The Benefits of Siblings for Second-Language Learning

17 Jul

Trying to help one child become bilingual is a lot of work. Trying to teach two kids, I thought, was going to be twice as much work.

I’m starting to believe that I might be wrong. Here are the reasons why:

1) When I was trying to teach my first-born Japanese, I often felt like I was talking to myself (when my daughter was a baby/toddler). I would talk to her, sing to her, etc, but since my husband doesn’t speak Japanese, I felt like my daughter never got to hear Japanese conversations in real situations.

My second-born has the advantage of hearing my daughter and I converse together in Japanese. Since my daughter never stops talking, he gets to listen to a lot of Japanese words every day!

2) Being a mother of 2 kids who don’t attend school yet is busy. I wish I could have more one-on-one time with my kids. When I read to my daughter, my son isn’t interested. When I read books to my son, my daughter isn’t interested, because their levels of knowledge and interests are very different.

BUT we have now reached the magical age when my daughter knows all of her hiragana and thinks reading out-loud is a lot of fun! So when I am busy with housework, I can say, “Please go read this book about trains to your brother.”, and she does! My daughter enjoys reading, my son enjoys listening, and I get to feel less guilty about doing housework instead of spending time with my kids. This situation is working perfectly for us right now because my daughter is only able to read easier books… which is what my son enjoys.

3) My son is currently a “terrible two” :). I love him to pieces, but he loves to say “no!” and run in the opposite direction of where I tell him to go. Thankfully, he thinks his big sister is the coolest and will copy whatever she does, even in the language department. So when my daughter says a word in Japanese, my son will repeat it. When my daughter and I play Shiritori in the car, my son wants to play too.


What about you? Are you raising more than one bilingual child? How do siblings affect the ability to learn and maintain a language?


8 Responses to “The Benefits of Siblings for Second-Language Learning”

  1. Kozue July 17, 2012 at 9:32 PM #

    In my case, it’s reverse, but it works! I have always felt felt guilty not being able to be consistant in teaching my older kids Japanese while they were younger. Now, my 5 years old daughter is picking up very quickly, so does my 3 year old daughter. Because they are enjoying learning and getting a lot of praises, my sons who are 9 and 7 are also feeling competitive, and willing to learn more. My 7 month old baby is talked to in newly learned Japanese. I’m looking forward to the day when we can do Shiritori game as a family 🙂

    • Hiragana Mama July 17, 2012 at 9:44 PM #

      Kozue-san, thank you so much for your comment!! I think your family is unique in the “reverse-ness”, SO COOL that you haven’t given up and are still trying to teach the little ones. Ganbare! 🙂

  2. Asianmommy July 22, 2012 at 10:56 PM # cute! I think it’s true–if one sibling enjoys learning another language, then the other sibling will want to join in, too!

  3. yseino July 23, 2012 at 7:23 PM #

    Good to see that your hard work is paying off!

  4. JNC88 August 28, 2012 at 12:39 AM #

    My twin sister and I are bilingual in Japanese and English, having had our mother more or less threaten us into learning it beginning when we were 5 years old. We spent all but two years in Japanese schools, but were able to build our reading and writing skills beyond a 2nd grade level through a mutual obsession with manga. I think having shared interests helped encourage us to keep up with it without either one of us losing interest and giving up. Being able to talk about the stories in the comics we read and build our collection TOGETHER helped make our hobby a long term one. I’m not sure if your children like reading any sort of anime-ehon now, but introducing them to gender-neutral age-appropriate manga (i.e. Doraemon) and junior novels/shosetsu could be a great way for them to maintain their reading and writing skills whenever they’re in U.S. schools.

    Also, strangely enough, my sister and I never really spoke to each other in Japanese as children (even if we could) unless we were playing with our Japanese friends. Even today, we only throw in words or phrases that are best said/explained in Japanese, or use Japanese when attempting to keep a conversation private.
    A lot of my fellow bilingual/ha-fu friends and I end up speaking using a language that uses Japanese and English very interchangeably, pretty much using whatever language pops out first.
    ex. ” Hey Ayaka, ashita hima? issho ni movies iku? I heard it’s omoshiroi. Jason mo sasotte iiyo he doesn’t have work desho?”

    Good luck, and your kids will thank you once they realize they have twice as many friends and experiences than the average person because they’re bilingual. : )
    Korekara mo ganabatte kudasai ne!

    Jessica Naomi Cox

    • Hiragana Mama August 28, 2012 at 9:08 AM #

      Very cool, Jessica! My sisters and I are the same way. I love your Japanglish examples!

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