I was inspired by Ai, of MUSE Society, to do this post. Ai, whom I nickname my soul sista in Academia, is amazing in her parenting and research/ multilingual prowess.
I speak both English and Japanese quite comfortably in my day-to-day life although I could definitely be more proficient in the latter, particularly with reading and writing. Sometime ago, I decided that I would consciously focus more on English with my daughter and this meant speaking to her in English most of the time to teaching her literacy and grammar. As she attends Japanese kindergarten, her exposure to English is really limited during her hours in school. Although I know that I will eventually have to takeover the teaching of Japanese to her, I am leaving this up to the school for now and just focusing on English mainly.
Ai, from MUSE Society, made some good points on why she did not give up on her mother tongue for her kids. Here are mine:
I want to have no barriers in communicating to her. The bulk of my thoughts, my writing, the media I am exposed to and the books that I read are in English. It is also the language I am most comfortable writing and reading in. Personally, I experienced a language barrier with my mum who learnt English later in her life and as I grew up, I often searched for words to communicate with her and my stronger grasp of English meant that I could not do that very well in her mother tongue. While we both eventually caught up in each other’s stronger language, I realise that it meant that I had missed out on a lot of communication with her. As my daughter grows older, it would be important to have more open communication with her as she grapples with adolescence. I want to be a good listener and advisor to her.
Learning to be assertive and expressive. I must preface this with my own experience of speaking in both English and Japanese. And it is purely my opinion and experience that shape this thought. As I went through school in Australia, I was also shaped by how speaking in English made me assertive and expressive, more so than when I spoke Japanese or Mandarin. Again, it could be that these two were my weaker languages that I lacked the skills in being assertive. But being someone who has spent time in Japan and in Australia, I see the connection between language and culture. I sound like a totally different person in Japanese and in English. With the former, I tend to use less opinionated phrases but am more assertive in English. I think that different places and situations call for different behaviours and I can culturally and code-switch between both. But knowing how to and when is something I place value on. I would like my daughter to be able to do both.
I want more options for her. Although we will live in Japan in the future and years down the road, Japan will still largely be all about Japanese language, I would like for my daughter to have options to live and work elsewhere. Being proficient in English is really the key to doing so and she will be able to travel and have more options in her life. Of course, if she decides that she will stay put in Japan, that is also fine of course.
I want my daughter to read my life work. Perhaps this is a little indulgent. I once joked before getting married that it was so important that the partner I marry understand two very important loves of my life (ok- three) – Japan, India and Art. Turns out that my husband is Japanese and has gone on some assignments in India. I work in academia and my publications are in English. I would like (if it doesn’t bore her) for my daughter to read them oneday.
If you have similar thoughts or views on your chosen language or mother tongue in speaking to your children, I would love to hear them.