When my daughter was born 9 years ago, I began to do some serious thinking about bilingual education. I have many bilingual friends, most of whom were raised in North America and have Japanese mothers. Some of these friends live and work in Japan.
After interviewing some of these friends, I realized I needed to take a different approach from them when it comes to raising bilingual children in Asia.
A typical pattern seen in Asia is where fathers are native English speakers. What are the implications of this?
Children usually learn first languages from their mothers. This may be why first languages are referred to as “mother's tongue”. It is not “father's tongue”.
Fathers in Asia often work late and they need to realize that they may not have enough time to influence their children's language input.
By the age of 2, children use whatever language they hear most frequently. At 3 years old, they will begin to develop a language preference. They often start insist on that Japanese is their first language.
Many of my bilingual friends who grew up in North America picked up 2 languages naturally. The day to day norm for them was use Japanese at home and English outside, so it might be a little hard for them to understand this may not work when raising bilingual children in Asia.
Another hurdle in Asia is that high quality English education is very expensive and therefore not a viable option for everyone. If children can go to a prestigious international school in Asia and they have opportunities to use English at home, it is not difficult to pick up perfect English.
However, some families are doing well without relying on these expensive schools. I am contacted by many families where fathers are English speakers and mothers are Japanese speakers. I would like to use this blog to share ideas that can help these families.