Reading to Your Children in a Second Language

Reading to your children in a second language is not different to reading to your child in your first language especially from a young age. Here’s why:

Children learn their first language through meaningful input with others. They learn to speak by copying what they have heard. They build their vocabulary by linking words to images when their parents are talking to them or reading to them. When you read, sing or speak to your child in your first language you don’t concern yourself with their ability to understand your words. You know they will learn it.


Our English library. It’s small now but soon it will be a proper library

It should be the same with a second language. If you are reading to your children in another language the pictures give the children the context to understand what you are saying the same way it would in their first language. Reading to your children in a second language is a great way for you and your child to learn that language. It doesn’t have to be scary either. You can start from the very basics the same way you would with the first language. One word per page books to one sentence per page to two or three sentence per page to a whole paragraph per page. It is possible and you should try it. Just grab a book from our English library if you live nearby or ask for book suggestions if you don’t.



How emotional training disadvantages both genders.


I guess I am writing this article because I live in a country which is about 20 years behind on gender equality. It’s something that I have often thought about because the men and women of my generation are not as subject to what I am writing about as previous generations.

One of the differences that is often commented on about men and women is about emotion. There are numerous books on the topic. Many societies around the world have this believe that men are unemotional and women are emotional. I assume I am not saying anything new here. What I have noticed though is two things. One, this difference is one our societies have created. And Two, it is a huge disadvantage to both genders and our society as a whole.

Firstly, to suggest that men are naturally unemotional is a ridiculous position to take. Men are taught to be unemotional. They are pushed in that direction. I am in no way arguing this is necessarily a bad thing, just pointing out that this is something many societies teach their men. However, they don’t seem to teach that emotions are natural.

On the other hand women are taught to embrace their emotions. They are taught to care for people and to care for themselves. They are pushed in that direction. Since men also have emotions I would argue that emotions are a natural part of the human experience. Men are pushed away from that experience and women are pushed towards it.

This is a huge disadvantage to both genders because it creates an unnecessary gender gap. It creates a difference in perspective that is so huge that both sides struggle to understand each other. Men accuse women of being overly emotional and women accuse men of being insensitive. This creates problems for both genders as there is a wall that society has built between them. Personally I think the disadvantage in this case is greater on the men’s side because they are never taught the language needed to talk about feelings and emotions. They are never taught how to deal with an “emotional” person. This puts them at a disadvantage in every field of human interaction as you need to have empathy and sympathy to be able to be part of society.

I mentioned in the title that it is a disadvantage for both genders though. Being pushed in the direction of embracing emotion wholeheartedly opens women up to greater emotional vulnerability. Being taught to shield your emotions or put off your emotions until there is time to reflect is actually a useful skill that men are taught.

For me it’s not a matter of one or the other. It’s a matter of realising that emotion isn’t a difference between the genders. In which case we should ask, is it beneficial to have this artificial difference? We should also decide which direction to go in. We can teach all humans to be emotionally distant. We can also teach all humans to be in touch with their emotions. I personally think it needs to be somewhere in the middle. Where we know how to distance ourselves and how to be in touch.

What do you think?

The Society Machine

Ten years ago I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. An autobiography that has nothing to do with Zen Buddhism or Motorcycle maintenance. The story is a reflection by the author on his own mental breakdown when he was much younger. The story contains many philosophical discussions of great interest to me when I was much younger. One of the stories has always stayed with me. Image result for zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance

That story was about a great machine. A machine the size of an entire country. That machine does everything for the people in that country. They live in it. They get food, drink, clothes, entertainment from it. The machine gives them work to do, educates them on how to live and so on. This country sized machine is very old. Older than anyone remembers. It’s so large and complicated that no one understands how it works. One day the machine stops making clothing. The people look at the part of the machine that makes clothing and try to understand why it isn’t working. Half of them notice that seventy percent of the machine looks different to the other thirty percent. They conclude that in order to make the machine work again they need to make that thirty percent look like the other seventy percent. Meanwhile the other half of the people argue that since the machine isn’t working than the seventy percent must be wrong and the thirty percent is right. Both groups start trying to fix the machine.

I’ve retold this story to a number of people. They’ve always replied to me that people would know how to fix the machine. They would recognised damaged parts from non-damaged parts. On a surface level this is true. You can tell the damaged parts of a car from the non-damaged parts of a car when you’ve had a crash. What about internally though? Can you be so certain you could fix your car if it stopped working? Would you be able to identify what isn’t working?

You may wonder, why did this story have such an impact on me. So far it is the best analogy I have ever heard for society. Society is like this machine. A giant system that we are all part of; that clothes us; feeds us, and gives us education and employment. It is a giant system that we don’t truly understand and for many people don’t question. As a system though it is much harder to fix or to discover if there is something wrong. In the above analogy they noticed something was wrong because there were no longer any clothes. What if it was something far less obvious. Something like the food changed quality, or the children being educated in the machine didn’t know anything? That is when the analogy comes closer to society.  We may notice the problems but our way of fixing them is not so different to the people fixing the machine. It is often just a surface repair that doesn’t seek to understand the true cause of the problems.

That said, one of the problems with the analogy is that society is actually always changing. Society is not a ten thousand year old machine, even if that is often how we see talk about it. If it was then my generation would look no different to the previous one and the one before that and so on. There would be no change. You would be able to place me in any era and I would fit in. We know that isn’t true so why do we delude ourselves with the idea “We’ve always done it this way.” Every generation improves on what the previous generation did. Every generation looks at their experience and says ‘I didn’t like that part, but I liked that part, let’s make a society in which that part I didn’t like isn’t there.’ This occurs in a reflective way but it also occurs in a reflexive way. It is part of being human and part of the systems that connect us and our collective experience as social creatures.

The curious thing is how each generation seems to take the changes the next generation make so personally. They insult and degrade the next generation because it doesn’t match the society they were trying to make. They don’t want the next generation to make changes. They want to make the next generation just like theirs. If you seek to create no change in the way society functions then I think you will create that world where no one understands how the societal machine works and when a problem occurs will fix it in ways that cause more harm.

I’m glad I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance even if that is the only part I remember of it.

Is your child Bilingual?

When I am with my children I almost always speak English to them. I sometimes speak Japanese to them if I am speaking to a Japanese person. When people around us here me speaking English to my children they always ask me:

“Is your child Bilingual?”

“Does your child speak English?”

“Does your child speak Japanese?”

For our oldest child, 5 years old, the answer is yes. She speaks both Japanese and English and understands both languages. Our second child started speaking more and more English this year. She is very proud of her English ability and often shouts “I can speak English.” or 「私は英語を喋るよ!」Our youngest child is only 1 and a half. He understands both languages but still only has a small vocabulary.

At home I speak only English to my children. My wife also does that but she often also uses Japanese. Since they all go to kindergarten they get lots of practice speaking Japanese. My oldest used to get very upset with us speaking English in the home. We were really worried she wouldn’t want to learn English. We showed her lots of English shows but it wasn’t until we went to Australia that she realised that not everyone speaks Japanese. After the trip she said “I have to learn English so I can speak to my cousins.”

It has been much easier with our second child. She sees our oldest talking English all the time with me and wants to copy.  Recently my oldest said “Why do we have to speak English at home?” Our second child copied her and started complaining about it too. I’m not worried though because I know she is just copying what her sister says. When they say they don’t want to speak English I just tell them, “OK, I’ll stop speaking English too. That means no more stories, no more singing.” That usually gives them something to think about.

Do you want your children to be bilingual? Why? Why not?



What does my second child often say?

What helped my first child want to learn English?

What do I say when my children say they don’t want to learn English?



Memories of a four year old

It’s been a while. I’ve got three children now. A soon to be five year old, a two year old and a recently turned one year old. I haven’t really posted anything about my experience as a parent because I didn’t really have anything to post about. Now though I suddenly have quite a lot to post about. I guess I’ve been reflecting more on my own childhood as well as fundamental parenting believes I had that have changed or solidified with time.

This post will be about the former. Memories from my own childhood. I’ve often heard people say, ‘Don’t worry they won’t remember it anyway.’ Referring to the early childhood years. I’ve always had a problem with this. Well several problems with it, but the main one is that I do remember it. I have several memories from when I was so young that I can’t actually tell you how old I was. One thing i remember is the yellow automatic swing that I loved. My mum explained my ability to remember that away with the fact that we have a photo of it. However there are a few other memories that there are no photos of.  The reason we have no photos of them is because they weren’t with my family. There are probably photos but i don’t have access to them.

My parents both worked at a time where there was no daycare. In order for my mother to continue working she needed to find someone to look after me, it was the same for my older siblings too. Thus for a sizable amount of my most formative years I was looked after by an Indian woman who lived in the neighbourhood. It’s funny, my mother would often point out where she lived to me later in life and I’m fairly certain I could drive there right now if I was in the neighbourhood. I’ve never been inclined to seek her out though until now. Last night I was thinking about how truly influential the first few years of life are to a person’s sense of the world and how to live in it. It made me wonder what was her parenting philosophy? I only ever remember her being kind and understanding. Never angry, always there but also going about doing the housework. I know that’s where i get my love of Asian food but what else did she teach me? Is she the reason why I feel a strong connection to Buddhism despite my family being firmly atheist? Side note, those don’t actually connect because Buddhism is an atheist believe structure. Well fundamentally it is anyway. That’s a different discussion. My point is from birth to five we form some of our core believes on what it means to be human. I understand my own parents’ views on what it means to be human but I don’t know my Indian mother’s core values except in that there is probably some mirror of those values in my own views of reality. I’m now quite excited to try and meet her again and talk to her about parenting.

I kind of digressed though. This blog is titled memories of a four year old. There are several memories that often float up to the surface of that time. I have always cherished those memories but never really reflected on them. Just enjoyed them. I can distinctly map out the living room space on the second story of the house that I had crawled and walked in so many times. I can remember my first experience of Indian spices in the form of Bombay mix and my desperate attempts later in my childhood to find that flavour again. I remember playing with a helium filled fish balloon. I was telling a story to myself in which I was fighting to keep hold of it because I knew it would fly off into the sky. Of course I ended up letting go of it for real and was devastated by the turn of events. Fortunately my Indian mother was there to console me. Which brings me to my final memory. A memory which is more the memory of a feeling. The memory of her own son coming home from school and how that made me feel. It’s the memory of a feeling i have often recalled but never really contemplated until now. you see I keep on saying my Indian mother because in my memories that is who she was. At least until her son came home. Then I remember a strong cocktail of emotions. First was the territorial emotions coming from the entrance of a rival. Then came the guilt, for lack of a better word, coming from knowing that she wasn’t my mother. That this was her son. Then to a strong feeling that I should hide or get away from this son. I never befriended him. It wasn’t until only a few moments ago that I thought how interesting that series of feelings is. Of course I haven’t been able to understand that series of feelings until now. Now that I can see similar thought patterns arising in my own children.

I didn’t really have a point to this blog except that you shouldn’t dismiss your children’s memories.

The key to being a good parent

From a son to a dad.

There is something that you can only understand once you’ve become a parent. It’s not even worth explaining exactly what I mean. I just have to say that sentences and the parents will nod their heads and the non-parents will say ‘yeah yeah whatever.’ It’s true though. You are given an insight into your upbringing that you can’t get until you have kids.

When you become a parent you get this little human that is totally dependent on you. Not a little dependent like a cat or a dog. I mean totally dependent without you they’ll die dependent. It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t had that what it’s like. I’d narrow the experience down to two states. One state is feeling like you are totally nailing this parenting thing and your kid is totally awesome in your eyes, the other state is feeling like you’re just making it up as you go and you have no idea if you are doing right by your kid. I guess I should say it’s a scale. Sometimes you are just in the middle there somewhere feeling like you are making it up as you go but getting it right, or feeling like you’ve got it all under control but something isn’t working. I was thinking about how great it feels to be at the top end of that scale. So the big question is how do you stay in that state?

There’s lots of factors that go into that feeling but it really boils down to two things that you must have if you want to be a good parent and raise healthy well adjusted kids. The first is a positive attitude and lavishing that positivity on your child. it doesn’t have to be over the top. Every day your child is doing something amazing though that should surprise you. Positivity really helps in being happy and energetic around your child too. Two things that really help in interacting with them. The other thing that all children need is for you to be loving. A loving atmosphere helps nurture the child to become a healthy well adjusted adult. It is impossible to enjoy parenting without love.

You may say that’s easier said than done but it’s the other way round. Positivity and love are both states of being. You can think yourself into them. Being positive is just a matter of looking at things in a good light. When your child is eating at the table and there’s a massive mess on the ground you can get frustrated and annoyed at the mess or happy and encouraging that your kid is eating. It’s all about what you want to focus on. Maybe in this particular instance you do want to focus on the mess. That’s fine too but you don’t need to be angry or frustrated about it. You can use it as a moment to teach your child the importance of cleaning up and encourage them to do it. In that way they will clean themselves and not see it as a chore but as another part of enjoying life.

The Micro-managing Parents Trope

Hopefully the title should explain what this is about in a nutshell. In case it doesn’t; have you noticed that parents who micromanage their children’s time are painted in a negative light in movies and TV shows. I first saw it in the 80s movie parenthood although it’s probably been around longer. I started thinking about it after seeing the trailer for the little prince in which the mother has every hour of the next ten years planned for her child. Obviously this is an extreme example to give us a chuckle but is it really such a bad thing to have micro-managing parents to some degree? What is the issue hear?

As Mrs Lovejoy from the Simpsons would say;

“Won’t anyone please think of the children.”

At first glance this would be the heart of it. The idea that we should let kids be kids and not cheat them out of their childhood. That we should pity the child of a micro-manager because they don’t have a chance to play with bubbles or look at a rainbow. I wonder though, why we don’t see the opposite extreme as much. We make fun of the micromanaging parent but what about the zero management parent. The ones that let the kids do whatever they want with no restrictions. While it’s easy to make fun of the micro-manager, making fun of this other parent isn’t as easy because it’s not a pretty picture to look at. Go ahead and imagine them. What do you think the parent is like? How do you think the children are behaving? If you can’t get a picture than you’re probably a better person than me. Here’s a hint though. There’s a good chance that crazy kid you remember in school was a product of such a parenting method. That or the disengaged one. All the jokes you come up with end up being based around out of control children doing horrible stuff to everyone and anyone while an indifferent parent looks on and says something droll like ‘kids will be kids.’

The issue really comes down to the debate between right brained and left brained but there is a third option. One that is better than both. That’s being in the middle. Being both right brained and left brain. You should be balanced between the two. There’s no reason the micro-managing parent shouldn’t put arts and craft down in their schedule. Our school system certainly does. Or simply, self directed learning time. Where the child goes off and does something on their own. That’s called discovery and is one of the more important learning processes for young children. The truth of the matter is that we need both. We should do micro-management because it builds our logic. We should do creative stuff because it improves our ability to work, and we should let kids have fun because it teaches them how to be happy.

Now I suspect I know what you’re thinking. Why micromanage at all? Why not just let the kids run free for hours? I have several reasons which I’ll lay out for you. First is simply that children want order. You may be thinking that I must be crazy, kids want to be loud annoying small things that suck up time and space. Well don’t think that, seriously what’s wrong with you? That’s a horrible thing to think about kids. Seeking order is part of their makeup, their drive, their programming, their instincts or whatever you want to call it. A child is looking for how to be a human adult of their gender. If you watch children play, they are constantly redefining for themselves what it means to be an adult. It’s why you will eventually hear your child say that something is for babies, or for kids, or for girls or boys. It’s how they are shaping their reality. So give them order and structure. By giving them chaos all you are doing is stopping them from being able to better understand the universe around them and ultimately stopping them from being able to create. Yeah, that’s right, you’ll stop them from being creative. Creativity is often put in opposition to structure but creativity needs structure. Without it it becomes nothing. Which is my next point. Creative activities are easy to learn. Managing your time is much harder to learn. Time management isn’t just something a kid picks up unless that kids is naturally inclined or really smart. We get just enough management in class to get a feel for it but the ultimate authority on our concept of time is our parents. The chaos kids from the lack of management parents are probably never going to gain this skill unless they have some kind of epiphany, probably in their thirties or forties. Here is the real crux of it all. To be creative you need time. Time to practice, time to get better, time to take lessons and so on. That is what a micromanaging parent is trying to do when they schedule piano lessons at five. Dance class at six. Dinner and then study time at seven. They are teaching their children about time management as well as giving their children the chance to learn something they wouldn’t have learnt if they were left to do whatever they wanted.

Now that I’ve defending micro-managers, I’m going to go ahead and do a bit of criticism. It’s more of a critique on methodology. Make sure you are giving your children a wide range of different learning methods. Exploration is an important part of their learning. Study some pedagogical practices and learn about Bloom’s taxonomy as well as Maslow’s heirarchy. Teachers these days aren’t just sitting their kids down and reading a textbook, they’re aiming to make their lessons as universally accessible as possible. So make sure your time management lesson fits the bill too. I mentioned that you are teaching time management when you micro-manage but you are only introducing the concept unless you get the child to plan out their schedule. Telling a kid they have piano at five is one thing. Getting the kid to plan what they are going to do that week knowing they have piano on Tuesday, dance on Thursday, homework due every day and they want to watch their favourite show or play some computer games while they’re at it. Probably the best way to teach time management is by getting the students

Mock the micro-managing parent if you will but don’t assume their child isn’t having any fun, more importantly don’t just assume your child is having a great time because they ran around the house screaming and knocked over a vase. To you micro-managers out there, if you want to optimise your child’s future give them the reigns once you’ve taught them how to manage their time.

What is mum and dad to the young ones?

This is a question I often wonder based on my first child’s use of mum and dad. When our first one was first using the words she quite accurately proclaimed me to be dad and my wife to be mum. At the time her world consisted of mum looking after her at home while dad worked. There was a clear concept of what mum and dad meant. When she was around one and a half we put her into child care and mum started working a night job. When this happened I was the primary carer making sure she got up early had breakfast took her to childcare picked her up from childcare made sure she had dinner, a bath and got to bed early. In this time the concepts were turned on their head. Our little one started calling me mum and my wife dad. Quite logically I might add. For her mum looks after the baby and dad works. Since I was looking after her I became mum.

The situation has changed again since then. Our little ones are no longer in child care and my wife isn’t working. It will probably change again but for now that is the situation. I am back to being dad or papa and my wife is back to being mum or mama. Our little one’s favourite game at the moment is telling stories using lego block characters. Most of them centre around a mum figure who is also holding a crying baby character. The baby is usually scared of everything. She also often refers to herself as mumma for her anpanman doll. This usually involves carrying anpanman, giving him a piggyback, singing lullaby songs and putting anpanman to sleep. Another game we play is pretending that our hands are characters. Since my hands are bigger than hers they always become mumma or pappa. She will often say mumma or pappa and have our hands hug. It’s very cute. She will also often run away from the pappa character squealing.

What does all this say about what mum and dad means to her? I’m not really sure. She never calls herself pappa or dad when she is role-playing which could mean she knows the concept is based on gender. That or the concept of the primary carer has remained for her and perhaps if i go back to be the main person she sees she’ll go back to calling me mum. I’d be interested to see if that is the case but I’d better keep on working.

Moving house when you have little people

Recently we did a pretty huge move. It wasn’t down the road. It was actually to a different prefecture requiring quite a bit of logistics on our part. We also had to do the whole move with our little ones. So here’s how it went down.

There were a few things i was quite worried about. The biggest one being how the children would take the move. I was sure that the first few months would be nothing but crying and screaming for their old home and life. The main reason I thought this would be the case is the lifestyle we had established. Our eldest made very close friends. Everyday she wanted to play with these friends. While she hasn’t cried much about it. The lose of these friends is evident. Whenever she plays with dolls she often names them after her missing friends. When she sees pictures of them she gets noticeably sad. However she is generally happy in her new surrounding and adapted very quickly. There are two reason I think this has been an easy transition.

  1. children are pretty flexible and adaptable. A new place in a new town isn’t that different to a new house down the road to them.
  2. We repeatedly informed her about the move well ahead of time. I think this actually helped the most. She could easily picture what was going to happen.

As for our littlest one. I think reason one is even more applicable to her. As a one year old, my wife, eldest daughter and I are her world. Where we are she is home.

Overall the move itself  was reasonably painless. This is because we had tonnes of help from our friends and family. This is essential. I don’t think we would have been able to do it without them. In the final few days the friends we made in our little part of Japan took the kids off us while we packed up and cleaned the house. As you could imagine, moving a house with little ones around is a real pain. Their constant need for attention meant packing that could have been done in a day was dragged out to a week or so. Another thing that greatly helped was my wife’s mum staying with us for the final two weeks. She attended to many of the simple day to day stuff allowing us more time to pack, clean and look after the kids.

One day we’ll have to do another move. From this experience I’ve learnt you either need a lot of support or a lot of time. Having both is ideal though.

In the shadow of fatherhood

When i was younger I hated my father. The kind of hate born of love. I suspect that had I been a physically stronger person; eaten properly and worked out, I probably would have attacked him. Although my brother was stronger and he never did so perhaps I wouldn’t have. As a parent now I sometimes feel the shadow of my father creeping over me. When i feel anger, frustration, or rage I can feel my father’s presence. I’m terrified of repeating history. I don’t want to be my father. Those feelings rising up there are my own though, not my fathers. They belong to me. How I decide to act on them is who I am. I am not my father. I wonder if he felt the same way. By all accounts his father was a true terror. Did my father have such doubts? Did he fear that he would be just like his dad when he was raising us kids? As a child I often told him he was just like his dad. That was my vengeance. I wonder now if that hurt him more than I could have imagined.

It is the duty of the next generation to improve on the parenting on the previous. Wouldn’t it be nice to get it right? To raise my children in such a way that they look back and think ‘I want to raise my children the way I was.’