We had a long night last night, the boys taking turns crying and demanding our attention. While my wife is generally responsible for the baby—thank God these nipples of mine are purely ornamental—taking care of Yu-kun has become my job. This hasn’t caused too much of a disruption in my life because, one, I’m at the end of the school year and will pretty much have the next three months free, and, two, Yu-kun has always been “Daddy’s Boy”.
His first word as a child was “Daddy” and when he had learned how to crawl, he would make his way every morning to the room where I was sleeping and snuggle up to me for the next hour or so until it was time to get up.
Yu-kun was an early talker, something that I did not expect. Children raised in bi-lingual homes tend to acquire language later than those from single language homes. The power of low expectations.
Today, he is about 40-60 bilingual, something that I’m fairly satisfied with as what he is hearing is 90 to 95% Japanese.
One of the things that I’ve tried to do consistently—and, I do believe that consistency is one of the keys—is to speak only English to him. (I even use English when speaking to my wife in front of him to give him more exposure.) When he replies to one of my questions in Japanese, a common occurrence that can’t really be helped, I make him repeat the answer in English. If he doesn’t know the English, I will teach him. Also, if he calls out to me in Japanese, I try not to respond. I won’t look his direction if he says, “Daddy, mité!” I won’t pick him up when he says, “Daddy, dakkô!” And so on.
These are minor things, but these short words build upon each other eventually becoming full sentences.
Another thing I try to do is to give him the easiest way to say something, and when he has mastered that, give him a more difficult way. For example, I taught him “No . . .” at first, rather than “Don’t . . .” Or “. . . nothing” instead of “I don’t have . . .” And so on. When he wanted to be held, I taught him to first say “Up”, then “Hold me!” and most recently, “Pick me up!”
You figure out rather quickly what a child can understands and use and then run with that, expanding and applying the bits he knows to a variety of situations. This is important when learning to speak a foreign language. People usually want to say in a foreign language exactly what they would say in their own language, but that is a recipe for failure. It’s much better, and more interesting to communicate your ideas in a creative, roundabout way.
Anyways, Yu-kun’s speaking has really taken off these past two months, again, much, much faster than I expected. His vocabulary in Japanese is growing particularly quick so I feel sometimes like I’m falling behind in the language race. This will change, of course, once he has more exposure to the U.S. and other English speakers. I’m even considering starting an English class for children his age. When I’ll find the time to do so, I do not know, but there will be no shortage of kids wanting to take part.
I meant to write about Yu-kun’s sleep talking, but got side-tracked.
Yu-kun has always been something of a chatterbox. This doesn’t stop when he’s asleep. (Me, too.) His lips keep moving and throughout the night he’ll crack up, explain something like “How surprising!” Or, as he did one night a few weeks ago, he’ll yell something off the wall, like “More! I want more! I want more . . . baseball! More baseball!”
One of my favorites is when he started laughing in the middle of the night and said, “Daddy tooted . . . again . . . a lot.”
I’ll leave it up to your imagination what “toot” means.
A few nights ago he let out a blood-curdling scream: “No! No, no, no, no, no, no, no! Bear-san, no!”
“Bear-san” (Mr. Bear) is a polar bear puppet that the wife of our OB/GYN gave Yu-kun when he was still a baby. There was a time when Yu-kun wouldn’t go anywhere with out Bear-san. We’ve even taken him to the U.S. with us. Airport security was a bit of a challenge: the boy cried when he was forced to part with Bear-san for fifteen seconds as the toy was scanned by the x-ray machine with all of our other carry-ons.
I once left Bear-san on the subway, but was fortunately able to recover the lost bear a few hours later. That little adventure motivated me to order a spare-bear from New York in case Bear-san was irretrievably lost in the future.
Recently, poor Bear-san has dropped in the rankings of favorite toys. Yu-kun prefers to play with his cars and trains now, so much so he usually takes a parking lot full of vehicles to bed with him every night. Let me tell you, I sure miss that bear whenever I roll over onto a cement mixer in the middle of the night.