When parents from two different countries that speak different languages have children, they have a choice to make at some point. Do we stick with mom’s language or dad’s? Or do we make an effort to teach them both. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Trust me, it’s not.
You hear it all the time when you go back home, “Oh you’re so lucky. Junior will be fluent in English and Japanese.” Well, sadly we all know that isn’t the case at all. Trying to raise a child who can read, write and speak fluently in two different languages can be a nightmare. Here in Japan, most children will get more than enough exposure to Japanese from one of their parents, their Japanese relatives, friends, school, TV, etc.
As for English, things usually start like this. The child says their first words, some Japanese, some English. The English speaking parent reads books to their child at night. Then, maybe teaches them to write their name. This is easy, they think. No problem. I’ve got this. Then the child starts getting older and maybe they can speak English and read a little, but not much. And as for writing, things are not going well at all. Gradually the parent’s realization that they will have to teach their child everything by themselves starts to fill them with dread and fear. “After teaching all day, I have to come home and get the books out to teach my own child to read and write!”, “I can’t do this!”, “Help!”. I’ve yet to meet anyone who enjoys teaching their own children. Unfortunately, this is the sad reality for many people attempting to raise a bilingual child in Japan.
But wait, I hear you say. There are plenty of international schools in Nagoya. You can send junior there. It’s true. There are now more international kindergartens, elementary schools and junior highs than ever before. We are spoilt for choice….providing we can afford it. And sadly, Prime Minister Abe’s cries of “pay your employees more” haven’t reached the ears of most employers. Which means, these schools are financially out of reach for a large number of parents.
This is where BilingualNagoya comes in. In 2007, a bunch of parents got together and started to organize lessons for their soon to be bilingual kids. They called this group BilingualNagoya. They found a place to hold the class every week and hired a teacher. A curriculum was decided upon and a school was born. The students are taught in English, no Japanese is used at all. At the start of term they are placed in classes that suit their age or ability and over the course of the year, work their way through literacy and spelling textbooks. These are the same books that they would be using if they were attending a school back in mom or dad’s homeland. The main focus of the class is on reading and writing. Most children can already speak English when they arrive at class and having to teach your own child how to read and write is what seems to stress parents the most. Homework is given weekly and it has the feel of a real school with noticeable progress from year to year. This is nothing like the “chain” schools that teach English in Japanese.
BilingualNagoya is for children ranging from first grade in elementary school to 3rd grade in junior high. They meet every Saturday morning in Chikusa ward. It is organized by the parents and isn’t run as a business. There are no profits. All the money is used to rent the classroom and pay the teacher etc. The classes are only one hour long and the students are placed in a class after their ability is discussed between the child, parents and teacher. To attend the class, the child must have an English speaking parent or be a returnee who has attended an English speaking school overseas and speaks English well. There are three classes at the moment, nine to ten, ten to eleven and eleven to twelve. You can bring your child five or ten minutes before class and then hang around and chat with the other parents while you wait. It’s quite a pool of knowledge and a good chance for parents to put their heads together and figure out better ways to get their children to do their homework or what schools they are planning on sending their children to in the future. Sometimes, it seems the parents get just as much out of it as the kids.
This school has been a special place where bilingual children can come once a week and study in classes with other kids just like them. Originally, started as a place of learning it has become much, much more. Lasting friendships have been formed between the children and the parents, too. The students have a chance to be around other children who might be experiencing similar issues as them at their regular school and they might feel more comfortable telling a friend than good old mom and dad.
If you are interested bring your child along and you can sit in on a class and see if it’s what you’ve been looking for. It’s only ¥1,500 per class, and it is a great opportunity to help your child become part of a bilingual community.
To arrange a class visitation contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org