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Friday, 10 May 2013

A Very Special Friday with Adam of Bilingual Monkeys

This Very Special Friday is different from the others in that it's not a guest post, but rather an interview. But I am beyond excited because the man I am interviewing is no other than Adam Beck of the really cool website Bilingual Monkeys! Can I have some applause here? 

I came across Bilingual Monkeys a while ago, and found myself inspired, informed and entertained.  Adam's blog was actually responsible for my own blog posts (see here  and here) Adam is a great writer, he gives fantastic tips, is extremely committed to raising bilingual children, and he makes it all seems easy!

So, here he is! Ladies and Gentlemen! Please give a warm welcome to... Adam Beck! (more applause, please!)

1. Tell us more about yourself, please. What is your background? When did you catch the multilingual bug?

I’m originally from the United States—from Quincy, Illinois—and I’ve lived in Hiroshima, Japan since 1996. My undergraduate and graduate degrees are in English and Theatre Arts and I worked for many years as a playwright, director, and drama teacher, particularly with children. When I came to Japan, and began working as the ESL and drama teacher at Hiroshima International School, many of my students were bilingual. This is when my passion for supporting bilingual children first started, and has since continued with my own children and as a tutor of bilingual kids in Hiroshima.

At the same time, I’m now a freelance writer, serving as the chief editor of the English content for the Hiroshima Peace Media Center, blogging at Bilingual Monkeys, and writing novels.

2. When and why did you start blogging? Has it been an enjoyable experience? What are your favorite posts? Where do you draw inspiration from?

I launched Bilingual Monkeys in the fall of 2012. A couple of months earlier I had finished my first novel, which took several years to complete, and I felt like I needed a change of pace before beginning a new one. As I had gained good experience in my work with bilingual kids over the years, and thought that sharing this experience might be of benefit to others in the world, starting a blog seemed like the right step. I enjoy blogging a lot, and the feedback I’ve received from readers has been very positive, very gratifying, but I must admit that producing high-quality content on a regular basis is a continuous challenge. I feel like a mouse on a mousewheel!

My blog posts are generally inspired by my own experiences as a teacher and parent. Although my circumstances are naturally different from other parents, the practical challenges of raising a bilingual child are similar for all, and this, I think, is why my articles can resonate with parents everywhere. At the same time, I try to write with a sense of humor and readers seem to enjoy this aspect of my blog, too. In fact, my most humorous posts have been among my most popular, like “I Want to Be Bilingual”: Letter from a Newborn Baby http://bilingualmonkeys.com/i-want-to-be-bilingual/ and How to Fail Miserably at Raising a Bilingual Child http://bilingualmonkeys.com/how-to-fail-miserably-at-raising-a-bilingual-child/. These posts are hard to write, but I feel a thrill, as a writer, when I can successfully convey serious points through humor.

3. What reactions have you received when you tell people that your children are bilingual? Mostly positive or negative?

In Japan, where almost everyone is monolingual in Japanese, bilingualism is rare and highly admired. In addition, because English is studied widely here, but few people learn to speak it well, this make a child who’s bilingual in Japanese and English even more unique. Although my kids attend a Japanese public school, and so supporting the English side of their bilingual ability isn’t easy under such circumstances, the fact that English skill is highly valued in Japan is certainly an advantage when it comes to my children grasping the value of their minority language.

4. What is your experience of raising children in another country? Did you experience culture shock? Did your wife and children? How do you deal with cultural differences?

As I’m now a long-term resident of Japan, and my children were born here, we’ve never really encountered any sort of “culture shock” as a family. The only culture shock we experience, in fact, is during our infrequent visits to the United States!

In terms of cultural differences between my wife and me (and between the whole country and me!), as the years have passed, I’ve gotten a lot more patient with the sort of situations that would once provoke irritation or frustration. It helps enormously, too, that my wife and I have a very similar outlook when it comes to parenting and raising bilingual children.

5. You seem to be a busy parent. How do you juggle your job, being a father, and your children’s bilingualism?

The fact that I’m the main source of my children’s exposure to the minority language, and yet not the main caregiver, makes their bilingual upbringing a significant challenge. It certainly helps that I’ve been working from home since they were small, but finding sufficient time for both my children and my work is a daily juggling act. The truth is, I’m constantly dropping balls and picking them back up again when I’m able. But one ball I always keep aloft is their daily dose of exposure to English.

6. What is your biggest challenge in raising bilingual children, and children in general? How do you deal with it?

Because my kids attend a Japanese school, and their time at school, and time spent doing homework for school, will continue to increase as they get older, my toughest challenge will probably always be the limited amount of time I have to nurture higher-level literacy skills, particularly their writing ability. But I try to remain mindful of this challenge and I make persistent efforts, each day, to advance their literacy development.

7. What is your advice for parents raising bilingual and multilingual children? Is there one secret for successfully raising multilingual children?

My Best Tips for Raising Bilingual Kids http://bilingualmonkeys.com/my-best-tips-for-raising-bilingual-kids/ offers a lengthy list of ideas that I consider important—and it’s the full combination of these strategies, really, that leads to success. However, if I had to point to one key practice, it would be this: read aloud to your children in the minority language from day one and continue this practice, day in and day out for at least 15 minutes a day, as long as you possibly can—even after the children have begun reading on their own. I’ve written a lot about the great power of reading on my blog, such as The Secret to Raising a Bilingual Child http://bilingualmonkeys.com/the-secret-to-raising-a-bilingual-child/, and I urge all parents to put books and reading at the very heart of their efforts.

Adam Beck, a writer and long-term resident of Japan, is the blogger behind Bilingual Monkeys http://bilingualmonkeys.com/, a site of “ideas and inspiration for raising bilingual kids (without going bananas).” You can also find him on Twitter!

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  1. Great post and great tips here. Thanks Olga and thanks Adam. I grew up bilingual and I am so grateful that my parents kept at it all of the 19 years that I grew up in Africa, they just kept speaking Dutch to us, reading Dutch to us, buying us Dutch books & Dutch songs etc! So parents just don't give up: just stick to it. Just keep reading to them and enjoy it along the way. Find books you like reading.

    1. Thank you, Janneke- and your advice is also extremely helpful! I agree: don't give up!


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