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Languages All Around. Resources for International Parents

Updated: May 26, 2020

For my master’s thesis, I interviewed 9 international families about their child-rearing in Japan. I was thinking that the topic of child-rearing might be of interest for international alumni. In my research, many parents have given me such concerns as:

1) cultural and linguistic adjustment in the kindergarten or school are not easy (talking about food and other concerns is harder if there is a language barrier)

2) it is easier to help the child do math homework than it is to do science homework (there is more text in Japanese in science homework than in math one)

There are ways to make parent-teacher communication more effective. Some kindergartens invite interpreters. Staff in one kindergarten showed pictures of the child’s day on an iPad or used written communication in English. Parents noted differences between kindergartens – some actively promote diversity, while others are new to dealing with international families – is there is former type nearby?

There are also ways to help the child do homework. Some international associations (国際交流協会) may offer classes for international children to help with homework. I heard that there is an ongoing project to translate some of the online school materials by a municipality – due to the pandemic, at home parents spend time making sense of unfamiliar things in the homework.

Finally, there are resources for promoting mother tongue. Researchers at Osaka University and famous researchers like Jim Cummins and Kazuko Nakajima argue that mother tongue 1) supports communication between parents and children and 2) promotes cognitive development of the child.  

Your child may be forgetting mother tongue. Also, if you observe how you are talking to your child, you may find interesting patterns – are there more imperatives (“come eat”, “let’s do homework”)? are you inviting your child to produce a short logical speech (e. g. “Can you teach me that game you played?”), are you inviting an opinion (“What’s your favorite class? Why?”)?. The more you get your child to enjoy practicing variety of these, the easier it will be for them to explain later on where they met their boyfriend/girlfriend and why they chose that person, using their mother tongue and the concepts shared in the family .

Also, mother tongue supports the child’s learning Japanese. Logical speech, argument, essay writing, reading, etc. consist of skills used in any language and skills specific to each language. If the child learns Japanese alphabet before the alphabet for a language they know, they may be confused – so many strange new sounds, and why are we writing these strange shapes in class?  However, if they got the concept of sounds and letters in their mother tongue, writing in Japanese starts to make more sense. Math and abstract thinking are also transferred like this.

If you are interested in research papers, you can use keywords like “family language policy”, “heritage language”, “minority language”, “bilingual child”, “trilingual child”, “plurilingualism”, 母語・継承語、家庭言語、CLD児、背景の多様な子ども、外国につながる子ども, etc.

For more info, feel free to check on my video and resources listed below it:


Author: Snezhanna

Degree: BA and MA from Osaka University

Major: Japanese Linguistics in Japan in 2012-2019

OUISA Alumni enjoys hiking and relaxing

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