Of course you want your kids to be bilingual when you’re in a foreign country or married to a person from a foreign country. I was no exception. To give myself some credit, I never did think it would be kantan. And there were so many ways to “do” it.
Living in Rhode Island in 1988, soon after moving back to the US from Tokyo, I met an older Chinese woman. She had five kodomo and four of them were teens or in daigaku. Her youngest was three years old. She griped to me that she was actually paying college tuition to have her older ones learn the Chinese language. She was determined that the three year old learn Chūgokugo then and there. Outrageous to have to pay money to teach them a language they could have learned at home, she’d say. But apparently three is the age where they realize that the outside world is speaking something different from what is spoken at home. And that’s the first stumbling block for many.
The Monbushō supports Japanese citizens living outside of Japan by providing free kyōkasho and a correspondence course. I’m sure it is quite different now, but for my daughter it meant tape cassettes and workbooks. And when we lived in New Jersey, it meant going to hoshūkō. She liked it and we all liked getting lunch at a Japanese bakery afterwards.
Back in the early nineties the Japanese shōgakusei were passing around manga and learning American history through a multi-volume set of manga. The teachers at their American school would be impressed by their knowledge. They had no idea it all came from a manga.
The other day, my daughter told my bored grandson to go read his library books. He stated that he’d finished reading all of them. She scolded him for only taking out graphic fiction this time around. I had to laugh. What goes around comes around.
I said I had one word and only one word for her. Ribon! Or I could spell it as it is in English….
Ribbon comes out monthly and is over three inches thick. Buying it in America would cost me upwards of $10 (more like $20 now). And darned if she wouldn’t finish reading it in thirty minutes or less! It seemed like an incredible waste of money to me, but she insisted she had to have it each month and truthfully I was impressed that she could read it so quickly.
But it was those manga that kept her Japanese alive and made her avid to read more. And… as a librarian I thoroughly approve! Her reading level stayed on an elementary school level, but considering she had an American mama and was living in Japan, well, I will take it.
- kantan – 簡単 easy, siimple
- kodomo – 子供 child, children
- daigaku – 大学 college, university
- Chūgokugo – 中国語 the Chinese language
- Monbushō – 文部省 The Japanese Ministry of Education
- kyōkasho – 教科書 textbook(s)
- hoshūkō – 補習校 Literally, supplementary school, but refers to the Saturday school held overseas in areas where a Japanese population necessitate it. They range from being small cultural schools catering to part Japanese children all the way to very serious endeavors meant to ensure that Japanese children living temporarily outside of Japan will not fall behind in their studies. Don’t even ask me about parent roles. They are expected and way beyond PTA’s of America.
- shōgakusei 小学生 – elementary school students
- manga 漫画 – graphic fiction or frankly, comic books