Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Last day of yochien

In Japan, from my limited understanding, children go to preschool and kindergarten from ages 3-6 and then enter formal school at grade 1. B has had his graduation ceremonies from both schools. They were very cute. The children sang songs. For one school, they had written books and these books were presented at the graduation.

I'm not sure what the ceremony was supposed to look like, but for both there were speeches and the children sang songs. Other than that, there was presenting of diplomas and a lot of bowing. B seemed to know what was going on even if his parents didn't.

Today is his last day of yochien. In one school, he will continue on to grade 1. In the other, we are probably going to move him to the conversational class. I guess it's to be expected that I'm feeling nostalgic. I remember when he started Japanese music class as a toddler. It seems strange to think that now he's going to be in a full academic more toys and circle time.

This summer we will have to practice a lot. We (he and I) are planning to go to Japan next spring. One of his friends told him about the cherry blossoms, and even though there are similar events in our city, I think it'd be nice to see them in Japan. I'm reading lots of travel blogs about going to Japan in order to inspire myself to save money and practice Japanese. So far it's helped with the saving money part but I still haven't been practicing Japanese enough.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Might have to move to fundamentals class

At the preschool level, the children mostly play. So in Japanese school, it hasn't mattered much that B can't speak fluent Japanese.

Now that he is going into grade 1, he'll have to do actual class work in Japanese. In one of his schools, they wait until grade 2 before the children are divided. But in his second school, the fundamentals class (where they learn how to speak Japanese) starts in grade 1.

Something tells me that the reason his teacher told me that she wants to talk to me about next year is because she wants him to go into fundamentals.

I guess part of me had been hoping that he'd be fluent by now, even though I knew I hadn't been doing enough and I myself am not fluent.

It's obvious that the only way he's going to become fluent is if I become fluent. I think if I let him go on his own he will become comfortable but not fluent. He likes learning languages because he likes people so he needs people to talk to.

I wish we could afford to go to Japan this summer.

I wonder if he can catch up or if he is already too far behind?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A fun challenge

Each morning,  I am trying to speak only in Japanese for as long as possible.

It's been 3 days. My record so far is about 20 minutes. I am going to keep trying - maybe I'll get all the way to school drop off! I have a few phrases I need to learn how to say so I'm going to spend some time tomorrow morning studying.

I think this is the type of thing that encourages me to use more Japanese. It occurs to me that if I can get to breakfast, I could just read to him in Japanese until it's time to leave for school. Should I let that count or does it need to be conversation?

The toy continues to be used and to be loud.

We have been practicing hiragana, but today he complained about it even though we've only been doing a few minutes at a time (I show him a character and some things that start with that character, then he writes the character 5 times). I'll cut this for a bit.

Other things I'm working on:

I have another friend who is willing to help teach me Mandarin. I now just have to make a plan beyond vocabulary building, which is all I have been doing so far.

B asked for.a play date with a kid from his Japanese school, and somehowly this is looking like not only will he get play dates, but we might be forming a Japanese playgroup (although maybe you don't call it a playgroup when all the children are school aged?) My hopes are already high because not only are the kids fun and well behaved, their parents are friendly and seem interested in being friends. One mom I'm already friends with because she's the one who suggested the school.

I am feeling like this is possible. He might not be fully trilingual, which is the goal, but I think he will get pretty close by the time he's a teenager. And by then he might have different goals. It's hard to say how much my influence affects his goals - I did choose Japanese, but he chose Mandarin because he's  got friends who speak Mandarin.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Update on toy; putting together summer plan

Okay, the toy car book is really neat, but it is loud! And annoying. He's very interested in it and it will definitely reinforce some of his vocabulary.

I am vaguely reminded of the toy firestation my cousins got for B. It shouts at you in Spanish and in English. Maybe I should dig that out and pass it along to a family that wants to learn Spanish. I'm sure that will make me popular.

I think I'm going to count the time he spends playing with the toy toward my attempts to increase his Japanese exposure to 20%. Because he sleeps about 10 hours a night, 20% is 20 hours a week. I'm going to give myself a couple of weeks to finish up with work and then really focus on how I'm going to do this during the summer. In summer he does have daycamp for several weeks but for the other weeks I'm on my own.

Today I'm going to talk to some of the other parents at Japanese school and see if any of them are interested in play dates. Even if the kids don't speak in Japanese, being around other kids who are learning Japanese helps B stay motivated to learn.

He told me how to say "Hey, what's up?" in Mandarin today. I've been picking up words from the mom who I'm helping with English. I think he's picking up words from his friends at school. I looked at classes, and our options are an intensive summer program this summer, or waiting until he's 7. Everything else would be really hard to schedule. And there's the fact that I'm feeling reluctant to commit to Mandarin, because it would be easier to choose a language I know.

I think we've hit a plateau. He's not making any giant leaps in comprehension, and we just have to work steadily to get anywhere. It's going to be a bit of a slog this summer.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Bought an annoying toy

Today I wandered into what I thought was an expensive kids' clothing store looking for a particular item. They didn't have what I was looking for, but they did have a small selection of Japanese books - the kind that play music when you press buttons. Most of them, despite the Japanese writing, sang in English but one of them spoke in Japanese.

There is a key that you turn which makes a revving sound, a steering wheel that pops up and you can steer, buttons which give directions, and the book part which has various scenes. My son is a bit too old for it. I bought it anyway.

I'm trying to justify it by saying that we would have bought it before if we had gone into the store. And even though we are trying to declutter, we don't want him to grow up too fast.

In the end, he does need to practice Japanese, and the more we surround him the better. Plus, it's a neat toy. He can set up chairs and pretend he's driving a car, or I can bring it with us and he can play with it in our car if we have to wait when we are picking someone up.

Okay. I think I have sufficiently justified this purchase. It's just tricky, because I would not have bought the same toy if it were in English. (Actually, I haven't bought him any toys in awhile...)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Fun Part

This is turning out to be a busy time of the year, and it's getting hard to fit everything in. (Music, reading, Japanese - it all takes time). For B, though, we have hit a lot of the fun things. Last weekend was his Japanese school's sports day. He got a ribbon in the sprint, fell during the monkey race, ate a doughnut in the doughnut eating race, and generally had a good day. He said, "it's a good thing we're Japanese so we get to do these things". In class, they made Mother's Day gifts and are learning new songs.

My friend got me all panicked though. She went to a seminar about teaching your child a second language, where she was told that for a child to achieve native fluency (not bilingualism) 20% of their time needs to be in the target language. It was recommended that parents draw up a timetable of the week and, in two hour chunks, record which language is the dominant language for each time period. B is at around 6 hours a week. Most of his input is in little bits here and there.

So I've increased his screen time, which he enjoys, and he's watching more Japanese kids' videos. (Mostly Pocoyo on YouTube). I got a few more books from the library, which I read to him. He can do worksheets, too, but I try to limit this because he seems a bit young to actually learn anything from them. A worksheet does give me a bit of structure to our practice though. We also do flash cards.

Now that he is finishing kindergarten, I do feel a bit disappointed that he's not fluent. Not that I expect him to have done more, but I feel like I could have tried harder or focused on it more. Even so, I'm not signing him up for as much Japanese summer camp as I could - so I'm the one making this choice.

I am going to sign myself up for a Japanese class though. During the summer, I think I can take a weeklong class. I'm lucky to have summers mostly off.

So he's still having fun with what he is doing. I think it's going to get harder as he gets older because his skills are not keeping up with the other kids' and he also wants to continue music. I'm restricting other activities to summer camps so that he doesn't get overprogrammmed, but he doesn't have as much time as the other kids and he doesn't have parents who are either fluent in Japanese or are musical so he really does have to do everything the long way.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Lost focus

I lost focus for a while. I'm not sure why. It does sometimes feel like regular parenting takes a lot of effort, and my job takes effort, and so I run out of energy for other things.

I also am having trouble because, well, it kind of feels like the amount of output is not equal to the amount of input, but I guess that makes sense.

He is still enjoying his classes though. For one of them, the children made little stores and then on parents' day, they sold the things they had made to the parents. The parents also made stores. It was very cute. Each child made a book for the bookstore and toys and pets for the toy and pet stores. Then in pairs, they ran the different shops. First the children ran their shops, and then the parents ran corresponding shops. B chose to run the bookstore (honya) so I got to run a bookstore with another parent. I made colouring books for all the kids, with the added feature of find-the-penguin-on-each-page.

It was fun! I had a bit of trouble remembering the words for buying and selling, but I muddled my way through and don't think I messed any of the kids up. I couldn't tell how B did but I think he did better than I did. He was very excited about his purchases, although he apparently had a lot of trouble deciding at some of the stores (each parent brought 11 items, one for each child, but some parents did the same thing for all of the kids and some parents brought a variety. Plus, when you are 5, choosing which colour you want is a big decision). 

I went to Daiso the other day and bought a math workbook in Japanese. He does a bit of math in his Japanese classes and he likes math, so it's an easy way for me to get Japanese practice in. I'm just going to find little ways until I can get organized and focused again. I've barely even been reading to him!

Okay, I'm going to go tidy up and get everything in place to do something fun this afternoon. I'm trying out making lift the flap pages for him. Sometimes I just need something new to make things feel fresh, maybe that'll push me a bit.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

A good year

Today when we arrived at Japanese school, there was a book under B's attendance record. I had ordered a lot of books back in November. We received 13 of them in January - a picture book and a bunch of children's non-fiction (dinosaurs, flowers, vehicles, etc).

What arrived today was a sort of magazine style book. There is an intro to the characters, a short story, a sticker activity, and a couple of one page stories. It's aimed a bit young for B (it's more for 3 or 4 year olds) but he still enjoyed it and will do the activity. I told him that the school will set it up so that he gets one each month for a year, and he said, "that's a good year".

There are other series you can order, including ones that the school didn't offer in November, so perhaps they will arrange for them next year. This year the school only offered the book order to the 4 and 5 year old classes, but maybe if this year went well they will expand it for next year?
This was one of the inserts. I haven't looked at the YouTube channel or anything else yet, but we will take a look on a day when we feel like doing something different for Japanese practice.

So it was a fun day. B made some kind of elastic band device in Japanese class. He says it is his favourite. It is a folded piece of a juice box with an elastic holding the fold together. The elastic is twisted once and is held in place by slits cut into the juice box. When he opens the book-like juice box rectangle and basically turns it inside out, it jumps.

In English news, he can now read. He's reading fairly simple phonics based readers, but he's reading. He's pretty pleased with himself - we've been working on this in small doses for over a year now, and I don't think he realized that eventually he'd be able to read by himself. I'm pretty excited for him.

Monday, March 28, 2016

back to the routine

I can still read better than B can, but I think he is more comfortable than I am with speaking in Japanese. Which is actually funny, because I know how to speak properly. He just uses the words he knows - and he knows more words than I do - and sort of jams them into sentences.

The funny part if that he gets annoyed when I don't understand what he's saying. So he says something like: "fast going leg sick" and I don't immediately understand what he's talking about. He acts like I'm ignoring him, and when I finally figure out what he's talking about and respond, he acts like I should have known all along. ("Why are you going so fast? It's making my leg hurt.")

So all the articles you read about kids learning languages faster because they aren't afraid to make mistakes are true, at least in my kid's case.

During the break, we got almost nothing done, so this week is going to be a bit rushed. At least he didn't get any homework from his classes, so I don't have to figure that out. Also during the break, two of his friends moved away. Both families moved to Japan, so at least we will have more Japanese pen pals, but he will miss his friends. One of them is from his kindergarten class and one is from the grade above. The older boy is the one we walk home from school with on most days.

People move in and out of here quite a bit, so while it's nice to live in a multicultural community, it's hard because there are always families moving away. B doesn't really understand and thinks his friends will come back.

The first friend he had who moved away was also from Japan. It was quite cute because he decided to send the friend a card. We took it to the post office because I wasn't sure of the postage as it was an odd sized envelope, and B told the man behind the counter, "I want to send this to my friend S. He lives in Japan now". He fully expected that the man would personally deliver it, I guess like they do in cartoons.

We have been practicing transportation words. I'm trying to give him new vocabulary in sentences now, instead of just telling him the word. I think that will help him incorporate words more quickly. So now every time he does an action, I say the entire sentence rather than just the verb or noun I am focusing on.

This post is all over the place, but it kind of matches the rest of my life, which is sort of all over the place. Tomorrow we resume our regular routine, which will be nice.

Monday, March 21, 2016

How much the second language is costing (in money)

Bilingualism can be expensive. I don't think French will cost as much, since we can teach him a lot at home and he has several friends who are learning French whom he can practice on, but if he changes his mind and picks Mandarin instead, it will cost more than Japanese because we have no background knowledge at all.

A lot of Japanese has to be outsourced. I'm finding that there is a lot that I wasn't even aware that I didn't know, so I'm grateful that we have the classes available. We have spent more on books than I thought but because they have to come from Japan, they are more expensive. I do borrow some books from the library and should probably do more of that rather than buying because expenses are mounting and we are running out of space. I am also considering just doing one school next year because he wants to do a martial art and there are only so many days of the week, but we are concerned about decreasing because he really has progressed a lot.

Here is this school year's breakdown (August 2015 - present):

Preschool camp during summer, 3 weeks, half days: $420
School 1 (2.5 hours per week): $780 for the year
School 2 (2.25 hours per week): $550 so far (I think, haven't dug out the receipts)
We have to sign up for the next set so that will be another $260.

Books: $300
Plus we received some books as gifts.
We have bought a few workbooks, maybe $20

In previous years, we spent less:
School last year: $770
Books last year: $250

The year before he just had music class and a babysitter who spoke Japanese but we bought more books.

The first year he just had the music class and he didn't have that for the whole year. We spent about $200 on books.

We're pretty lucky that we can afford these.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

During the break

We're a few days into Spring Break, and it already feels like it is flying by. We haven't gotten as much done as I had hoped, although because the weather has been nicer I've been trying to get lots of outside time in.

His last class before Spring Break for his Saturday school was the school festival. B was interested in more of the activities this year, so that was fun. It's still a bit confusing and we missed the story time because it took me awhile to figure out the announcement and then B walked the opposite way so we had to follow him. He had a good time though, and his teachers read to him a lot, so it's not a big deal.

I've been making him little reading worksheets by writing a few words on a page. Each word is for an object, and then I put the toys that match the words next to the paper. So this morning I had a tiny toy sushi, a small plastic star, and a little bead butterfly. I had written the words on the paper. When B found it at his spot, he put each object next to its word. It's simple and doesn't feel like work to him.

We've also been listening to a vocabulary CD in the car. It's one of those ones that comes with a phrase book. I've picked up a few words, and I think B has as well.

We're doing well on the non-language goals for Spring Break. I'm going to have to put more effort into his language practice, especially as there are no classes and I would like him to speak in Japanese at least 7 hours a week. (30 would be awesome but at this time does not seem possible).

Friday, March 11, 2016

The time Google Translate was not helpful

B has homework for his Japanese classes. I didn't think this was a's kindergarten. He has to draw a picture or practice writing a character or circle the bigger object.

This week's homework was about opposites. There were pictures and sentences to go with the pictures. The problem was, I had no idea what the sentences were saying. I could read the words, but a few of the opposites eluded me. One was 2 pictures of a boy at a crosswalk, with the light going red or green. I could tell this part, but I didn't know what 'susumu' meant nor did I know what the opposite of it was (I guessed at susume meaning go or proceed so I thought maybe it was wait or stop?)  I could figure out the one about the turtle neck and the giraffe neck and most of the other ones. A couple of them B could explain to me once I read them aloud to him.

B refused to accept that we wouldn't be able to finish his homework, as "sensei won't be impressed if I don't know all the words".

So there I was, running around just before pickup, trying to find a parent who speaks Japanese. Luckily I found a mom who could check my answers and explain the two that I didn't know. (And now I know that 'stop' is 'tomaru'.)

It feels more obvious now that I'm not panicking. I guess I'm spending this weekend studying.

Although - I just arranged with a friend to do a language exchange. She will teach me some Mandarin and I will help her improve her English. It should be fun.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

It's almost a craft

B is not very interested in crafts. He will draw a picture as a gift, and when he does, it's an interesting picture with lots of animals, but he generally chooses other things to do.

However, he's very much of the mindset that he'll try anything once. So this morning we made and labelled little cutout shapes.

I drew the outline and he added details. It's a good way to get the product he wants while still getting him to do some drawing. Eventually he drew a star by himself.

After we stuck the hiragana stickers on the back, he tried to fit the shapes back into the paper to make a puzzle, but I think we had flipped the paper in between the fish and the car so it didn't work. A puzzle would be a good idea if I could make it. I have one of those blank puzzles. 

He is planning on selling these. Prices range from $6 to $1000. 

We were both pleased by the results. And it seems like a good way to practice his hiragana recognition. I'm not sure he will want to do it again but it was a pleasant activity. I'd say he recognizes shi, ku, and n of the characters we were looking for today. He found the other characters by singing the hiragana song. (The characters were in order on the sheets)

I found the stickers at the Japanese $2 store. They are labelled seals. I'm probably going to have to buy more, because we use 'n' a lot.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Cute things

This week skating ended, which frees up an afternoon. B somewhat enjoyed it - it was a bit harder than he expected. He wanted to quit, and I told him that he could but that he might want to be able to skate. He kept going, although he did think it was too hard. 

I've been getting lots of pictures and notes. The notes in English are whatever letters he decided to put down with his name (he then asks us what it says) but the notes in Japanese he asks for help with, so they're little messages. One says "I love mom". He's still in the stage where he puts letters wherever they will fit, and he does this in Japanese as well. 

I am making little books. I fold sheets of paper in half, then stack them together with a thicker piece on top and sew them together in the middle. I covered the seam on the outside with a piece of scrapbook paper. This looks nice but I think I will go get washi tape and use that. Washi tape is so fun but it's not something I've had a use for before. Now I just need to decide what to use the books for. 

I was thinking about making a hiragana workbook, but we have a couple of good ones. At least one of the little books can be a vocabulary workbook though - I can draw/trace pictures of things and then write the word under or beside it. It's nicer for B if there are not as many on a page, and I can use more individualized objects - things he likes to play with or to eat or things he owns. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Little bits

I'm hoping it's true that the little bits add up. This morning I read three picture books to him. (One was a vocabulary book; it had a picture on each page with a word under it so it wasn't very difficult). We played the card game. We tried to speak in Japanese. He played the MindSnacks Japanese app on the iPad.
Yesterday I wrote 'ha' on a piece of paper and drew 6 objects. He named each object and circled the ones that started with ha. Then he wrote ha 6 times. I made another sheet like this with 'ka' for tomorrow morning, when we'll also do his Japanese school homework.

We might not get ten hours every week, but we seem to be progressing. He is using more and more Japanese, but mostly with me, so I sometimes have to look things up and tell him later. Right now it's pretty cute though. He mostly says 'dekita!' (Done) and 'yada' (I won't do it). Other than that he's trying to ask 'where?' or to ask for help.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Just the usual things I think about

I had a bad cold on the weekend, so we didn't get a lot of practice done. B still went to class, of course, and he played with some of his Japanese apps on our iPad. I think I managed to read him a book or two.

He is getting more consistent about trying to speak in Japanese, and is now trying to form sentences. I hear, "mom, help" in Japanese a lot. It's like he decides on a phrase of the week and uses it over and over until he's comfortable with it. Very cute.

I am starting to look at adding the third language. He now wants to learn Mandarin. He still wants to learn French, but I don't think there are enough hours in the week to learn and maintain 4 languages, especially since he plays the cello and next year will be old enough to join the pre-junior orchestra. Both French and Mandarin lessons are fairly easily available in our city. I'd like to start the next language next fall; hopefully he'll have decided by then.

Because he does so many things, he's the weakest in the class in each activity. In Japanese all the other kids have at least one parent who is fluent or native. And in his cello class, all the other kids have a parent or an older sibling who either plays the cello or played another orchestral instrument. He just plain doesn't have the time required to out practice the other kids and we don't have the background to make his practice more efficient. But I'm just going to keep going because he seems to want to keep going. It's possible he's too young to have noticed that the other kids are progressing faster.

I have considered homeschooling him, as that would give us more time for science and math as well, but he enjoys school. Kindergarten is easy and fun. A friend has suggested dropping an activity, or rather dropping practicing one activity. So just letting him attend classes without doing the daily practice. And I've noticed other families do this: their kids just attend the classes and they don't worry about it in between. So that's an option, although I would have trouble doing this.

Monday, February 22, 2016

He's trying to write!

B has been trying hard to write in Japanese. (Funnily, he isn't very interested in learning to write in English. We're not sure why, but since he's willing to write in English, I'm going to assume it's just a random preference and it'll shift to something else soon enough).

Last week, I have received a cute card with 'I love you mom' written in Japanese (starting at the bottom and going right to left, so cute).

The other morning we were painting and I randomly did a tree and painted ki on the paper as well. B declared it a giant card and asked for more. I did a group of trees and was about to write mori when B asked for the brush - he tried to write ippai ki. You can see it above the trees, in green paint. His i sometimes looks like ko and he missed the tsu, pa, and second i but that's okay.
I don't know if I'll make more - this does seem like a nice way to introduce vocabulary, but it kind of turns something fun into work. Then again, B just thinks it's fun.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Where we have found books

It can be hard to find Japanese children's picture books. I spent a lot of time hunting and was very disappointed to discover that most foreign language bookstores around here closed 5 years or more ago. 

We have built up a collection in a variety of ways:

We have received a few books as hand-me-downs from friends of friends. That is actually how we received our first book, a little peek-a-boo book about a bear. We also recently received two books from a preschool classmate of a friend.

We drove to Seattle and went to   Kinokuniya  which, while far, we combined with a trip to the children's museum. We've gone twice now. I like going in person because I can more easily choose books I know B will like and that I know I can read. 

He loves this series. I'm still hunting for this one but we've got 4 others and I've managed to find other books by the same author and about the same character on

We've bought a few books from World Kids Books . The website only lists French, Spanish, Russian, and English books, but there were other languages as well. They carry very few Japanese books, but we found good ones.

I've ordered a few books from I haven't been as successful with this, there just aren't very many listed. (Well, listed for reasonable prices).

A friend brought back a bunch of good books for us when she went to Japan. Books are heavy though, so it's difficult to bring a lot.

We ordered a nice series through B's Japanese school. We haven't received them all yet, but this seems to have worked out fine.

We found a few books in our recycling room. Someone was moving out and they left a big box of books. My husband found them and brought them up. We lucked out as there were several books from a popular mouse series. 

Once a year, there is a used Book sale at the main branch of the library. One year I found a couple of children's picture books in Japanese. Most years I haven't found much but there is always the possibility. (Plus I found some good books in English anyway). There's also a used book sale at the Japanese cultural centre and my sister has had good luck finding children's books there. We went together, she just found better books.

And last week, B's friend gave him a Japanese picture book as a gift! It was very thoughtful because the friend chose a book that he himself enjoyed and asked his dad to bring it back from Japan. 

So we have ended up with quite a few books.
They get a bit messy because B likes to look at them

We also can borrow books from the library, but only the main branch carries languages other than English, French, or Chinese. We went more often last year when B was still in preschool so he had days free. I've seen other parents borrow books from B's Japanese class, but I want the books at school to be fresh so that he will sit quietly during the time they have to look at books after snack. (As they finish eating, they are excused and can sit and look at books.)

We have been pretty lucky, both in being able to afford the books we've bought and in receiving the books we've been given. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Speaking a minority language in front of other people

B has been pushing to speak more Japanese. He likes it, even though he doesn't know much. He finds it funny when he makes a mistake (the other day, he said, "mom is a fish" when he meant...actually I never did find out what he was trying to say). He's been saying this over and over.

We ended up speaking in not-quite-correct Japanese in front of my family. Only one of my aunts knows any Japanese so it feels a bit rude but I do want to practice. And it was the first time he has tried to have a conversation in Japanese without me coaching him or the teacher telling him to say it.

This morning we were walking to school and my son started speaking in Japanese. I explained to him that it isn't exactly polite to speak in another language in front of other people and since daddy doesn't know Japanese, we should speak in English. B's solution was that I should translate everything we say into French, to which my husband agreed. This made for an interesting conversation. Everything  I said in French, I had to translate word by word into English because when you are 5, it's confusing that one word in one language is a phrase in another. Also, B kept asking me how to say things in Japanese and how to say things in French. I think we will keep the 'wait until he is 6 to teach him French' plan. (Especially as it's Daddy's job to teach him French, and high school French was a long time ago. It's going to be work).

In the meantime, I think we will continue practicing Japanese on the way to school but drop it when we go to other people's houses. This is the first time it's come up but I think it's a good problem to have.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The need to keep things fresh

I'm going to attempt to insert a picture into this post. I think this will be a better log of our efforts if I can show some of the things we make and do. It also will help me solve the problem of what to do with all the crafts he makes in class. (Although the paintings and pictures I am keeping in a portfolio. This probably wouldn't work if he was one of those kids who really enjoys art).

When I first bought this workbook (at Yokoyawa which is basically Daiso), B wasn't very interested in it. But he would do a character per day. Last month he suddenly decided he liked it and would randomly do multiple pages at a time.

He had a bit of trouble because he wanted to do them by himself. I'm going to keep this to show him when he is a teenager. 

Now, not even a month later, he complains every time I ask him to do a character. So I think we will drop the writing workbook for now. I'll leave it out once in awhile to see if he is interested, but he's got lots of other things to practice. 

This week in class, the homework is figuring out first floor, second floor, third floor, and the related phrases/questions. Which floor is the toy shop on? What is under the bookshop?

The teacher gave us a picture to practice with, and I think tomorrow we will build a 3 storey structure out of Lego bricks and use that to practice with over the weekend. 

The card game is still working well! I continue to add more cards. He keeps winning so he tries to share his cards with me. 

I just have to keep changing our activities. He's a bit young to sit down and do homework; we're lucky that he likes to sit and look at books so I can read to him a lot. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

I made a game!

There is a Japanese game called Karuta. In it, there are two decks. One deck has cards with the first few lines of a poem, and the other has cards with the full poem. Someone takes a card from the first deck and reads it out. The second deck is laid out, poem and illustration side up. You slap your hand down on the card with the full poem.

B has played a couple of versions of this. For each of them, the calling deck is just the hiragana and the slapping deck is pictures. You slap the pictures that starts with that hiragana. So the teacher might call 'a' and you could slap 'aka' or 'ari'. In one version the pictures are more like little paintings and there is only one correct answer. In the other there are several correct answers.

I had been looking for a deck for home. I haven't been able to find one, so today I started making one.

I used slightly heavier than regular paper. I cut a sheet of white into 16 and carefully wrote the first 16 hiragana on them in my neatest....writing? I cut several sheets of green into 8ths and on them I drew little pictures of things that started with the first 16 hiragana. I mostly used words that B already knows and added a couple of words that he doesn't. I wrote the words in hiragana on one corner of the cards so that we could practice reading them.

This was a great way to practice recognizing hiragana and he quickly picked up a new word.

I still wish I could find a Karuta deck for kids because the illustrations would be nicer, but I think this will work because I can keep the words comfortable for him. He likes it and we will probably play it several times this week. (If nothing else, it's an inexpensive way to build his vocabulary).

It occurs to me that if we were still working on letter recognition in English, this would be good for that as well. It's a bit better as a vocabulary builder, but if I didn't say the letter then he'd have had to figure it out. I'll make some for French as well when we start French in earnest.

This one new thing is making me feel much more energized for this week. I made a couple more cards for tomorrow morning and will add a few each time we play.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Not the best week

I was unfocused this week. We barely did any practice, and he doesn't have his class today so he really hasn't done much.

He did do a bunch of practice on the iPad. I'd like to be one of those parents who never gives their child screen time, but I have to admit that my husband and I both like our screens a lot. We don't watch a lot of TV, but I read on my iPad and surf the Internet a lot. So I justify giving our son screen time by making most of it educational. (Not all of it, he still watches Paw Patrol and plays Super Mario games with his cousins).

So this week he revisited a bunch of apps to see if he still likes them. Turns out he does. We have Feedme by PencilBot which I think is really good. It comes in several different languages, too. We have First Words Japanese as well. B likes Mind Snacks Japanese as well, which was supposed to be for me because most of the games require reading.

In his midweek afterschool class, they celebrated Setsubun. It took me awhile to figure it out even though we've done it before. For good luck, you throw roasted soybeans at an oni (monster) and then you eat your age plus one in soybeans.

I guess some weeks you do more and some weeks you do less. Hopefully it all evens out in the long run.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Teaching him a language that I don't speak

is getting harder.

I've really been pushing our Japanese learning this month, and it's been very successful. He's really trying to say things in Japanese, and is greeting our Japanese friends in Japanese. I feel guilty, actually, because if my Japanese were better, his would be too.

That's what I'm struggling with right now. Because I don't have the right accent, and I use the formal endings instead of the informal endings, etc, I have believed it when I read that children should learn a language from a native speaker. We're lucky to have found good Japanese classes for his age. I'm quite happy that the new assistant teacher in B's class is a boy/young man because in Japanese, males use different pronouns than females. (And I think they use different verb endings as well but I'm not certain). It doesn't change the fact, though, that it is hard to teach a child a language when you don't speak it yourself. He makes mistakes. I recognize them and yet I don't know how to fix them. I ask other moms from the classes how he is supposed to say something and they tell me but it is very stopgap. I had thought if I learned at the same time as him then I would stay ahead because, well, I was ahead. I took classes in high school and I took evening classes when B was a toddler. He has caught up and I don't have a lot of time to study.

At least while I am struggling, he is not. He enjoys his classes. The other day he was working in his phonics workbook and as he finished each page, he said, "dekita". Apparently when they do workbooks in class that's what the other children say. I'm going to ignore the fact that it was an English phonics workbook and be happy that he's picking up words from the other kids.

It feels easier to teach him French, probably because even though we are not fluent, both my husband and I started taking classes in elementary school. It's also all around us. Many of B's friends and cousins are in French immersion. He has already picked some up. Of course, he is so young that he will easily forget it, but we can build from this once his Japanese is stronger.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Ways we practice Japanese

The advantage to being five, I think, is that most learning is fun. I mean, B has found a few things hard to learn but even then, he gets help and we try to set him up so it is possible for him to learn.

One of the difficulties B has is that he doesn't have the same vocabulary in his second language as he does in his first. It will always be easier to speak in English. Gaining vocabulary in the majority language is easy too, because everyone speaks it and because the books we read in English are harder than the books we read in Japanese.

So I'm still working on ways to close the gap between the minority language and the majority language. The main problems I'm running up against are: I don't have a lot of vocabulary, (and the vocabulary I do have is more typical of language learners than the kind of things families say at home) and that we don't have a lot of time each day. B is overprogrammed.

What has worked well this weekend is a little game called Neko Atsume. It's an iPad app, and it can be switched from English to Japanese fairly easily. (It's in the settings section of the main menu). It reminds me of a tamagotchi. You use fish to buy food and toys to put in specific spots. Different cats come and play with the food and toys. The cats will leave you more fish. B can't quite read in Japanese but he knows the writing is in Japanese so he will try to discuss the game in Japanese. You can't play for more than a minute or two at a time because nothing much happens, so it brought us back to Japanese several times per day so we could check to see if any cats had come.

In our regular routine, today I read him a Penelope book. He really likes this series of books. Penelope never gets it right on the first try. To be honest, I think if I were reading them in English I might get bored of them because they are a bit repetitive, but because I don't really know Japanese, I appreciate the repetition. It gives me a chance to figure out what it means.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Getting him to speak

One concern that a lot of people have mentioned, both in real life and online, is that if a language isn't used, it's lost. When B was small, we were out for lunch with some friends. They had brought other friends who had been teaching their kids Japanese.

Apparently, once their kids entered French immersion, they slowly stopped speaking Japanese. The focus shifted to learning French and the second language fell into disuse.

That's why we didn't apply for French immersion, even though B wants to learn French.

So I worry because he doesn't actually know enough Japanese to carry on a conversation, so it is hard for him to use it. It's like he has to reach a critical amount of vocabulary. What I have been trying to do is to revert back to how he learned English: using one or two word phrases and a lot of hand gestures to communicate. He says "hai!" and "iie" or "yada" a lot, but he has started trying to ask things in Japanese. I've also started repeating what he says back to him in Japanese and then pausing. Usually he just says, "hai" but occasionally he will repeat it back to me in Japanese.

In class, he tries to speak in Japanese but only in one word answers. So I need to find more ways to get him to use 2 word phrases.

I just remembered that when he was learning to talk, if he said one word, we would repeat it back to him in several different ways with 2 word phrases: "bus. big bus. yellow bus. fast bus"
I will try that and see how it goes.

Oh! For me, today I texted a friend and asked her what a book title was in English. B has a new set of books and I'm working my way through them so I can read them to him. I'm going to lend a couple to my friend though, so she can read them to her daughter. We have a lot, and everyone is so supportive of our efforts to learn Japanese, any way I can give back feels good. It's hard to find books in Japanese in Vancouver now that all the Japanese bookstores seem to have closed.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Learning through learning

I read that it is easier to learn a language if you learn other subjects in that language. The idea is that you will pick up the language more naturally if you are learning science or math or art in that language. That is part of why immersion schools work; you're not just sitting and learning the language specifically.

Right now, in the classes B takes, they mostly learn through playing. They play games, do crafts, read stories, and sing songs. Next year it will change but for now it seems to be working well. His teachers try to teach him specific vocabulary and will tell me what words they are working on so I can work on it with him, and I have been adding some other words for things that happen around us or things he often talks about.

Next year though, we will do science at home in Japanese. Right now I don't know what they do for science in school, but I know next year they learn about the water cycle, and so I have found an explanation in Japanese in one of his books. He has science stations at home for water, light, and magnetism, so I will work on learning those words in Japanese. Maybe I will ask my former teacher if she can explain these to me in Japanese.

It feels nice to have a plan.

Oh, today I tried to say, "we are going by car" to my friend. (I said, "kuruma de ikimasu") 
I read 2 books to him in Japanese, he practiced writing, and he watched one episode of Pocoyo in Japanese. So the daily plan is still going along...we've been doing at least the reading every day. 
Little steps!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

It's hard to be monolingual

This will be a quick post because it's been a long day.

B had a play date after school the other day, and because I'm friends with the mom, I went too. Also a bit because B hadn't been to this child's house before and he can be excitable. It turns out I wasn't needed, because the host child was very polite and calm so B followed his example.

B's friend's sister had a play date as well, and while the kids were in the back of the minivan chattering and occasionally asking the other mom questions in two languages, I felt a bit behind. The other mom is learning English, but her English is much farther ahead than my Japanese. My French might be close to her English, but even though I live in Canada, I never seem to need it. So I'm a monolingual in a very bilingual community. Everyone is trying to learn English though, so I guess I could be in a harder situation.

 I need to find a way to practice more, because B does try to communicate using both English and Japanese. This morning he tried to ask me, "where is daddy?" in Japanese. (He said, "Otoosan no doko desu ka.") Right now, my Japanese is still ahead of his but in another year, he could easily pass me. I think it will be hard for him to stay motivated if I can't help him and talk with him. Next year he will be in grade 1, so classes will involve more sitting and listening, less playing and crafting. This year it's pretty fun for him. I worry because it seems like even in the families where the parents are bilingual, the kids have a hard time retaining a minority language. B is very motivated - he wants to learn a lot of languages - but he's very young, and there are only so many hours in a week. If I already spoke fluent Japanese, we'd at least have that. I have read a lot of blogs of parents who are homeschooling their children and are learning along with their child, but I don't seem to be able to pick up languages that fast. Also, B isn't quite old enough/calm enough to sit down and do a lesson the same way older kids can, although I have done little 5 minute sessions with him to learn specific vocabulary. He will also watch a short YouTube video but he really learns best by using the language.

So this week, my goal is to say at least one thing in Japanese each day to one of my Japanese friends. They are very kind about correcting me and explaining how to say things, so I should try to do this more often. Maybe I will work up the guts to ask one of them to do a language exchange. I will also practice my katakana, because it takes me a long time to read anything unless it is all in hiragana.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Making Mochi

Yesterday was a parent sit in at B's Japanese class. The class was about making Mochi.

I had been confused because every time anyone described it, they made an arm motion with both arms that looked like someone pounding a spike into a railroad track. It was quite fun to discover that this is because you actually do pound mochi dough.

First a machine similar to a rice maker overcooks the rice until it is a gooey dough. Then the children used a tool that was a cylinder of wood with a handle to pound the dough. Each child got to pound a couple of times. The parents got a turn too, and they called in the bigger kids from one of the older classes. Between pounds, a parent used their hand to fold the dough.

Then the children rolled the mochi in little balls over a flour covered surface. The little balls were flattened and a filling placed on top (B liked strawberry best) and the dough was pulled over that. It was fun. A couple of parents made other mochi dishes at the same time.

Then, we ate!

We also played a guessing game and a badminton-type game.

This evening, B tried to ask in Japanese to have two friends come over. He used issho ni! He incorrectly used haite but I can see why. (Haite and kite are the verbs that he knows for wearing clothes, and kite also means come). And he sort of threw all of the words out there in a semblance of an order but that's fine, it will come in time.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Bilingual books

I read, well, try to read, to my son daily in Japanese. And before we decided to hold off on the third language, my husband read to our son in French.

I found a few bilingual books and thought they would be fun. I envisioned me reading it in Japanese to B, and my husband reading it in English. (Most of our Japanese books are just in Japanese, so when my son brings those to my husband, he's out of luck).

We have Where are you going? To see my friend! By Eric Carle & Kazuo Iwamura, which I bought off of I also found it in the children's section of the library, right in with the English picture books, so perhaps it is available in other libraries.
This is a great book. It has the romaji next to the hiragana, which I confess I use a lot because I default to reading the alphabet. The story is cute and the English and Japanese are the same story, but because it is two friends meeting, the English goes from one end of the book and the Japanese goes from the other and the two friends meet in the middle.

We also have Too Many Pears by Jackie French. I bought this at a bookstore (World Kids Books) in International Village that has books in French, German, and a few other languages. It only says French and German, though, so I was pleased to find a few Japanese books.
This book has a funny story. The English is directly under the Japanese, so it's easy to see the translation. It is a bit harder to read because it uses kanji and I don't know very many kanji.

This week the book I ordered off, Am I Small, by Philipp Winterburg arrived.
It's very cutely illustrated. Each page has romaji, hiragana, and the English on it. It's available as a bilingual book in quite a few languages, actually. My son didn't find it as appealing as the other two books I've mentioned, but it's a good addition to our little bilingual library. I think I will find it useful for vocabulary building.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

This morning's efforts

I try to practice a bit of Japanese each morning with B. I am hopeful that doing a little bit each day will be enough for him to become bilingual. I read that children need about 30% of their day to be in the minority language in order to become bilingual, so I might have to settle for fluent.

That's still better than me! I think we are doing enough for him to become fluent.

If I leave work on the table, he will sometimes do it. I'm not sure why. I think he likes the positive attention and he thinks it is funny to work ahead of me. I only make him do work from his workbook once a week, when he does his Japanese school homework. I leave it on the table in case he wants to do some, though.
This morning he did a page from his workbook (It's a cute hamster workbook that I got for $2 at Yokoyawa). I tried to put in a picture but I can't seem to size it correctly. I think I will have to start a Picasa album.
While he ate breakfast, I read him two picture books.
After breakfast, he watched three episodes of Pocoyo on YouTube. Pocoyo seems to have been translated into a lot of different languages and it is very funny, so it is working out well. B seems to be picking up vocabulary from it.

Monday, January 18, 2016

First post, backstory

When our son was still a baby, we decided, for various reasons, to start teaching him Japanese.

This was more difficult because we don't speak Japanese, although I learned a little in high school and can still read Hiragana.

This is what we have done so far:

He and I took a parent-child music class that was in Japanese. It was very cute!
We got some CDs of children's music from the library and played them in the car.
When he reached 3.5 the school that supported the music classes offered us a spot in the junior kindergarten class (everyone was expected to register, it was basically the next level up) so he has been taking a class every Saturday during the school year for a year and a half now.
Last summer we signed him up for a Japanese daycamp. He enjoyed this and asked to sign up again, so he ended up doing this for 3 weeks.
We then signed him up for an afterschool class at the place that runs the daycamp, so he now has two classes per week.

I try to read to him in Japanese as much as possible, but when I'm tired or we get busy I lose focus. I'm hoping that if I make a blog about his progress, I'll be more motivated to do the small daily activities. He also wants to learn French because some of his friends are in French Immersion. We plan to start French once he's more comfortable with his Japanese. Since we can't do simultaneous bilingualism, we are doing sequential bilingualism, and I think adding the French now would be confusing.

Right now, he can sing a few songs, write his name, knows about a thousand words, and can say please and thank you appropriately. We are working on asking questions. I'm not sure what they're working on in his classes other than hiragana. Most of what I see on parent days are the cultural events, which I think are very important. I think one of the main advantages to learning a language is gaining knowledge of a culture and if he can do this with other children? It's definitely worth it.