How well do your kids speak your mother tongue?

Just over a month ago I decided to use my membership of two groups on LinkedIn to do a little reasearch about the levels of children’s language skills. Of the two groups I polled, Expats in Japan & Childhood bilingualism, it was the Expats group that provided the most responses and a lively discussion about raising kids bilingually. Here are some of the points raised and comments made in that discussion.

  • Japanese is their first language. (Parent)
  • If I were to have attended a Japanese grade school, I would probably not be handicapped with not being able to read/write Japanese well. (Japanese/American bilingual)
  • Balanced bilinguals are not so common, but it is very much possible to be bilingual and biliterate (or multi). (Parent and professional in field of bilingualism)
  • ‘When my son was first born 10 years ago, I was thinking that he would be just as much English as Japanese’ ‘but after a few years I realised both him and my daughter are really 99% Japanese and just happen to have an English father’. (Parent)
  • I will caution that the English curriculum in Japanese junior high and high schools is difficult even if your child can speak English. It’s all grammar and translation’ . (Parent and professional in field of bilingualism)
  • ~reading (or the lack of ability to read) is the number one reason students grow to hate English from JH (junior high). (Parent and professional in field of bilingualism)
  • Perhaps stronger and sustained phonetic approaches from the very start of language learning would better equip all our children on these islands to hear what is being said. (Group member)
  • My son has ‘real’ English for foreigners and Jenglish (Japanese English) for moronic teacher’s consumption. (Parent)
  • You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. If they aren’t on board, it won’t work.

This is a fairly arbitrary selection of comments, but here are some points I picked up from the thread:

  1. Children identify themselves as being from the environment (country) they are raised in.
  2. Reading skills are important.
  3. Bilingualism is possible, but it takes some work.
  4. Our children’s lives as bilinguals will lead them to have different experiences to our own, and perhaps different aims.
  5. Children are children wherever they are,  and their parents are their parents wherever they are from.
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