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.