I Want to Teach My Child Japanese- Where Do I Begin?

3 Oct

from fumira.jp

I have had a few readers ask me, “I want to teach my children Japanese, but I don’t know where to begin. Can you help us?” This is a tricky question to answer, because everyone has such different life circumstances, but I will do my best to offer some suggestions. In my experience, here are some things you can do to help your child learn Japanese:

IF AT LEAST ONE OF THE PARENTS IS FLUENT IN JAPANESE:

- Speak Japanese as often as possible!! I cannot stress the importance of this enough. Speak Japanese during meals, in the car, everywhere!

- Read as many Japanese books as you can get your hands on to your children. (You can subscribe to books online).

- If you watch TV or listen to music, make sure a lot of it is in Japanese.

- Sing songs in Japanese.

- Send your child to a Japanese School.

- Set up playdates with Japanese-speaking children so they can learn though play.

- Start exposing your child to hiragana and katakana as early as possible.

- Visit Japan if possible– the longer/more frequent the better.

- Visit Japanese-speaking relatives, or talk to them via Skype.

IF THE CHILD’S CAREGIVERS DO NOT SPEAK JAPANESE:

- Do as much of the above as possible.

- Invest in a Japanese tutor, conversation partner, babysitter, etc. The more authentic Japanese they hear, the better.

- Subscribe to Benesse’s Kodomo Challenge program.

- Watch Japanese TV (get TV Japan through your local cable provider) or find videos online. (Click on “YouTube Videos” under “Categories” to see what videos I’ve found to be good).

- Experience Japanese culture by cooking Japanese food together, celebrating Japanese holidays, folding origami, playing games, etc. (A lot of these activities can be found by searching my website).

- Make flashcards and learn new vocabulary words every day.

OTHER ADVICE:

- Set goals, such as “We will speak only Japanese for 2 hours every day”. My children are most ready to learn in the mornings, so we have set a goal to speak only Japanese in the mornings.

- Improve your own Japanese skills so you can be a help to your child.

- Even if your child is a baby, speak Japanese to him/her. It is amazing how quickly they learn, and it’s good to get in the Japanese-learning/teaching habit early.

- Every little thing you do makes a difference. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see results right away, and don’t compare your child to other children.

- Keep it fun.

- As children become older, the schoolwork gets harder and harder. I don’t know many older children who LOVE going to Japanese School or love being taught Japanese by their parents. BUT I also don’t know any adult who has regretted going through the “hardship” of learning Japanese when they were young. So keep that in mind when the learning gets tough… it’s worth it!

- Search my website and try all of the activities! I have found dozens and dozens of great websites with ideas for activities, crafts, printable worksheets, children’s songs, etc for you. Don’t just read my blog… actually DO all the activities with your children!

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE?

How did your parents teach you Japanese? What are some things you are doing that are working/not working for your family? Please share with us! And if you enjoy reading HiraganaMama, please share this blog with your friends who may be interested in Japanese. The more readers we have, the more we can share and learn from each other!

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18 Responses to “I Want to Teach My Child Japanese- Where Do I Begin?”

  1. Harini October 3, 2012 at 1:18 PM #

    Hello Hiragana Mama, Thank you so much for your post! You have answered my question. It is a bit challenging for me as I dont know much of Japanese and definitely cannot speak fluently. I will check out the books, videos etc that you have suggested.
    Arigatou
    Harini

  2. Rachel October 3, 2012 at 2:19 PM #

    I teach the girl I babysit Japanese, and it’s amazing how much she learns without telling me. For instance, we were playing shiritori, and she got to く (ku). I wasn’t sure if she knew the word, but I made a roaring face to hint at “bear”. I’ve only taught her this word maybe three times in quick instances, such as at the zoo. Despite this, she knew it was くま (kuma)! And she does this kind of thing all the time! So, even when I don’t think it’s working, I keep letting her know what things are in Japanese, and when we’re watching/listening to something, I’ll point out phrases, because she really does pick it up.

    • Hiragana Mama October 4, 2012 at 10:58 AM #

      You are so awesome, Rachel!

      • Rachel October 6, 2012 at 10:55 AM #

        I’ve recently tried your advice to speak Japanese with her as often as possible. I think it’s working and she is starting to learn how to actually converse. This is the next step for us. Thanks for this blog entry!

  3. Susan October 4, 2012 at 4:38 AM #

    Learning to sing Japanese songs is a good starting point. Its much easier to learn to sing a song then start speaking in a conversation. Nursery songs, like “Donguri korokoro” can be found on CDs, which you can play in the car. Play the same CD over and over again, so you learn the songs too, and then sing along with enthusiam! After listening for awhile, my toddler started singing along too, even though initially she had no idea what she was singing about (and sometimes neither did I, until I looked up the translations on the internet). She learned to be comfortable with saying Japanese words, and picking up the proper intonation and accent. I also bought battery-operated songbooks, which plays songs when you push the corresponding buttons. My daughter loved these even more, because she can choose the song she wants to hear. Again. and over again. You get the picture! But the payoff is hearing your child sing a Japanese song and sound like a native speaker.

    And we did flashcards. Animals, colors, food, clothes, etc. I bought “Japanese Flashcards for Kids” by Tuttle, I think you can buy them on Amazon now. Then start pointing out these things in real life, saying the Japanese word, instead of English. Then start asking them what the Japanese word is. Sometimes this takes encouragement… I would lead with the first syllable, if I was met with silence. If still nothing, I would just say the word for her, again with enthusiasm! Don’t worry about your child getting confused; he/she wont. If they make a mistake, don’t say they said it wrong, instead just say it correctly right away.

    Once my daughter had a fair amount of vocabulary, we started watching videos on the internet. I felt it was important to hold off on videos until she had some basic vocabulary, so she could at least grasp the gist of things, and not feel overwhelmed. We starting watching a Japanese toddler show called “Inai Inai Baa” on http://www.livestream.com/japan_kids . Its a series of recorded videos that repeats in a loop. We watched it for months. Then Youtube videos of Shimajiro, Hello Kitty, Nontan. My child really likes it when we imitate short conversations straight from the videos.

    Repetition is key. Don’t try to “vary it up” because you feel they are getting bored. It’s actually us adults that are getting bored. They need to experience it “ad nauseum” until they feel they have mastered it, then they will move on. My daughter is still begging for the same Nontan video for about the 50th time!

    I don’t read many books out loud, because I am not a native speaker, and there are only a few books (aimed at babies, I think) that I have found that I can actually read with confidence. Otherwise I just find myself stumbling over the words, not sure if I am pronouncing it correctly.

    Good luck. It is fun, watching the metamorphosis.

    • Hiragana Mama October 4, 2012 at 10:57 AM #

      You are doing many smart and wonderful things! Thank you for posting your comment! We too LOVE the electronic books that play Japanese Children’s songs and have enjoyed the same shows you show your children. You are right, each child is different and we need to try and follow their lead!

    • Rachel October 6, 2012 at 11:24 AM #

      Wow, thanks for recommending http://www.livestream.com/japan_kids! Too bad the programming is too old for the 8 almost 9 year old I watch.

      • Rachel October 6, 2012 at 11:28 AM #

        I meant to say, “too young” haha. We make do with older kid’s shows on YouTube, like Sailor Moon and Pokemon.

        • Rachel October 6, 2012 at 11:32 AM #

          And by Sailor Moon I mean the live action version. The fighting may seem cheezy, but even the monsters on that show are a little scary for the girl I watch, so they are designed for children. I would recommend this series to anyone raising kids, as it’s packed fill with Japanese culture references such as deciding whether to call someone by their name or formally with san, “kaguya-hime” references, karaoke and so on.

          I usually end up showing the girl anime, so it’s great to show her an age appropriate drama to show her how Japanese is actually used, and not just voice acted.

      • petitelumi October 8, 2012 at 11:45 AM #

        Actually, the girl I watch ended up loving the livestream! She loves the songs.

  4. Asianmommy October 5, 2012 at 7:26 PM #

    Great advice! As much exposure as possible is the key, I think.

  5. Anya June 16, 2013 at 4:21 PM #

    Hi, I want to say thank you for all the great advice you give in this blog! I raise my kids bilingual (not Japanese) and all of your advice I heartily agree with. Constant exposure is the key.
    I started to learn Japanese not long ago for fun and kids are now learning with me, it’s not always easy, but it’s a great language and hopefully いっぽいっぽ we’ll get more and more proficient. Thank you again for all the great resources you share here and keep up the good work:) ありがとう !

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  7. Kelly Canaan June 12, 2014 at 9:55 PM #

    このサイトを見つけてよかった!Almost every bilingual site I’ve found is for Spanish-English. I lived in Japan for 2.5 years and am trying to raise my two sons to be bilingual, even though we live in the U.S. and my Japanese level is high intermediate (not fluent). I’ve already discovered some great YouTube and flashcard resources thanks to you and some commentors here. ありがとう!

  8. Judith October 9, 2014 at 12:10 PM #

    Hello everyone, no one in our family is Japanese or a Japanese speaker so this is a very difficult task for me… I have been interested in speaking Japanese and the Japanese culture since I was 10 and fell in love with Sailor Moon!!! Our 2 yr old son Darien is half Japanese so I want to try my best…. since we live in a mostly Hispanic area this is extra difficult…. the only Japanese school is in Pacoima. … that’s kind of far…. can you recommend any play groups in the Van Nuys area??

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