Is Raising Bilingual Children Worth the Costs?

19 Feb

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Are you wanting your child to become bilingual? Get ready for fun… adventure… frustration… joy… and spending money 🙂 I wrote the following for In Culture Parent magazine about raising bilingual children. Bilingual education doesn’t have to be expensive but in many cases, the things you want to do for your children does cost money. Of course, our children are worth every penny (at least that’s what I try to tell myself), right?


“I am the daughter of born-and-raised-in-Japan parents and also a proud American citizen. I grew up bilingual because both of my parents spoke only Japanese at home, but at school, I only heard English. I think this is one of the most ideal ways to become bilingual—to be immersed in one language half the time, and in another the other half. I was very lucky; being bilingual has helped me in my education and given me neat volunteer and work opportunities. Although my English is ten times better than my Japanese, I am grateful for the rusty bit of Japanese that I know.

I am now married to a so-white-it’s-almost-blinding husband, who only speaks English, and together we are attempting to raise bilingual and bicultural children. It is both easier and harder than we anticipated. Oh, and more expensive.

Raising bilingual children is easy because little children are naturally just amazing. Their brains are super sponges. They hear a word once, and they’ve got it. It’s locked into their brains. No need to teach grammar or use flashcards—all you have to do is talk, and they just get it. My daughter (now three) was slower to begin speaking than some of her peers. She didn’t say her first words until she was nearly 18 months old. We attribute this to her listening to two languages and trying to figure it all out. By the time she was two, you could never get her to shut up. She would turn to my mom and blabber in Japanese, then turn to my husband and blabber in English. We were floored. We did it! She’s bilingual! We are awesome parents.

After awhile though, my daughter figured out English was easier. She learned that most of the people around her speak English, not Japanese. And because of the lack of necessity, she started to speak more English than Japanese. I was terrified. What do I do now? Is it all downhill from here? I put forth extra effort to speak more Japanese in our home (hard), made her watch Japanese shows on YouTube and organized more playdates with Japanese friends. It kind of worked. Her Japanese got a little bit better.

But I knew more was needed. This is where money comes into play. I enrolled her in the local Japanese School ($$$). I bought many Japanese children’s books ($). We found a Japanese music teacher ($). We want to take her to Japan for a few weeks ($$$). And maybe someday, if we have any leftover money after all that, we will get cable ($) so she can watch more Japanese children’s shows on TV.

Some may say all those extra things aren’t necessary: “Just try to speak Japanese more at home.” That may be true, but remember, my Japanese is not great. I don’t want her to learn poor Japanese. Plus, I really want to take advantage of these early years when the brain learns the quickest. I have a feeling that once she starts attending school full-time, it will all of a sudden become much more challenging to keep up her Japanese.

I don’t want to be a “Tiger Mom” and have my kids hate to learn Japanese because I’m pushing too hard (I know I hated studying Japanese when I was young). I hope I can help my children realize the value of bilingualism at an early age and that I will be able to find fun ways to teach them the language and culture. Raising bilingual children isn’t always easy and it can be expensive, but its rewards are absolutely priceless.”


{This is a re-post of an article I wrote for In Culture Parent magazine last August}

24 Responses to “Is Raising Bilingual Children Worth the Costs?”

  1. Cherie J at 3:55 AM #

    So true! It’s not cheap (even for the early years in Japan! The Yochien here is going to rob us blind before we’re done sending all of our kids through it!) It’s so true about teaching them when they’re young, those spongy brains pick up everything! Thankfully the Shoggako is free for the most part! You’ve found some great resources and I’m so glad that I still get to patronize them frequently :-). My kids love them even more now that we’re here.

    I hope you get to take that vacation! I LOVE Japan, it definitely feels like home. If you end up in the Fussa area please let us know!

    • Hiragana Mama at 8:54 AM #

      Hey! I have been thinking about you and wondering if you’ve adjusted to life in Japan. We are going to Japan for sure (soon!) We won’t be visiting Fussa but we will be in Tokyo for a few days which is kinda close to Fussa?

      • Cherie J at 9:39 PM #

        We’re still adjusting, we love it though! We are kind of part of Tokyo here… I haven’t ventured out too far as of yet though. Maybe we’ll have a chance to meet up with you if you have time, I know you’ll have lots to look at and family to visit though. I’m excited for your trip! Your kids are so lucky!

  2. Bicultural Mama at 3:42 PM #

    I understand what you are saying. I am not fluent in Chinese…I know some, but not enough for my toddler to become fluent. I plan on sending her to Chinese School when she is old enough to enter. It’s not near and it costs a lot of money…plus will be a big time commitment. But don’t want to miss this window!

  3. jgadrin at 8:41 PM #

    my parents spoke to me and my sisters in tagalog (filipino). i understand fluently, but it’s tough for me to speak–bad grammar. my three children fell in love with all things japanese when we visited tokyo and have since started taking japanese lessons from an amazing instructor from osaka (i found her on craigslist). your youtube video picks are always a hit. they’ll watch them over and over. i will not be able to rasie them bilingual since my husband and i do not speak japanese, but their interest is so strong that we want to encourage it. the youngest (5) gets little bits, the next one (7) gets more of it, but my oldest (9) really focuses and can read and write hiragana. it’s so amazing to see them answer their teacher’s questions and sing songs in japanese. it is expensive, but they love it so.

    • Hiragana Mama at 8:59 AM #

      You two are wonderful parents for encouraging their love with Japan! It’s interesting that all 3 of your children enjoy Japanese. I think a private tutor is a great idea. We may do that one day too, if Japanese School becomes too difficult.

  4. Lulu at 11:56 PM #

    Raising children in general is expensive but yes, raising them bilingually or multilingually is even more so! Very true!

    Do you think the money spent is paying off already?

    I am sure a trip to Japan will help- are your parents still based in the US? Do they speak to her in Japanese?

    • Hiragana Mama at 12:16 PM #

      Yes, the money spent already has definitely been worth it 🙂 My parents are living in the US but they speak to our children in Japanese. We need to go visit them more often!

  5. We are lucky we are living in Asia- Singapore and here most people know 2 languages or more so the kids get to practice English, Mandarin and Cantonese with family members and friends. I agree that Japanese materials are expensive. I’m trying to add Japanese to the languages that the kids are exposed to and the flash cards that I managed to purchase from the bookshop are really expensive.

    • Hiragana Mama at 8:11 AM #

      I know, I wish they weren’t!! Your kids are lucky to be exposed to so many languages.

  6. Genki Kitty at 2:15 PM #

    Such wonderful ideas! I plan to raise our future children bilingual too. My Japanese isn’t fluent so I was worried about our plans. I’m feeling a little better about our plans now that I read your blog. Thanks.

  7. Tamara staton at 11:59 PM #

    I’m new to your blog, and really enjoy your humor and writing style! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, it definitely makes a difference over here on my end. Our daughter is three, and now fluent in german and english…we are choosing not to send her to german preschool since she is speaking so much with me. I expect things may shift once she is with more english speakers, but until then, I’m super happy with her language abilities. (totally different note…I started learning japanese a few years back, but didnt stick with it since I wasn’t planning a trip to japan, or a career with the language. I did love it though!)
    Thanks! Tamara

  8. Jen at 8:36 PM #

    Thanks so much for participating in this month’s Bilingual Carnival! This was one of the most popular posts. 🙂

    I agree that it is very expensive and time-consuming to raise bilingual kids, and I certainly underestimated what would be required before I had kids. One of the reasons I am happy to raise my kids in Japan is that I think it is easier for them to pick up English here than to pick up Japanese in Canada. I wonder how you all source Japanese kids books (so expensive!) overseas.

    • Hiragana Mama at 9:35 PM #

      I wish I could raise my kids in Japan for a few years.

      Thanks for letting me join your blog carnival!

  9. KateR at 10:46 PM #

    Hi! I’m here by way of the Blogging Carnival. It really is true that raising children bilingual adds an extra expense! Then again, I’m a book-lover and can’t seem to stop buying books – in English or German 🙂 My son isn’t old enough to start at a German school yet, but I’m sure we’ll add that to our list of bilingual expenses when the time comes. He’s only been talking for 3 months, but it’s amazing how well he does. And he is surprisingly aware of his two languages. So far so good…. But I imagine we’ll encounter that same kind of moment when he suddenly realizes that most people speak English and perhaps refuses to speak German. I’m so grateful for blogs like yours where I can find support and encouragement! I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts!

    • Hiragana Mama at 3:26 PM #

      Thank you!! I used to spend a lot of money on books too, until I enrolled my daughter in Japanese School (they have a book library, so awesome!). Ganbattene.

  10. at 11:40 AM #


    Here you can find what to do when your child rejects learning/speaking the target language. I would definitely recommend reading the experiences of the other parents from mixed families towards the end of the post.

    Also here you can find more than 50 different benefits of raising a bilingual child:

  11. ashley at 12:03 AM #

    I am a Canadian single mother and my son is who is 3 and 5 months and is attending a Japanese Daycare. The daycare is all stressed because he is not speaking in fluent sentences like all the other kids and no matter how I stress it will come as he is being brought up bilingually this just seems not enought for them. I am not feeling stressed about his speaking abilities, however, maybe I am wrong and should be. Any suggestions? Also, the daycare is stressed by another factor he is not good in a group setting but fine on a one on one situation. Again, should I worry abou this?

    • Hiragana Mama at 10:40 AM #

      I don’t think I am qualified to answer your questions. I would have to observe in person, good luck!

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