from work I took my son to the supermarket to buy some pancake mix. He babbled in English the entire way, curiously pointing t everything he saw and sharing a running dialogue about those things. “Look Daddy, blue car. Big red car. Pigeons are walking. Building is yellow. Look, leaves are green. Tree is tall.” I loved every minute of it.

After dinner last night, while he was playing with Lego I spent sometime showing him various flashcards. Most of them were animal flashcards, but some were also shapes. He is quickly learning them, but I plan to add flashcards to our daily routine more often. Again, I almost have to think about English as if I were a teacher (which I am). He doesn’t get exposed to much English on a day-to-day basis so I need to work hard to help him learn.

Last year I bought a few sets at the local English bookstore, but have realized that at my son’s pace of learning it would cost me a small fortune to continue buying them so I have begun to make flashcards for him. I have relied on some of the great free sites I use for teaching such as MES English and Sparklebox. I simply print the cards at home and I even bought a laminator so I can make them last for years. I think it was a worthy investment.

Some flash cards I bought at Junkudo Bookstore. He already knows about 85% of these so I have begun making them myself at home.

You can check out a video below of me showing some color flashcards to my son the other morning while he was playing. To be honest, he really enjoys playing with the flashcards. He sees them as a toy. I suppose that’s a good thing!

You can follow me on Twitter: @jlandkev

Saturday, January 5, 2013

An Explosion of Language

My son is now almost two and a half years old and recently has been speaking quite a bit. He says things at night like, “Daddy, go to bed?” “Daddy, boat coming!” “Kai, neh neh (baby talk for sleep in Japanese).” He also speaks a lot more in Japanese, his first language. His language has been progressing at a very surprising and exciting pace.

I started a three-week vacation about three weeks ago (sadly only one day left before I head back to school). I have been spending a great deal of time with my son during that period. Both my wife and I have noticed a sudden explosion of language in the last month and luckily I have been present to enjoy so much of it.

The amazing thing that has happened is he can now express his needs and wants in English and Japanese. He was able to tell us what he wanted Santa Claus to bring him for Christmas (Santa got him the TOMICA City parking garage set he so desired).

He can also use both his English and Japanese to play with Mom and Dad. The other day he walked up to me, placed some toy food on the table and said, “Daddy, eat this.” His favorite phrase in the past few days has been “Come here Daddy” which he has said at least thirty five thousand times!

I think my mind was really blown the other day when my son said, “Daddy, two boys going over there.” I looked up and sure enough, there were two young boys running across the street in front of us!

I realize that often children in Canada, where I am from, at my son’s age may be able to communicate more, but my son has to process twice the information. He doesn’t just have to learn the word “cat” for example. He must learn that Daddy says “cat” and Mommy says, “neko” (my wife is Japanese).

Language switching:

This is another impressive thing (in my eyes as a father) that amazes me. When I am alone with my son, he pretty much only speaks English. When he is with his mother, he pretty much only speaks Japanese, the language he can communicate more in. When we are together as a family, he mixes it all together and at this point, really only his mother knows exactly what he is saying.

I suppose that in the little world that is “my family”, we are going through some fun and exciting times.

As someone who was raised in a unilingual household, it is amazing to see someone raised bilingual. It’s like looking into a new world!

You can follow me on Twitter: @jlandkev

Thursday, January 3, 2013

10 Worst Things About Japan

Yesterday I brought you a post about the 10 best things about living in Japan in 2012…for me.

Today I bring you the 10 worst things about life for me in Japan in 2012.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this is a tongue-in-cheek (that means humorous) post so if you get upset about it, you have full permission to close this browser window and never read my blog again! Again…full permission…please…don’t come back!

Ok, now on with the list. 10 Things that didn’t make me very happy about living in Japan in 2012:

1. Earthquakes: Does anyone really like these things? (That’s a rhetorical question)

2. Really crowded trains: I have to commute to work and there’s nothing more disgusting than having to wedge into a train that smells of body odor and in the mornings, old booze (no matter what day of the week).

3. Expensive beer: It costs a lot of money to buy the stuff at bars, restaurants and eateries.

4. People who live in tiny apartments yet have large dogs: It’s pretty common around where I live and it’s just mean. A Golden Retriever or Siberian Husky is meant to run in wide-open spaces, not live in a one or two room apartment in a big city. It’s just mean!

5. Subway Restaurants: Nice to have a little taste of home, but have you had one? They TOTALLY skimp on the meat. MORE MEAT PLEASE!

6. Only one-way to skin a cat: In English, the saying, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat” of course means that there is always more than one-way to solve a problem. From my experience, for many in Japan there is only one way to skin a cat and if that doesn’t work…uh oh! No one seems to know what to do. Oh yes…they get stressed and panic!

7. Train pervs: So many of them in Japan and they all deserve to have their groping hands removed with a rusty butter knife!

8. Intentional pigeon-toed walking: A very common thing in Japan. Many high school aged girls and young women walk very pigeon toed (that’s when you walk with your toes pointing inwards). It looks strange, awkward and uncoordinated. Apparently, most do it on purpose because they think it looks cute.

9. YouTube Japan: I’ve been a YouTube partner since the early days. Once upon a day they supported all partners. Now they tell foreign partners straight up that they are no longer important…we don’t care about you and will not really help you!

10. I wasn’t “Lost in Translation”: Suppose I’ve been living in Asia too long for that. I do at times need a translator though! 

You can follow me on Twitter @jlandkev.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

10 Best Things About Japan

As I look back at the year that was 2012, I want to reflect on the best and worst things about Japan, the country I have called home for the past 5 years. Today’s post will be the “10 Best” list while tomorrow’s will be the “10 Worst” list.

Message to all “hardcore” Japan fans out there…take these posts with a grain of salt!

1. Japanese food: It’s great. It’s really delicious!

2. Strong Yen (currency): At least in 2012 it was. That was good for me since I was paid in Yen!

3. Safe place to live: I know that every second joker isn’t carrying a gun!

4. SOOOO many weirdos: There really is a freaky amount of freaky people all over the place in Japanese cities. As a blogger and vlogger, that’s great for me! Free entertainment.

5. Beautiful women everywhere: I may be happily married, but I’m not dead!

6. Those beautiful women are “Pro Short Skirt”: Nuff said…

7. Smart phones still have unlimited data plans: Nuff said…

8. Treated well as a foreigner: As a Canadian living in Japan, I am treated quite well by most (sadly there are foreigners from many other countries who aren’t treated so well).

9. Fantastic history: Japan has a really fascinating history. I mean come on, these guys are the guys who brought us ninjas!!! That’s WAY cool!

10. Raising a family: As a parent in Japan, you have subsidized health care and good financial incentives and support from the government…for now.

Stay tuned tomorrow for my “10 Worst Things About Japan” list!

You can follow me on Twitter: @jlandkev

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Osechi Ryori (Japanese traditional New Years meal)

I just wanted you out there to take a look at what I had the good fortune of eating this afternoon for lunch. It being New Years Day, my mother-in-law bought my family a beautiful Osechi Ryori to welcome in 2013.

Take a look at some of the pictures I took:

This is a great New Years tradition. New Years in Japan is the biggest holiday of the year. I suppose the importance of it would be comparable to Christmas in Canada or Thanksgiving in America.

You can follow me on Twitter @jlandkev.

A Fresh Start

2012 is finished and the new year has begun. Hello 2013.

2012 was a year of challenges and small triumphs as well. The biggest milestone for me creatively was completing my first book, "Teaching in Asia: Tales and the Real Deal." I learned a lot about the writing and editing process while penning my first self-published work. I know what I will do differently the next time and how I can make future works much better. I was proud to finish my book and at the same time happy to learn how I could improve my writing and editing process.

I am happy to say that there will be a new book in 2013. I have already begun putting it together. This one will involve a lot of time interviewing people and gathering anecdotal data and stories. This one won't be about teaching in Asia, but in a way will be about teaching. If you have been reading the last few posts here on the "Far Away Blog" you might already have an idea about the topic.

As far as other creative endeavours have gone, I have continued to be active on my YouTube channels and have met some great people through my hobby. In 2013, I plan to continue with my fun video making hobby and hopefully bring it up a few notches.

I can inform all you fine readers out there, if you don't already know, that I will become a father again in 2013. In late spring my wife and I are expecting "little person" number TWO! Exciting and interesting times for sure.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by this blog in 2012 and if you re new to it, welcome. 

I hope you all have a safe and happy 2013 and a productive year as well.

You can follow me on Twitter @jlandkev

Watching Television to Learn a Language

Many people will say that the best way to learn a language is to immerse them in it and interact on a daily basis with native speakers of that language. I can’t argue that that is probably the best way to do it, but how do you learn a language when that ideal situation isn’t an option?

I live in Japan. You may have already figured that out if you have read any of my previous posts. I live in Japan and I am trying to raise my son to be fluent in both Japanese and English. The Japanese part is easy. He lives in Japan and everywhere he goes he hears Japanese. Every time he sees television it is Japanese.

Now, what do we do about his English? I leave for work about 30 minutes after he wakes up each morning and normally I am running around like a chicken with its head cut off getting ready to go to work. I have very little time to sit and interact with him linguistically. After work, I get home between 6-7:00pm. He normally goes to bed shortly after 8:00pm. This doesn’t really leave me with a lot of time to talk to him. I do as much as I can and try to read a story or two to him before bed time, but realistically, he only gets about 2 hours of English each weekday.

To supplement things, I do what many parents in my situation do. I have him watch television. It isn’t the best way, but it is one of the few options I have and it works. I know it works because he has been learning vocabulary and phrases that I didn’t teach him.

My wife teaches him some English throughout the day, but he picks up idiomatic English from various DVDs he has and is able to apply that English correctly when playing or interacting with me.
We of course want our son to lead an active life and be outside as much as possible so we do limit the amount of time he spends indoors watching television. On a daily basis, he probably watches about 1 to 1.5 hours of English programming.

Again, it is the best we can do in the current situation.

Some of the shows that my son seems to really react to and enjoy the most are:
Thomas and Friends (my son is OBSESSED with all things Thomas)
Dora the Explorer
Go Diego Go
Theodore Tugboat
Blues Clues

His favorite movies are:
Wiggles Music DVDs (songs)
Toy Story
Wiggles Magical Adventure

You can follow me on Twitter @jlandkev