A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism

I’ve been reading a lot of books about bilingual education, and this is the latest. Actually, I’ve read three, and the other two are both recommended in the back of this one, which is quite encouraging. They all have distinctly different approaches, but they also all agree on two points.

First, raising your child bilingual is a very good idea, and very good for the child. Second, it’s a lot of work. You have to think carefully about the language environment, and try to balance it.

I think it’s inevitable that Yudetamago will grow up with stronger Japanese, unless we move out of Japan (no plans for that at the moment), since Yuriko and I will continue speaking to each other in Japanese; I’ll talk to Yudetamago in English.

Anyway, the main difference about this book was that it is more focussed on schools, and on minority languages. This is no doubt due to the author’s background: he lives in Wales, and his children are English/Welsh bilingual. Thus, there is a lot of interesting information on how to set up schools to support bilingual children, and on what to look for in a school. I suspect we won’t get as much choice as we might like, although sending Yudetamago to an English-medium school would be an option, if we had enough money.

Another interesting point was that this book confirmed something I strongly suspected based on personal experience. Older children and adults learn foreign languages faster than young children. The difference is that younger children tend to end up with a better accent, and have more years to study in total. I was convinced that my Japanese was better than a Japanese seven-year-old, and it’s nice to be told that I’m probably right. In another eight years, I might even be able to write grammatically-accurate Japanese.

Overall, I think that this book will be less immediate use than the others, due to its emphasis on schools, but in a few years’ time it will probably be very useful indeed.

Posted in Books, Our Child.

2 Comments

  1. I do not think you emphasised the main point enough. The major, and most important, distinction between a truely bilingual speaker and a person who can speak two languages is the accent. The grammar, vocabulary, and to a certain extent, the idioms, can be learned later but the accent is very difficult to acquire. Yudetamago has a very rare oppportunity to become truely bilingual if only you speak to her in English and Yuriko only in Japanese. However, it sounds as though that may be very difficult.
    I have lived in the States for 12 years but it is perfecty clear to the native speakers that have an English (or South African, or Australian!) accent even though I tend not to “hear” American accents any more. See, I can’t even learn American!!

    Thought of writing a book on the topic? It could become the definitive work in a few years time. You’ve already done (some/most of) the background reading 🙂 You also have your own (and access to Silver’s) experience in learning Japanese to compare and contast the differences with Yedetamago’s learning curve.

  2. From my own experience in attempting to learn other languages, one builds on another. Once I got the idea of how to handle learning, it started to fall into a pattern. Also, I find that features found in one can be easier to grasp and remember when one has come across something similar elsewhere in another language. So, adults are more likely to have this advantage.

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