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After the Rain – Challenges With Raising Bilingual Kids

August 17, 2010
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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.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. August 17, 2010 8:00 pm

    You are doing MUCH MUCH better than I am!!! But I hear ya!! It’s a big challenge… Our first one never really wants to speak Japanese even though I have always talked to him in Japanese. And the 2nd is just copying his big brother despite the fact that he’s actually very good at languages. Now that we are in Japan I think they’ll pick up a little more Japanese here, but it will always be a challenge. It’s true that the kids themselves are the ones who chose to learn in the end. So I’ll just try to offer them the best possible environment I can offer and see how they take it.

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  2. August 17, 2010 9:17 pm

    I am on the same page with you! Thanks for leaving me a comment! It’s so encouraging for me to see your comment on my blog! Hugs.

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  3. August 17, 2010 9:33 pm

    Have you changed something on the layout of your blog? I like it! I totally rely on your post today (but very often it is the case). I am French and my husband is a Filipino raised in Australia. We currently live in Singapore, therefore my daughter is in an English speaking environment all the time. I do speak to her in French but I reckon that I do not stick to the rule of ONLY speaking to her in French which I might actually start doing as she seems not to speak much French at the moment. It is a challenge, but I do believe in putting some more pressure on the kids. I have cousins whose mum is from Portugal and I remember as kids they were never replying to her in Portuguese although she was ONLY speaking to them in her own language. They took Saturday classes and now thanks to her, they can speak and write fluently in both French and Portuguese.
    If we are not moving back to France (which we are not planning), I will enroll my kids at the French school to study, or at least have them take extra classes. My parents are putting pressure on me too!!!

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    • August 17, 2010 9:57 pm

      Marie! Good to see your comment! Thanks!! Does the lay out look different? Please, please let me know if you ever notice anything weird going on on my blog!! I use Mac and sometimes the layout of my blog looks odd on PC’s. I love French and I find French is so much more useful (I had to work so hard to acquire French!) than Japanese, so your kids will be better of if they learn the language. Your kids would appreciate you so much later on! It’s a gift to kids to provide a language learning environment when they are younger although it is much tougher than people think. People I’ve spoken with tend to think that if a parent keeps talking to her/his child in a language, the child will grow up speaking the language, but it’s not at all simple like that. Sigh. Bon chance!!

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  4. August 17, 2010 10:47 pm

    Ahhh… Pics and post of rain! Since being in UAE, i envy bloggers experiencing rainy weathers, because there’s BARELY any rainfall here.

    It’s fab that your kids has extra advantages in the language criteria, but the thing about Bahasa (indo language) is not widely used, knowing the basics will do. Unless she’s studying Indonesian syllabus in the local schools :)

    Your new reader.
    Cheers!

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    • August 18, 2010 3:22 am

      Thanks for the comment! I love having new readers!!! UAE! That’s one of the countries I would love to visit. I agree with you about Bahasa Indonesian. If we leave this country without our girls’ learning to speak Bahasa Indonesian, I wouldn’t dwell on it nor mind it so much, but if they forget Japanese, I would feel deeply sad about that… I don’t expect them to have multiple language although that would be so nice. I would love for them to have at least two of their parents’ languages, English and Japanese. That’s my hope. Cheers!!

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  5. Staci Praske permalink
    August 26, 2010 1:52 pm

    Hi Kaho- I am enjoying reading your posts. Your girls will have such a rich experience of traveling and culture. So neat. It’s been such a challenge to keep up the Japanese with Sebastian here. He naturally makes friends at his Japanese school that speak English— the teachers try separating him, etc….and with Steve and I not speaking any- it’s a constant challenge. But–
    we’ve decided to keep him at his Japanese school one more year (he is suppose to start American kinder)- because I think it’s such a gift to be bi- lingual. :)
    Maybe I will get a college student to come and live with us next school year- or maybe I should not be so lazy and learn Japanese!!!

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    • August 26, 2010 6:05 pm

      You are so wonderful that you provide Sebastian the opportunity to learn Japanese! What you are facing is so much more challenging than mine and I was very encouraged by reading your comment! Thanks! I think your idea of having a Japanese student come live with you is a great idea though! (Baby sitter!) There is an Argentinian girl in my Bahasa Indonesian class and she moved to Jakarta with an American expat family whom she met back in Buenos Aires. She is an au pair and lives with the family so that the children in the family will not lose Spanish as they acquired the language when they lived in Argentina. People nowadays value having multiple languages and I am one of them!

      Like

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