My experience with bilingual kids

Over the years I always encounter parents who are worried about putting their children into an International, English only school. They worry that their child will not learn Japanese properly and will be left behind, I can say that this is not the case from personal experience.

I have five children and the oldest now is Eleven years old, sixth grade at primary school. The next is fourth grade, and then the next after that is second grade.The fourth child is attending a Japanese Kindergarten but at the start had practically zero. Now he is in his final hear he is speaking Japanese more fluently every day.

None of our children when they started two year kindergarten. When they started two year kindergarten that’s when their Japanese took off and by time they graduated their spoken language is equivalent to their peers. The final child is attending our International kindergarten but will attend a Japanese kindergarten from next year as she needs to speak Japanese before she enters primary school.

In my house from the start Ive set the rule of “No Japanese” and even when we go out we continue to speak English only. But as the kids are getting older more and more Japanese is insidiously creeping into my household, of course the kids who practically had no Japanese ability at all are now fluent in Japanese and can describe certain thing a lot easier in Japanese, and so I have to tell them to stop describing the topic in Japanese and to explain it in English. This of course is important because until I hear them try to describe the topic they want to talk about I can’t correct them or add more advanced concepts or terminology to their language.

I ask my wife about their Japanese and she says it’s perfect and they have no problem communicating with their Japanese grandparents or our Japanese friends in Japanese. Of course with our first child starting Primary school it was a bit hard but only because of having to learn hiragana, katakana and kanji from zero, we didn’t give him any Japanese colouring books or Hiragana drill books when he was younger, so he had to learn from zero and his Japanese reading ability was low but now he’s in sixth grade and there is no problem as such and because our younger children have been watching him go through this they have learnt what to do, a lot faster. Our second child who is in fourth grade now is finding it a lot easier to pick up kokugo (Japanese language) than he did.

 Now on the other hand Japanese parents with Japanese grandparents, friends aunts and uncles, Japanese TV , Japanese people sitting beside them on the train etc etc don’t need to worry about their Children not being able to get Japanese…

There is No chance of this in Japan the language is too pervasive, too natural for them to pick up. Even from their mother's belly they are hearing Japanese and learning it, when they are at the Baby Hirobas (learning circles) they are seeing other mothers, fathers and babies talking to each other. At the parks they go to and play at, the people there are all speaking Japanese. mothers give their children Japanese colouring sheets that have Hiragana written all over them and the children ask what’s this and what’s that and the mothers teaches them in Japanese. Even when they went to their grandparents house for the weekend the grandparents speak to them in Japanese and explain things to them in Japanese. At home while eating lunch the mum turns on the TV and watches Japanese TV programs, or listens to Japanese music. I know of these things because it is what is happening to my children too.

Even If you put your child into a International Daycare and spoke to the child in English at home and made it an English mainly environment the children would still get Japanese from dad when he gets home from work unless he decides to speak English too. Grandparents and friends when they visit , outside shopping and traveling, there is too much chance to hear and speak Japanese.

At the start the well intending parents are expecting to speak English all the time to their child, and so they worries about Japanese, but It takes a rare individual to do that and over the years. I see that parents end up speaking Japanese to the child anyway, especially if they are tired from working all day. Trying to describe something in another language to a crying child gets tiring when you yourself is tired.

So even though I could keep on going into every minute detail I’ll finish here by saying that In Japan and parents thinking of putting their children into an International School should not be concerned about the child not learning the mother tongue.

If anything they should be really really concerned with their children learning English or another language to a proficient level so that, that child can hear natives speak without a problem and be able to speak with a beautiful accent with clear pronunciation.

Cameron Hill

Cameron Hill Little Lorkeets Owner