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.