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Posts tagged ‘bilingual’

Growing up bilingual: Misa’s Story

About a week  ago, I received an email from a reader who, after reading some of my posts about bilingualism, wanted to share her story about growing up bilingual. Here’s Misa’s story. 

What would you do, if your child had to become bilingual? My life changed just like that, when my mom gave birth to me in North Carolina, U.S.A.

            My hair is black, my eyes are brown, my skin is yellow and I could speak both Japanese and English. I was born in North Carolina and stayed there for a year and then moved to Georgia. I don’t actually remember the days when I lived in North Carolina, so my life practically started in Georgia, is what I think. Living in America was nothing different to me. Although my parents are both Japanese, and of course I’m Japanese, my home town is America, so nothing got in my way. I went to school in America and acted like American like every child does. I understood myself as Japanese, but inside my heart was all American. To think about it now, maybe it was weird, but that how I was those days. When I was in 4th grade, I was going to school normally. When one of the students in my class asked me, “You look Japanese, but speak English with no trouble. You speak Japanese too right? So, which one are you?”

            That gave me a shock. Since I was born in America and had been living until then, I never thought about who I really was. As a 4th grader, nothing really came up on my mind. I thought myself as an American because I was born in America and I wanted to be an American because that was how I grew up to be, but is that actually the truth? Then, an idea came up to me, when I thought about my other school, Japanese school, popped into my head. Japanese school is an ordinary school that I went to during my American life, only on Saturdays, studying for 7 hours every week. Those days, I hated to go to Japanese school because I didn’t know why I had to learn Japanese when I was in America. I loved America and prayed that I would never leave America and was just confused of my mixed life. I loved my friends there, but I never liked to study about Japan. Maybe I was just stupid, but that’s how I honestly felt during those days. Though I didn’t like to study in Japanese School, when I thought about the question my classmate asked me, maybe that was why my parents made me go to Japanese school. What I thought was that maybe my parents understood my inside feeling and that’s why they made me go to Japanese school only on Saturdays. They probably didn’t want me to forget the feeling to be Japanese since they are Japanese. Though I thought about that, I still don’t really know the actual answer to the question, but I hope it has got a little closer to the answer of what I wanted.

            On June 26, 2008, my life in America ended. I had to move to Japan for my dad’s work. At first, I begged my parents to leave me in America, but nothing changed their mind. They took me to Japan to let me see the outer world of America. It wasn’t like I had never gone outside of America, but that was what they told me to persuade to come. Once I got there, I took a test to go to the school and succeeded. From September, that was where I went. That school that I went to aimed of policy like America with much freedom like no uniform and you could wear any hairstyle you would like, but probably because it was in Japan, it was nothing like America’s school. Though that was the truth about the school I went to, since each and every one of them was from a different country. I liked the way how each student in school had their very own thought. As I say, they each had their own color to themselves. For example, if you give each country in this world a color, that person that has been living there, would have that color inside of them. And also, if that person moved to another country, that person will get that color inside of them as well. Like that, the school I went to had many colors. Meaning, unless you were not living in the totally the same place everywhere with someone else, no one would have the same color as you. And that was how, I explain my unique school as a rainbow with many more patterns. Thanks to that, I was able to not blend in, but get along well with my very good friends.

            I might go through many troubles living in this country, going to this school, but because everyone has their own thought, I think I will be able to get it over with, with many people’s advice.

            I hope, when I end my life, that I would be able to understand of who I really am and why I was born in this weird colorful life.

Thanks Misa!

What a beautiful way to describe being bilingual! So, what color/s are you?

About Misa: She is a 16 year old high school student who is still living…you guessed it, Japan!

How do I raise a bilingual child?

I know many parents, who are bilingual, that are asking themselves that very same question. Some parents speak a different language than their partner and there are some people who are not bilingual but would like their children to be bilingual. The same question, however, the way each family addresses the bilingual education is very different. So, how do we raise bilingual children? Let’s review a few approaches. 

  • One parent-one language approach. Here each parent speak their native language to the child. That way the child has daily influence of both languages. This really help the child acquire both sets of words at the same time.
  • Time-based approach. Here, both parents have to be bilingual (if possible), and as a family choose when to speak each language. It could be by month (one month one language, then the second language and keep switching), or weekly or even daily (e.g. Spanish in the morning, English at night). This approach reinforces learning both languages with both parents.
  • Home language-community language approach. Here parents speak a different language than the dominant language in the community. For example, Spanish-speaking parents living in the United States. With this approach (very common in the United States, by the way), the child hears the first language (or Native Language) at home and will usually start learning the second language (community language) when he/she goes to school. In this situation the child might have a strong language background to support the second language learning.
  • Mixed language approach. Here both (or one at least) parents are bilingual and the child is exposed to both languages all or most of the time. This approach is slightly different from the one parent-one language approach because the child learns to speak both languages with both parents and does not have to choose a language for a specific parent. 

Things to consider when choosing your approach: When choosing a style of bilingual acquisition, take into consideration that growing up, the child will use more the language that is NEEDED the most. If the home-language is different from the community-language, as they grow, they won’t use the home-language as much, because they realize that they NEED the community-language to “survive”. However, if the home-language is reinforced by all (or most) members of the family as much as they can, the home-language will become “important” as well to “survive” (at least at home!)

Also, consider exposing the child as soon as possible (in the womb, remember?). Early exposure of both languages, will help the child acquire language similar to monolingual children.

I think I will choose the first and second approach for my kids. What do you do? Any other suggestions?

photo: iStock