Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Playing with (in) Japanese

In an ongoing effort to maintain Peanut's access to all things bilingual (or as many things as possible) I'm searching for (1) a babysitter who sits Japanese for those rare occasions when Gboy and I can get away for a "date" (2) bilingual or at least Japanese play dates & partners. When we were living in Japan, Peanut heard English from me and also whenever Gboy and I speak to each other we use English. Thus, while we didn't have English play dates per se (although there were one or two AFWJ outings with some older bilingual kids) she had a fair amount of exposure to English despite the fact that we lived in Japanese household (with my in-laws) and community. I realized upon our return that the amount of exposure she'd have to Japanese wouldn't be equivalent here in the U.S. And now the shoe's on the other foot, so to speak, I can appreciate how truly valuable it is to have friends, resources and opportunities to learn a parent's language. Naturally it would be easy for me to just sit back and let her learn English here, but if I don't do something to ensure that she gets some Japanese playtime and friends here, Gboy (like most men I suppose) probably won't take the initiative and that would make me sad.

As I noted in my last post, Peanut is referring to me as "Okaasan" and it seems to be one of the few new Japanese words that she's started using reliably and frequently now that we're back in the U.S. She's getting really good at repeating my husband and she has also mastered her pronunciation of "ichigo" (strawberry) rather than referring to it as "akuchi" (we have no idea how that got so garbled in her mind). Clearly it's not as though her entire use of Japanese has fallen by the wayside, but I really want to be able to support her access to both languages.

I always envisioned that I'd help to enroll her in Japanese language preschool, summer camps, etc., but that was back when I envisioned that our/her entire life would be lived out here in the U.S. This is one of the reasons for which I'm so grateful that we had the chance to live in Japan; I think I have an entirely new appreciation of how difficult it is to balance out the exposure to two languages. It wasn't easy for me to accept that she was hearing and learning more Japanese than English when we lived in Japan. That may sound awful but it's the reality of my experience and although I'm ashamed to admit it, I think I learned something truly valuable from the experience. Children are malleable and flexible and can learn at an astonishing rate meaning Peanut is already learning tons of English now that we're in the U.S. but that doesn't mean that I can sit back and relax and just hope that her Japanese language exposure from her father is sufficient. I wouldn't do the same if the situation was reversed - I'd be looking for English story hours, play dates, etc. And that's exactly what I intend to do here, only now it will be Japanese language opportunities that I am seeking.


  1. It is great that you are so mindful of this.

    Do they have Japanese playgroup or story time? In Australia our playgroups have specific sessions for other nationalities and our libraries offer a range of languages for story time.

    If there was something like that you could find, I am sure other parents would understand that even if you are not Japanese, Peanut is half and they would hopefully be inclusive.

  2. I agree with Red, it's wonderful that you are conscious of this.

    Peanut has so many years of being a sponge left in her, I'm sure she will learn both languages with no problem, if you keep up some exposure. Seattle has such great cultural diversity, I'm sure you'll have no problem finding others who speak Japanese to babysit and play with.

  3. I have to agree you are visibly conscious about this effort, not all parents all and I think you deserve bright gold stars... I hope you can find a babysitter soon = )

  4. I agree, it's great that this is in the forefront of your mind. It'll do nothing but benefit Peanut. Look online and I'll bet you can find something! Good luck, hon!

  5. We have been talking about that same issue. I look forward to hearing what you find is available. Wouldn't it be great to have a Family Camp each summer in Japanese in the PNW?!?!?!

  6. I couldn't resist... an award is coming your way. Feel free to ignore, I know these things can sometimes be more annoying than they are worth. :)

  7. Good for you! I always think it's so sad when we meet kids who have bilingual parents, but who only speak one language themselves! What a waste!

    We still have one more year left in Japan, but I'm already worried about my son losing all the Japanese he is learning (neither DH nor I speak Japanese). I'm stocking up on Japanese books and DVDs to take with us when we go, and I've already found several places that offer "Saturday Japanese school". I'm sure you'll find tons of stuff in Seattle!