Raising a bilingual Japanese-Canadian kid

For those new to my blog, I’m a Canadian man married to a Japanese woman living in Winnipeg, Canada. We have one child – an energetic boy who is quickly approaching his 5th birthday. For the purposes of the blog, he is named Tiny Dog after a nickname in The Secret Life of Pets.

It’s important to both of us that Tiny Dog grow up comfortable in either one of his countries. We’d like him to be fluent in both English and Japanese, and to understand the culture of Canada and Japan. At home The Penpal speaks to him in Japanese and I speak to him in English.

Living in Winnipeg, it’s much easier to have him exposed to English. He speaks it at preschool and hears it just about everywhere. Many of his friends speak English exclusively, with a few speaking English as their second language.

Keeping Tiny Dog exposed to Japanese takes a bit more work. Fortunately, even with the small Japanese community in Winnipeg, there are quite a few Japanese or half-Japanese kids of a similar age. When they get together, we try to keep them speaking Japanese as much as possible. There are enough kids to support a Japanese kids reading group, where the kids go to hear stories in Japanese. This group also organizes a book exchange, which is a nice alternative to everyone ordering Japanese language books from overseas.

At home, we subscribe to TV Japan and try to make sure that some of Tiny Dog’s TV time is spent watching Japanese language shows. His grandparents have enrolled us in an educational program called “Kodomo Challenge“; every few months we get a new educational DVD, workbooks, and some really cool toys. We also talk to his Japanese grandparents every weekend on Skype.

Our bilingual home has produced a few fun quirks. The first is that Tiny Dog refuses to watch any Studio Ghibli movies in English. He gets seriously upset if we try. The second is that Tiny Dog angrily reminds his mother not to speak Japanese around English speaking adults or kids. “No Mommy, you speak English now!!”

I expect that as Tiny Dog gets older, we will experience some of the pushback that other parents have reported. At a certain age, the kids don’t want to speak any Japanese at home because their friends don’t do that. I’m hoping we can find a way to work through this.

If you are raising a bilingual kid I’d love to hear some of your experiences. Let me know what has worked for you! In the meantime, I’m off to watch some Peppa Pig in Japanese.

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