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Q: My wife and I speak different languages in the family. Is there anything you recommend to assure our daughter's normal language development?

My wife and I have a unique situation. We adopted a healthy 13 month old girl. She seems to be thriving in her new home. Needles to say she did not speak when we adopted her. She can now say quite a few words. My wife is Japanese and speaks exclusively Japanese to her (she is home all day). I speak only English and her exposure to others is English as well. She seems to understand both my wife and I and responds to both languages. Is there anything you recommend to assure her normal language development?

A: You are using the classic, time-tested, and most effective technique called “one-parent-one-language”. If you stick with this technique for at least several years, you will have a naturally bilingual child. The only condition of success is this: be sure that your child is a healthy baby with normal hearing who is developing age-appropriately. If so, you are on the right track; just be persistent.

To be truly bilingual means to be literate in both languages. In this respect, I would recommend to start literacy teaching in Japanese before the same process in English (not simultaneously, as with the communicative language). The reason is that literacy is an “unnatural” process (not needed for survival), and children tend to pick up the easiest way to go about it. Your child by the virtue of living in the English language environment will tend to avoid more difficult and not needed (in her mind) means of literacy in Japanese. In other words, do not expose her to competing sets of literacy skills, do it in a sequential manner. If everything is OK, you may start literacy teaching for the Japanese language as early as 4 years old, and the English a year or two later.



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