Friday 20 August 2010

Back away from my language man!

As I'm sure you'll be totally enthralled to know, Ash has started speaking. Not like political debate type sentences or anything, but random words, and he's copying words a bit too. (Dangerous, as I say fuck at least 15 times a day.) He sometimes says things that resemble words but are more like organised gibberish, but the other night, when I pulled out his sickeningly cute kindy hat he pointed at it, and in a very clear, big voice said, "BOU-SHI!" (HAT). It actually shocked the hell out of me, how did this little ball of lard turn into a walking, talking, mini-human so damn quick!?

Of course I praised him for his language win, but then I got defensive. Why did he say it in Japanese first? This really shouldn't get me so miffed, we live in Japan, he goes to a Japanese speaking kindergarten, all his relatives apart from me speak Japanese to him. Why am I surprised, pissed off even??

I tried to get him to say "hat" I even poked his fat little belly in an effort to persuade him to say it in English, but there was no eigo love, it was all about the Japanese. I think it pisses me off most when I'm at the in-law's house. MIL isn't too bad, if she knows the English word she'll say it after she says the Japanese word (granted, in a horribly katakana accent, but still, better than nothing, no?), so at least she tries. She also supports me somewhat when I try to tell him something in English, like she'll ask me what it means and try and remember it.
Grandma is the one that pisses me off most. I get that she's old, she doesn't want to learn any other bastard language that isn't her own, and fair play to her. But just a teeeensy bit of support would be good. For example, Ash knows the word "momo" (peach) very well, so last night I was trying to get him to say peach...

Me: (pointing to the book) What's this Ash?

Ash: Mo mo!

Me: Yeah, good job! In English, it's PEACH, can you say peach??

Grandma: (Who I thought was watching TV but obviously was keeping one eye on her great-grandson's brain being infected with foreign languages) もも!もも!ね~アシュくん、ももね!

The rough translation is: momo! It's momo isn't it Ash! (With the implied meaning, you don't need to learn that other filthy foreign word, ignore your mummy and keep saying momo!) If she's not going to help me teach him English, she really needs to zip it in my opinion! Maybe I should hide her teeth in the middle of the night so she won't be able to talk properly... You know, just for a day or two...

I've never been a bi-lingual nazi, I'm all about the natural course of things when it comes to language. If I couldn't speak Japanese at all I'd definitely be making more effort to teach him English, but seeing as though communication in one or the other language probably isn't going to be such a problem I really wasn't that worried. Saying that though, I want to give him maximum opportunities to be exposed to English as I can, just to help him along the way. I say that, but now I'm getting language jealousy whenever he says something in Japanese.

He also says "Taaa-chiiii", which is supposed to be "touch" which in normal Englishey type words is "high five" but this one pisses me off too. Don't fucking steal English words and then use them as you want. Touch is not the same as high five people! I guess I just have to be consistent and keep plodding along giving him as much English as possible, either that or accidentally flush Grandma's teeth down the dunny...


  1. yea ... ems japanese is seriously overtaking her english too.

    Spouting out things like "mushi" and crap ... I like to think its because Japanese is much easier for kids to say. (you should mention this to the in laws - their heads will explode!!!)

    Im sure a few months back surrounded by native english talkers will sort him out :D :D :D And my one too for that matter!!

  2. Oh dear, that would be the biggest issue for me. haha the first word, better be English and damn well better be Mommy/Ma/other some other variant!

    When he gets a bit older, you can include him in on your classes you teach- that way he gets more exposure.

  3. When I lived in Ukraine, I had many friends who were in cross cultural marriages, and the rule of thumb is speak only your native language. Do not mix. Kids distinguish between the two when one person speaks one lingo, and another speaks the other. They get really confused and DON'T distinguish between the lanugages when one parent mixes and matches - i.e. the child just thinks that the mix mummy is speaking = normal language.

    I had friends who communicated to each other in english or french, mum was french, dad was german, nanny spoke russian. Little Rose was later to speak, but once she hit about 2.5 years, it all came tumbling out and she spoke all three fluently. When she saw her dad, she spoke German, then she would turn to her mum and immediately speak French, ditto with nanny and Russian.

    Stick to the english - doesn't matter if he doesn't translate on demand, it's more important that he's 100 per cent familiar with his mother's mother tongue.

  4. Wow, such an encouraging comment by Little Miss Moi..we do the same-I speak English to A, her dad speaks Japanese. I do speak Japanese outside the home, not to A but I guess she hears me speaking it..but she always communicates to me in English words she knows or otherwise gestures and gibberish..

  5. ps..agree, hide grannies teeth or of distraction ;P

  6. If you leave it to nature in a situation like this, he will end up choosing Japanese. Kids go for the easy option! He'll have passive English if you keep speaking it to him, but will probably answer in Japanese. Then he'll hit Jnr High and it'll be cool to be a hafu and he might regain interest then!

    If you're okay with that, no worries, millions of kids grow up with one language and it doesn't do them any harm! But if you find you don't like the idea of him not speaking, or even understanding much English, then you'll have to work harder to even out the imbalance and get lots more English into him, books, TV, trips home, trying to establish English only in the home.

    I wouldn't worry too much about mixing. It's not as dire as Little Miss Moi is worried about. As long as he is exposed to the whole language somewhere, he'll learn to separate them. Fear of confusion is a mistake make when they hear people mixing languages, but almost always, those people are able to separate the languages out and speak exclusively one or the other if need be. They just mix for the same reason we all throw in so many Japanese words in!

    Good luck, whatever you choose to do

  7. i seriously thought hiro's first word would be 'fuck'. imagine my surprise when it was 'thank you' (he also learned that sign first.) earlier this week, though, he said, 'i'm so fucking hot!'


    i've been watching my mouth this week...good thing we're not going 'home' for a visit any time soon!!

  8. In the baby group I was a part of in Kyiv, there was only one other mum besides me who was married to someone who spoke her native language. The other mothers were all married to people whose native language wasn't their own, and these mothers had done a lot of research both in the books and with their first kids vs. subsequent kids. All knowledge and experience on the subject is basically, if kids hear mixed languages from their primary carer (in most cases mum), they are confused as hell (without knowing it), and can't sort one language from another... They end up having dominance in the language in the environment, whereas if they are spoken to exclusively in one language by one parent, they learn how to communicate back and they distinguish between that language and the environmental language, and are fluent in both.

    I knew a lot of two- and three- year olds who were trilingual without even realising it. It's much easier to stick with your native tongue now, rather than having to go back and relearn everything later on (coming from a serial language learner!)

    Also, my husband's father is chinese and FIL just spoke english when husband was growing up so he has no knowledge of Chinese and could never communicate with his grandparents and other rellies. Which to this day, breaks his heart.

  9. Shou and Marina have fluent kunimi-ben, learnt from the over 60 kinder grannies they spend their days with. I speak far too much Japanese at home - mainly I think that started because we live with MIL and I needed her to understand my 'orders' and child raising rules as well. Shou and Marina understand pretty much all the English I say to them - which is more and more these days. They both answer in Japanese and sometimes Shou does the whole 'don't use English, speak normally' thing to me. I ignore it though, although one time he got in a tiz and I resorted to Japanese :(

    taaa-chiii - shite. even I say that to the kids and kinder :)

    I think baachan defiantly needs a day without her teeth. I double dare you.

  10. I also think that one of the biggest problems is that alot of Japanese words are just easier than english ones. "Momo" is a classic example as the repetitive sounds are easier for kids to pick up. (Ne-ne rather than sleep is another one) One of Joey's first words was "baka".. three guesses where he picked that one up from?! :-(

  11. My son got three yrs of being with mummy exclusively and so spoke only English. His experience of Japanese was very limited despite having a Japanese daddy. Once he went to hoikuen he started to get daily exposure to Japanese and after one year, his Japanese is almost as good as his English. He now prefers speaking Japanese, the language of play at hoikuen. It happend very quickly especially as he had never even attempted to say anything in Japanese - no "konnichi wa" to neighbours or daddy or anything. My daughter has learnt both languages simultaneously because she started hoikuen at the age of 1yr. I was really upset when I first realised that my kids prefer to communicate to each other in Japanese. I really thought that because I speak exclusively to them in English they would be chatting away in English to each other.

    I have to insist that my son speaks to me in English some days, but this is hard to enforce as he knows I can speak Japanese. I guess given that we live in Japan and our kids will be going through the Japanese education system, we have to accept that Japanese will be their preferred language. I can't imagine talking to my kids directly in Japanese, it feels so weird so am plodding on doing the "you will speak to me in English" method.

    I know several bicultural families and lots of the kids don't speak the minority language which means they can't speak to their relatives when they visit. This is heartbreaking for all involved I would imagine.

  12. I just discovered your blog today it's to funny! As for the stealing of language I agree... What's 'touch'?! It's a high five.

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  14. Ugg... this is one of my fears about going back to work and putting Sakura into kindy.. she's already got a lot of English and I know that most of it will turn to Japanese in just a matter of months...

    I suppose some suggestions are try and get him into an English speaking kindy at some point.. are you thinking about having him go to Sassys? And then extended trips home when you can make them... A lot of the kansai sempai mamas like Ca-san and Be-san and Ni-san all have kids who speak great English so maybe you can get some tips from them :)