An advantage of a multilingual household in which everyone — even the adults — are active language learners, is that it is a given that everyone’s language will be imperfect, but improving, all of the time. My wife and I are frequently discussing new Japanese words and grammar patterns that we have encountered in various contexts. Heck, just handling Hoshuko administrative communication and grading homework results in a ton of learning that the kids get to witness.

This behavior normalizes the idea that it is safe for everyone in the house to make mistakes and ask questions, even the adults! When I think back on my time as a child in elementary and middle school in particular, asking a dumb question in front of one’s classmates was the ultimate shame. I would later find out that the other kids felt this way too, and it was a great tragedy of that time in our lives that our learning environment didn’t prioritize good-faith curiosity and willingness to take a risk over knowing every fact.

The other day, our ten year old asked me the meaning of invaluable. This happens all the time and I absolutely love that we have created an environment in which our kids are willing to ask questions rather than fear admitting ignorance.

Reconstructing his thought process in this particular case is interesting. He was reading a book in bed as the rest of us were getting ready to go to sleep. He encountered the word invaluable in a context that implied that the word meant something like “extremely valuable.” This contradicted his initial intuition that the word meant “not valuable.” After all, the prefix in often negates another word: invisible = not visible, incomplete = not complete, inexpensive = not expensive etc. His confusion was totally reasonable and we spent a moment discussing this particular word and how, in this case, the word has a meaning more like “beyond value” or “priceless.”

It cuts the other way too. For my son’s recent Hoshuko project on trash and recycling, we were logging items in various categories as we threw them away that week. It just so happened that we had a lightbulb that needed replacing, so I had to log the old lightbulb I threw away. The word for lightbulb was 電 something… Uh oh, I knew it started with electricity (電 “den”) but forgot the second character. I knew it was something spherical. ボール (ball)? 玉 (tama)? OK, I had to ask my son. 球 (kyuu) he replied. That’s it: 電球 (denkyuu) using the 球 as in 地球 (chikyuu) referring to the (spherical) Earth.

These types of conversations happen all the time in our household and I could list many more examples, but the real takeaway is that having adults who regularly demonstrate their own excitement of learning means that children do not fear asking questions, because they live in a household that celebrates learning.

Podcasts on Raising Bilingual Kids

I spend plenty of my jogging and commuting time listening to podcasts, and have recently enjoyed several which are relevant to raising bilingual children.

Japan By River Cruise

I recently appeared on the Japan By River Cruise podcast to compare notes with their hosts, one of whom is raising kids with same language pairing that we are (English and Japanese) but with the minority/majority language environments reversed. We discussed a variety of topics from the impact of overseas Japanese supplementary schools, cultural aspects of language and even some provocative river cruise recommendations. They also had an earlier episode with another English speaking dad raising a bilingual daughter in Japan.


The English language version of the Kletsheads podcast (originally produced in Dutch) provides a nice primer on fundamental topics like preparing for bilingualism, the impact of siblings on a child’s language development and more. They even have a fun segment where they interview bilingual children to get their perspective on the topic!

Tongue Tied and Fluent

The Tongue Tied and Fluent series of episodes on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Earshot podcast is a rubber-meets-the-road discussion of multilingualism in Australia. I enjoyed the focus on the real-world constraints faced by a variety of families in specific situations.

Much Language, Such Talk

The Much Language, Such Talk podcast is more technical than those mentioned above, but I find it a welcome addition to my education if I’m in the mood for a more rigorous conversation.


The Parentland podcast from the BBC World Service has some specific episodes about raising bilingual children: Speaking in Many Tongues? and Discipline and Multiingualism.

America the Bilingual

America the Bilingual envisions a country where it is simply normal to be bilingual, which is something that we certainly aspire to in our family. As such, the podcast periodically addresses the topic of bilingualism in children, including their most recent episode.

Loop Line Trains: 外回り vs 内回り

If you travel on a loop rail line in Japan such as the Osaka loop line or the Yamanote line in Tokyo, you’ll encounter signage for 外回り (そとまわり) outer circle and 内回り (うちまわり) inner circle notation as you choose which track to use catch your train.

But which one do you want to take?

Often, resources like google maps will indicate that you should take the “clockwise” or “counter-clockwise” direction of a loop line.  Likewise, looking at your starting and destination stations on the rail map at the station, it will be evident to you which is the shortest physical route to your destination.  But how do you translate clockwise/counter-clockwise to the 外回り / 内回り notation used on the loop line signage?

The key to keeping this straight is remembering that trains travel on the left, just like cars in Japan.  Hence, the outside (外回り) is clockwise and the inside (内回り) is counter-clockwise!

So, consulting the helpful sign below, if we want to travel on the Osaka Loop Line (大阪環状線) from Noda (野田) to Temma (天満), we want to travel clockwise in the 外回り direction.  Off to Platform 2 we go!


速読生活 – Speed Reading Life

If you’ve only ever read to children in your native language, you may have never considered the importance of being able to read fast enough. If, like me, however, you were re-engaging with another language as you raised your children, you may have run into the challenge of reading in that language fast enough to hold their interest.

Since our kids were born, I’ve gotten into the habit of reading Japanese quickly, even in cases where I wasn’t fully comprehending the material. This was an essential skill to develop, since stumbling or pausing meant that I would lose their attention, especially when they were really young. Since we started re-engaging with Japanese learning when our first son was born, and spoke only Japanese with him until he was five, we could start with really simple material and increase the difficulty gradually as he got older. This worked well for us and for him, as it meant reading aloud with lots of repetition, which is an ideal way to practice.

Unfortunately, the habit of reading quickly has been so ingrained in me that I read quickly even when I probably shouldn’t, with the obvious downside being that I frequently miss important aspects of what I’m reading. I have to remind myself to slow down when reading important communications from the kids’ Japanese school, for example.


The Japanese tutor that I’ve been seeing the past few years uses a book that I absolutely love called An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese by Miura and McGloin. (There is no introductory companion text, so this is for students who are already at an intermediate level.) What I love about this book is the topic selection, particularly in the 速読 (speed reading) sections, which feature fun and interesting stories of Japanese/Western cultural collisions.

If the main conversations (会話) and readings (読み物) in this text book are at the so-called “+1” or “reach” level which require more careful study to understand, the speed reading sections are, by design, at a “current” or “-1” level. This means that I can achieve about 75% comprehension when reading them the first time aloud at speed. Reading a second time aloud usually gets me up around 90% comprehension.

This is very similar to picking up a new book and reading it to our kids, except there is not really an expectation that I understand everything in my kids’ books, which is kind of a trap. That leads me to…

What I Would Do Differently

Though I’m extremely happy with the improvement in reading skill brought on by these recent years of constant reading aloud, if I could rewind the clock I would devote more time to dissecting and studying our favorite books. If the kids latch on to a given book, I can easily end up reading it dozens or even hundreds of times. Not making the time to dig into the vocabulary and grammar in our favorite books is a missed opportunity.

Our Favorite Books

It’s hard to predict what will really strike a chord with the kids, but I have a few clear recommendations to make, based on what has gotten the most air time at our house.

The こぐまちゃん books are for the younger set and are good introductory reading material for the kids themselves when they start to read.

We love everything by the late Satoshi Kako, from the だるまちゃん series to はははのはなし (the story of teeth) to his more technical-leaning books on tools, water, rivers and even cross-sections (one of my personal favorites). He was amazingly prolific.

The バムとケロ books from Yuka Shimada are silly fun, with lots of details in the illustrations to discover over time. These are originally Japanese but are available in a number of languages. In fact, they were recommended to us by a friend who read the Chinese versions to her kids when they were little.

We have many books by Fumiko Takeshita, including books about all sorts of vehicles from ambulances to garbage trucks. For some reason, the Beatles make a subtle background appearance in many of these books if you look closely.

We have gotten an incredible amount of joy from the アニメ絵本 series, especially Studio Ghibli adaptations like となりのトトロ, 魔女の宅急便 and 崖の上のポニョ.

3rd Grade Arithmetic – Circles

I recently saw this video from Haichi Toaru (@haichi_toaru) referenced online as an example of 3rd grade math in Japan. At first glance, the whiteboard looks a little intimidating, with so much kanji and geometry packed on screen at once, but I think Toaru-sensei is pretty great and this is not only appropriate for a 3rd grader, but a fun lesson for an adult learner of Japanese to pick up on some new geometry-related vocabulary.

Maybe it’s because we emphasize math at our house so much and because our 3rd grader happens to be a natural, but this seems totally appropriate for that age.

Let’s break it down. First, some vocabulary

えんcircle (or Japanese Yen)

Now, let’s have a look at the white board in English:

English version of the circle lesson

After Toaru-sensei has gone through the lesson, the whiteboard looks something more like this:

Answers for the English version of the circle lesson

After seeing this video online, I’ve been going through Toaru-sensei’s other videos and plan on going through some with my children in the future.

Transitive / Intransitive Pair: 落とす / 落ちる

Let’s face it. Things are going to get dropped, intentionally or not. It’s important to know how to describe it using the transitive / intransitive verb pair 落とす / 落ちる (おとす / おちる), meaning to drop.  Here are a few examples to illustrate their usage.


ぬいぐるみstuffed animal
剃るそるto shave


As always, note the use of を in the transitive case.

Transitive – 落とす (おとす)

外でぬいぐるみを落とした。 You dropped the stuffed animal outside.

コップを落とさないように気をつけて。Be careful not to drop the cup.

Intransitive – 落ちる (おちる)

葉が落ちた。The leaves fell.

紙が机から落ちました。A paper fell from the desk.

Other Uses

Note that in additional to the common use of 落とす / 落ちる to mean drop or lose, there are other uses you’ll encounter in different domains. For example:

彼はひげを剃り落とした。 He shaved off his beard.

スピードを落としよう。 Let’s slow down.

Transitive / Intransitive Pair: 脱ぐ / 脱げる

Another Transitive / Intransitive verb pair that comes up a lot in parenting is 脱ぐ / 脱げる (ぬぐ / ぬげる), meaning to undress.  Here are a few examples to illustrate their usage.


水着みずぎswimsuit / bathing suit
片方かたほうone of a pair


As always, note the use of を in the transitive case.

Transitive – 脱ぐ (ぬぐ)

何で靴下を脱ぎましたか? Why did you take off your socks?

水着を脱いでシャワーを浴びて下さい。Please take off your swimsuit and get in the shower.

玄関で靴を脱がなければなりません。  You must take off your shoes at the entrance.

Intransitive – 脱げる (ぬげる)

彼の片方の靴が脱げた。One of his shoes came off

Transitive / Intransitive Pair: 集める / 集まる

One Transitive / Intransitive pair that I’ve seen come up a lot since becoming a parent is 集める / 集まる (あつめる / あつまる), meaning to gather or collect.  Here are a few examples to illustrate their usage.




Transitive – 集める

積み木を集めて下さい。 Please gather up the blocks.

玩具を集めて箱に入れて下さい。Please collect the toys and put them in the box.

彼女は花を集めています。  She is gathering flowers.

Intransitive – 集まる

靴下が集まった。The socks were gathered together.

明日集まりましょう。 Let’s get together tomorrow.

子供は公園で集まりました。 The children gathered in the park.

Kodomonia Namba

If you’re in the Namba area of Osaka looking to beat the heat or avoid the rain with the little ones, Kodomonia on the 5th floor of Namba Parks is a good bet.  We spent some time there recently, prior to catching the rapi:t to Kansai airport for our flight home.  It was a good way for the kids to burn some energy prior to the long flight.

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Kodmonia lists the target age range as 8 and under but the available activities generally skew younger.


Much of the fifth floor retail space nearby is also targeted at kids, from kids’ shoes to randoserus to toys, so you can take this opportunity to snag one of those coveted Oshiri Tantei plushies that won’t ship overseas!

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If you spend any time around kids, you’re bound to run into the phrase そっくり which translates to “the spitting image of” or “looks just like.” Japanese friends who know our our older son will be frequently shocked when they see our younger son and react with something like「お兄ちゃんにそっくりだ」noting that our younger son is the spitting image of his older brother.

I’ve also seen this phrase in the アニメ絵本 (anime picture book) of 「魔女うの宅急便」(Kiki’s Delivery Service). In particular, the scene where Kiki’s first customer asks her to deliver a bird cage containing a stuffed animal that happens to look just like her own black cat, Jiji. The word そっくり is used in the following sentence:


This translates to something like “Inside the cage, there was a black cat stuffed animal that looked just like Jiji.”


When it comes to resemblance, you may also encounter the verb 似る which means “to resemble.” For example, to say that someone’s little sister greatly resembles her mother, you could say: