Raising Bilingual Kids

Last night Biggie was still under the weather. He spent the whole day in bed reading and sleeping. At about 10 pm I heard him rustling around - he had had a nightmare about some of the characters from Harry Potter.

This morning he finished reading the first book in the Harry Potter series. He read the whole thing on his own in English. I am so pleased he loved it. I bought that book for him five years ago and was saving it until he could read, understand and love it for himself.

Today at lunch we were discussing the book and some of the lead characters. Little Guy piped up with something about a book. He said clearly "where's the book mummy?" then he turned to his father and said "where's the book daddy?" in perfect (two year old) Japanese. It was the first time I have heard him switching, that is seamlessly choosing the right language for the conversation/person at hand. It was exciting for me even though we witnessed the same development in Biggie. It's just really really cool!

For those of you who don't know me personally, we live in Japan but I am from New Zealand so English is my native language. Both of our boys were born in Japan (their father is Japanese). Since birth we have practiced OPOL - one parent, one language. That means my kids and I speak only English to each other and they speak only Japanese to their father or any other Japanese native speaker.

It's probably quite fun to watch the kids switching languages at the dinner table when we are all together. Mr. Mee a Bee and I speak English to each other. The three of them have an advantage in that they can all understand most of what is said in English. But when they are rabbiting in Japanese I confess to tuning them out a lot of the time since I can't pick it all up. They don't know how lucky they are to be bilingual.


  1. That is just lovely that your kids are bilingual, I would love that for my kids. Children are amazing at language..I lived in Thailand for a couple of years and have taken my eldest son back often. When he was really little he picked Thai up so easily that I wished we could have stayed longer so that he really got the hang of it! I was ok ..but more small sentences that just helped me get by. I think it is fantastic the way you are making sure that your children learn both languages equally! x

  2. It is amazing, isn't it? Mine switch back and forth without a second thought. Listening to the kids talk to each other is funny though as they mix English and Japanese to form their own crazy language. It always kind of stuns me when people talk about how great it is that our kids are bilingual and all as it is just a part of life for us.

  3. IT is very good to hear your story and how you manage raising billingual children...In my case I am french my hubby Australian one child born in France and one in Australia...My hubby do not speak french and not many people do around were we have been leaving, so English has become THE dominant language.I have made sure I speak French to the girls but as English has become the family language, the girls first language is English...Luckuly,with Family contact and trips to France their French is pretty good...
    Sometimes I wish I would have adopt the OPOL method like you.
    How do you manage with your Japanese language?

  4. Wish I had adopt the OPOL like you. Unfortunately, I caved in and let my son stopped his Chinese lessons after 5 yrs. of weekend schooling. He was learning Hebrew at Sunday school at that time as well. Being in the US, English is our family language. He is keeping up with both (besides English) but really shy about using them. Sounds like your kids have a good solid foundation with both languages, so please keep that up.

  5. That is so cool. My husband's parents made a conscious effort not to teach him spanish (their native language) because they wanted him to be "American". Now they regret it that he doesn't speak spanish! I would love them to teach our girls, but to pick it up that effortlessly they would have to live with them.

  6. That is awesome! It is so difficult to pick up a second (or more) language after you are an adult. Your kids are lucky to be raised with two languages.

  7. It's interesting how many people are part of International families or have lived in a global situation. The world is really getting smaller.

  8. I am constantly amazed as well.And I totally agree with Sherry's comment about being stunned by the assumption that being bilingual comes naturally to our bi-cultural kids.Our kids deserve far more credit!


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