Growing Up with Two Languages

Since learning that Yuriko is pregnant, I have been reading books about child rearing. Obviously, it’s true that there’s a lot of stuff you can’t learn from books, or indeed from any source other than personal experience, but there is still quite a lot that you can learn from reading. So, recently I read Growing Up with Two Languages, the topic of which should be clear from the title. Yuriko and I both want to raise Yudetamago speaking both English and Japanese, for several reasons. The most important is making sure that our child can communicate with my parents; since we anticipate being in Japan for at least the next few years, learning Japanese should not be a problem.

This is the second book I’ve read on this topic, and so far both agree that One Parent – One Language is a good way to go. Indeed, they both agree that parents should talk to their children in their native language, so that the parent can be fully comfortable when explaining things. So we’re going to do that.

This book put a strong emphasis on the need to provide substantial input in both languages. In other words, I have to spend lots of time talking to our child, reading stories, and singing lullabies. Oh, the burden! It also emphasises the work involved; children might be very good at learning languages, but learning two is still harder than learning one. Thus, it is, apparently, very common for the languages to be at different levels of competence. In particular, the majority language (Japanese, in this case) tends to be stronger than the minority language (which will be English). Finding other children who speak the minority language is recommended, because a monolingual playgroup is a good context for learning to use the language like a child. I’ll have to look into that; fortunately, English speakers are not unheard of around Tokyo.

Actually, in a lot of ways it looks like we have almost the ideal combination. The minority language (English) has a very high status in the majority culture. That is, almost all Japanese people want to be able to speak English. The ease with which I can sell my services as an English teacher is evidence for this, but the use of English in adverts also reveals it. No-one is going to suggest that it is bad for our child to learn English, and it’s quite likely that some parents will want to get English lessons for their child through ours. Materials in the minority language are easily available, and other minority language speakers live in the local area.

One thing that this book emphasised was the importance of having two cultures as well as two languages. Visits to countries where the minority language is the sole or main language are highly recommended. Thus, it looks like we might have to plan for somewhat extended visits to the grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Fortunately, the grandparents have not been indicating that this would be a serious problem. Obviously, that only becomes necessary when the child can talk, so we do have a bit of time to work out details.

This book avoided the term “bilingual”, due to lack of clarity over its meaning. By the standards that are sometimes applied, a large number of people do not even count as monolingual: they cannot converse fluently about any arbitrary subject in their native language. On the other hand, on other definitions anyone who can say “hello” and “goodbye” in a foreign language counts. I count on just about all definitions, but I don’t sound like a Japanese native. (Yet.) Still, I think it’s a useful shorthand.

Overall, this was a very useful book. It made the process sound rather more work than the last one I read, and it will probably be even more work than that. On the other hand, it also made it sound very definitely worth doing. So we’ll just have to try our best.

Mother-Child Health Record Book

The Mother-Child Health Record Book is a small book issued to all pregnant women by the Japanese government. The actual records go in the first half, which is set by the national government, while the second half, written by the local government, contains additional useful information for parents-to-be. The book covers the time from becoming pregnancy until the child starts elementary school at six, and has been part of the Japanese system for years; Yuriko’s mother had one for her, for example. I suspect that the content has changed, however.

It tells the mother when she should go to see the doctor during pregnancy, and when the child should have check-ups afterwards. It also contains a list of questions about the child’s development, which includes questions to check for hearing and visual problems early on, something I gather from one of the books I read is very important. There are graphs for recording the child’s height, weight, and head size, showing the mid range and with notes about how far outside the normal range the child needs to be before you start worrying. It also covers vaccinations, and dentistry.

The second half includes basic advice on raising a child: breastfeeding is best, the father should be involved, discipline should not involve hitting, friends are good. It seems pretty uncontroversial stuff, and generally supportive of families with two involved parents. It does, however, seem to assume that situation, which tells us something about the social situation in Japan. Basically, it’s probably still reasonable to assume that children will be raised in a two-parent family here, although I’m not sure how long that will remain true.

The book is issued by the local government when the woman goes to tell them that she’s pregnant. At least in Kawasaki, it also comes with a stack of other literature, which I haven’t read yet (although Yuriko has). This includes information about the government financial assistance for mothers. All the obstetric clinics, I believe, tell women to get their record books very early, because it includes vouchers for some free examinations.

I think this is a brilliant idea. It gets the necessary basic information into the hands of every mother, and I think most, if not all, women read it. According to Yuriko, when she looks in maternity sections of shops, there are lots of cloth covers available for the book; it seems to be a fairly important part of child-bearing culture here. I don’t know whether anywhere else does something similar, but if they don’t, I think they probably should.

After all, children don’t otherwise come with a manual.

Earthquake, but not here

As people are likely to hear from the news, there was a big earthquake in Japan this morning, a bit over an hour ago. However, it was in Ishikawa-ken, which is the other side of the country from Tokyo, so we hardly felt it. (Go west across the width of Japan; that’s Ishikawa-ken, roughly.) So, we’re fine. The first reports on how people in Ishikawa-ken are are still coming in, though, so I don’t know how they are.

Midnight, Second Edition

I think I might be able to catch up a bit on writing about the books I’ve been reading. The problems with my blog meant I fell behind, and then I was busy with work. However, today is a public holiday here (Spring Equinox), so I have no students, and my other work went well this morning, so I’m finished very early.

So: Midnight, Second Edition. This is a setting for d20 (Dungeons and Dragons, basically) that can be summed up in two words: “Sauron won”. It is a hundred years after the Dark Lord won the final battle against the forces of good, and you get to play the resistance.

The setting is Tolkienesque, as it really has to be to work. The basic idea, after all, is that the thing you can absolutely rely on in Tolkienesque fantasy didn’t happen. The elves are perhaps the most reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings, bringing Galadriel and Lothlorien irresistably to mind. The dwarfs are also a lot like Tolkien’s. The humans and other races, however, are rather different. The Dark Lord (called Izrador) is served by armies of orcs, but also has human priests.

Characters themselves are made rather more powerful than they are in standard d20 games, unless they are spellcasters, in which case they are weaker, particularly at high levels. In addition, there are few magic items, and treasure means food or tools, not gold or gems. This makes the basic experience very different from standard D&D, and, probably not accidentally, rather more like The Lord of the Rings.

And that brings me to the only real weakness with the setting book: it is not quite clear enough how you should run adventures in the setting. Overthrowing Izrador is explicitly beyond the scope of the game, reasonably enough. In the setting, holding the line against him is the best that has ever been achieved. The book is not clear on what could be achieved, however. Could the PCs reasonably hope to liberate a city and hold it against the armies of the Dark God? Unite the dwarfs? Destroy the great tower of Theros Obsidia, the fortress where Izrador’s presence manifests? Kill one of the Night Kings, the four dread lieutenants of Izrador? The guidelines do say that it is important to keep hope alive, but don’t make it clear what the designers envisage you hoping for.

I have the first edition as well, and the second edition does spend more time on this topic, but it still isn’t enough, in my opinion.

Of course, I can make my own decisions. Personally, I’d let a group of player characters achieve any of the things on the list above, although I probably wouldn’t let one group achieve all of them. The setting does provide lots of places where adventure can happen, and in that respect it’s an excellent piece of work. It also covers a wide range of possible styles of play; it’s even possible to get away from the constant threat of Izrador and play more “classic” adventures, although doing that all the time would rather miss the point.

Overall, then, I can recommend this book. It does what it sets out to do very well, and the only flaw is one that any competent GM can easily rectify.

Walking to Shibuya

Yesterday I walked to Shibuya.

All told, it took me about four hours, but that included popping into a couple of shrines I passed on the way, and a shop, and getting a bit lost around the Tama river, and eating lunch just as I arrived in Shibuya. Looking at the map, it’s about ten miles from here to there, so three hours for the actual walking bit is probably about right. I definitely noticed that I had to slow down a bit after an hour and a half, as my legs were starting to ache.

Now, the obvious question would be “why?”, given that there’s a perfectly good train service to Shibuya, and it isn’t even that expensive. Basically, I felt like going for a longer walk than normal, the weather was good, and going to Shibuya meant that I could eat at the other end and get the train back. It was also a good way to get a feeling for the geography of Kawasaki and Tokyo along a route I use a lot. I did notice that, when it’s just me, it doesn’t actually take me much longer to walk to Mizonokuchi station than it takes to get the bus, once you figure in time spent waiting, so I may do that more often in future. Walking to Shibuya, however, is likely to be just this once. The walk was fun, but I think I’ll head in different directions if I do it again.

I didn’t see any terribly exciting things on the way; I was following a main road, rather than get lost down back streets that didn’t link up, so there were a lot of shops, a large park left over from the Tokyo Olympics, a few shrines and temples, and quite a lot of residential areas. But then, it was just nice to walk through Tokyo, on a pleasant day.

I did get the train back, however.

More Baby Pictures

So, one of things I couldn’t write about while my access to my blog was broken was our visit to the Ob/Gyn clinic for a check-up on Saturday. I just got to sit there and nod and smile, but Yuriko seems to appreciate me doing that.

We had ultrasound scans done again. The first was a standard 2D ultrasound, but then the doctor did a 3D ultrasound scan. 2D scans are all very well, but they are fuzzy patches of white on a black field. With the aid of the doctor, it is not too hard to work out which bit is which. On the other hand, if the doctor said “This is a radar image of the surface of Titan. Look, you can see the methane lakes”, I might believe him. (“Why is your ultrasound machine connected to Cassini?” would probably come to mind as a question, however.)

The 3D ultrasound scan, however, looks like a baby. It really is a baby picture. We can see Yudetamago’s arms, legs, head, and see how they are positioned. It’s quite remarkable, and looks a lot like the pictures in Watch Me Grow, the book that my Mum bought us. Except, of course, that this is our baby. Yudetamago is not a very distinct individual yet, but by next time we might well be able to see the face properly. (That also depends on the relative positions of baby and camera, however.)

Yudetamago, by the way, is our nickname for the baby. “Yu” is the first character of Yuriko’s name, “de” (the “e” is pronounced) is the first character of mine, and “tamago” means “egg”. “Yudetamago” is also the Japanese for “boiled egg”.

Anyway, the check-up and blood test did not turn up any problems, so we’ll be going back in about a month for the next routine check-up. In the meantime, I’m reading more books about child-rearing.

No Longer Broken Blog

My blog has been broken for the last few days, in that I haven’t been able to connect to add entries. It now appears to be fixed again (whether due to something my webhosting company did, or due to the vagaries of Shub-Internet, I know not), so normal service will be resumed as of today.

Man in the Middle

Well, I read all of John Amaechi’s autobiography this afternoon. See the previous article, “As Others See Us”, for my reaction to the bit about me. Since the book isn’t about me, I’ll try to keep this post about him.

It was very interesting. He worked very hard to achieve something he wanted to do, and now is using the influence and money gained to do something he believes in. It’s something I can wholeheartedly approve of, too. While I wouldn’t do basketball, the ABC Foundation is the sort of thing I’d like to think that I’d do with the money if I had that much. John, of course, actually has it, and actually is doing it, which puts him a long way above my pure talk.

It’s also clear from the book that it is deeply unpleasant to be gay and in the closet, particularly in a homophobic society. I’m glad he’s been able to come out.

Overall, though, it sounds like his life has not been very enjoyable. Starting from the betrayal by his only friend at primary school (it wasn’t like that, honest), he doesn’t seem to have had much luck with friends, and wasn’t even doing a job he particularly liked. It’s hard to shake the impression that it all starts now: now that he can give his time to mentoring young basketball players, and doesn’t have to worry about the press picking up on his sexuality, he can actually get on with living his life.

I guess you would get more out of the book if you knew anything about basketball; I’d heard of some of the people he mentioned, but not all, by a long chalk, even of the ones mentioned without any other reference, as people “everyone knows”.

With the perspective of the whole book, it looks like I really hurt him back when he was 12, enough that it still smarts 25 years later. It would be nice to have the chance to apologise for that. Alas, I can’t think of any way to do it that might sound even vaguely sincere (“Hey, famous millionaire, I’m really sorry I was mean to you at primary school, can we be friends again?” Hmmm…), and 25 years after the fact is, after all, a bit late. I don’t even have any clear memory of what I did anymore, although, as I mentioned, I do remember feeling that I’d got it wrong, somehow. I’d like to apologise, because it hurt him and I think I must have been in the wrong (I can’t even directly remember that). Public expressions of regret don’t count; I would need to apologise directly. And that looks impossible.

On the other hand, it looks like it smarts 25 years later. It doesn’t look like I played a major negative role in his life. I certainly hope not.

Anyway, I can go on playing no role in his life, as, I can hope, the best is yet to come.