After the Rain – Challenges With Raising Bilingual Kids
Since we arrived in Jakarta, we’ve experienced rain almost everyday. It’s not a rainy season right now, but it seems to not matter. Even if it rains, it has stopped after a while and sometimes the sun shows its face.
Our life has been in a whirlwind of changes in the past two months. Changes brought excitement, but at the same time, it brought some challenges. One of the challenges I’ve experienced is that my older child’s decrease in her ability to speak Japanese. (My husband and I raise our children bilingual and I wrote about raising bilingual children in the past here.)
I’ve met many people who have parents from different countries and have told me they wished their parents (usually their moms) have taught their languages. I’ve seen enough to be able to say that it’s actually children, not parents, who discourage a bilingual environment and end up choosing one language at home.
I believe that humans are naturally lazy creatures. You learn to work hard as you grow up since you discern the values and benefits of doing so. I’m no teacher, but in my observations, I’ve learned that if you give small children choices to do things, they pick an easier option if they know their choices. You can say the same with the language. They simply pick the language easier for them, the one they use more frequently.
During this past two months, I have witnessed my child gradually veer away from speaking Japanese. We stayed in Texas for 3 weeks this summer and during our time there, little by little my older daughter enhanced her English ability. A few of my husband’s family members said something in a joking tone when my older daughter and I were speaking in Japanese, which made me think they were not so favor of our speaking Japanese to each other in front of them. I understand where they come from though. Gradually my daughter shied away from speaking to me in front of English speakers and favored English in those 3 weeks and that has become more of the norm.
What threatened me was what I consider my inability to encourage her to speak Japanese. I knew quite a few Japanese friends in Arlington, Virginia, with whom I had Japanese play groups on regular basis to keep a Japanese environment for my kids. I don’t have this any more. My older daughter started going to an English-speaking kindergarten and now she’ll be at school dipped in an English environment for at least over 6 hours a day and all her friends are English speakers. At this age, friends becomes a significant part of their social life, more so than parents.
When we as a family get together by ourselves, my older daughter still turns to my husband and speaks in English majority of times since she can express herself better in the language. It’s tough for me to deal with this situation even though I know that this results from the language ability correlating to the choice of listeners. I take this as one of the hurdles I have to go through as a parent who is raising her own children bilingual.
Now we’ve been in Jakarta for a little over 3 weeks, I have gained slightly more confidence in myself in our new environment and the overwhelming feelings have subsided. It feels like a storm has left and the sunshine has peeked between clouds. At the same time, I started to ease up on my tension of sustaining my kids’ Japanese proficiency. I haven’t given up yet. I am still figuring out and am sure I’ll have another roller coaster rides with the emotions related to raising my children bilingual, but for now I’m a little more relaxed than a month ago.