I discovered this forum after purchasing and reading Adam's book before my child was born...when I actually had time to read books!
I live in Japan so our household will have Japanese as the majority language and English as the minority language. I will be returning to work when my child is around 8-9 months old and will be putting her in daycare. As we live in a relatively rural area the only English-speaking facilities are for children 2 years of age and over. I'm worried about submerging my child in a Japanese-only environment from such a young age. My job keeps me out of the house from 9:30 to 19:30, which means that during the week I will only be able to spend time with my child in the mornings as she will surely be sleeping or just going to bed when I get home.
Is a few hours in the morning every day plus days off enough for her to pick up English naturally?
I plan on putting in the hard work as she gets older with English books and DVDs, but I'm worried about communication. How much is enough?
Welcome Loz! I'm also from Australia although I haven't lived there for many years.
In my experience, to put it briefly, that is probably not enough exposure in the long run (unless by "a few hours in the morning" you mean a few genuine hours of interaction - if so, I imagine you're waking up very early!), BUT, from what I understand, once your child is two you will be able to find another solution? If that is the case, I wouldn't worry too much and would focus on providing sustained exposure in the mornings, on the weekend, through music, holidays, visits from grandparents and friends, etc. Basically you are talking about 15 months or so of solid exposure to Japanese during the week, then after that more of a balance, which I think should be ok - particularly if you can do a few hours in the morning in the meantime. Whatever you do, as long as you provide regular exposure, your child will at least develop a strong passive understanding of English, which will lay the foundation for active speaking at some point!
You didn't mention your home set-up - are you raising your child alone or with someone, and if so is that person an English or Japanese speaker? If your home environment can be all-English (not my case) that will change things significantly.
I'm looking forward to reading what others think! None of us have 'perfect' set-ups but those with older children say that the efforts we make over the years do bear fruit, so it's worth persisting! Also, for a 'positive' story, I myself didn't have any exposure at all to French until I was 3, then had no exposure between the ages of 5-7, and French people always assume I'm French, so not everything is 'decided' before the age of 3.
Raffaela - my parents don't speak a word of French. I went to a French school (maternelle) in Australia from ages 3-5 (the kids were mostly Australian but the teachers were all French), then had two years in a regular English-speaking school from ages 5-7. At 7, I started at a bilingual school (50/50) that followed the French national programme, where I had special catch-up classes for a year - I stayed there until I was 11. Most of the students were Australian so the playground language was English, but the classes were evenly divided between the two languages. From 11-14, I was at a fully French school (in India though, so the majority language of the country was not French) and that is when I really became confident, because the playground language was French so I was forced to use it outside an academic context. I then spent 6 months in France at age 15, living with a French family. From 16-18 I was in a mostly English school, but did do the French literature and philosophy classes (I sat the exams of the French baccalaureate for those subjects - for the other subjects I did the International Baccalaureate).
I then did undergraduate studies in English and later a Master 2 degree (what they used to call a DEA) in France.
I would say I had a good basis by age 11 (could understand everything), but I really only started to speak well by age 12 - after a year at the fully French school in India. I remember spending at least 3 months not talking and shocking everyone when I finally opened my mouth! After that it was very quick and by 12/13 there was no difference between me and the other kids - in terms of speaking or writing.
So it was 100% due to schooling. My parents would never have had enough money to take us to a French-speaking country (air tickets were a lot more expensive back then!) and the sorts of resources that exist now (internet, even magazines...) were unavailable. There are so many more opportunities out there now!
I understand your concern about daycare, but I would agree with Nellie that, over the long run, this heavier emphasis on Japanese shouldn't pose a significant problem for your aim of active fluency in English as long as...
*you stay as proactive as you can during this time, in terms of providing input in English (particularly through speech and reading aloud); and...
*you're able to reshape these circumstances--and the amount of English exposure--as soon as possible (age 2 would work).
Also, this suggestion may not be feasible, but if there's any chance of arranging for a caregiver who has some English ability to spend a day or more each week with your daughter--which could substitute the Japanese of daycare with the English of this caregiver, at least to some degree--that would help fortify the situation and fuel stronger language development.
Again, the first two steps should be enough to productively move your larger aim forward, so I don't think you need to worry if an English-speaking caregiver isn't readily available. At the same time, it's true that (as I discuss in my book: see Perspective 5, page 12), the more efforts we can make--particularly through the first few formative years--to bolster exposure to the minority language and mindfully manage the dominating influence of the majority language, the more we'll strengthen the odds of success.
Loz, I hope this forum (as well as my book and blog) can continue to be a source of encouragement to you. Keep up your good efforts, day by day, and feel free to reach out, anytime, if we can lend some support!
Adam Beck is the founder of Bilingual Monkeys and The Bilingual Zoo, and the author of the popular non-fiction book Maximize Your Child's Bilingual Ability amzn.to/22XKuCt and the humorous novel How I Lost My Ear amzn.to/2EsjVRS, both available worldwide.
Thank you for your input Nellie and Adam! After reading your replies I am now less inclined to extend my childcare leave in order to maximize my child's English language input.
In regards to the 'set-up', I speak English in front of the baby and my husband speaks a mix of Japanese and very basic English. I do worry about his pronunciation because it is quite terrible, but he is making an effort. There is an English-language kindergarten that we can join from 2 years of age, which will be costly but it's an expense we are willing to pay. We are also looking at English conversation schools as we know no other English speakers in our area.
Nellie, it makes me very hopeful to hear about your personal experiences with French! Thank you for sharing.
In the mornings the baby and I are up at or before 6am, so I have an hour or two to play before I need to get ready for the day. I am considering moving her bedtime from 7pm to 8pm so we can have storytime when I get home from work, but at this stage she is waking 3-5 times a night and hardly naps so she needs all the sleep she can get!
There is also the small possibility of moving back to Australia in which case English will become the majority language and Japanese the minority.
Your situation sounds very similar to mine. My children go to daycare and stay there almost 8 hours every day. I have max 3 hours ml time with them every day on average. I read to my kids every day and talk to them ONLY ml at all situations. My 3 year old now is so used to me speaking ml, makes a comment to me if I say something in ML, like it was a mistake. "Uh oh, mommy you said "okay" in Danish!"
I suggest that you speak to your child only in ml and your husband in ML. My speech therapist told me this is the best way if you want them to speak with no accent as a native speaker. This is true especially, if your husband speaks English with an accent.
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