I recently appeared as a guest on the Inside Japan Podcast. This was a first for me, and I learned some things that are worth sharing. First, some mistakes in the content worth correcting:
At the 29:20 mark, I mistakenly said that we speak only English to our kids until they are five, when I meant that we speak only Japanese to them until they are five. This was the biggest mistake I could have possibly made during a conversation about our language strategy. 🤦🏻♂️ Given the way the rest of the conversation proceeded, hopefully an attentive listener would realize that I had said the opposite of what I meant to say at that point.
I also said 似合ってる instead of 似てる later on. A smaller error but, still, oops.
I recorded audio “patches” for both of these mistakes right after the interview and sent them to the podcast host along with an isolated “dry” recording of just my side of the interview but those recordings didn’t get used.
I’ve listened back to the podcast a few times and I’m happy with the result. The Inside Japan Podcast started life as the ALTInsider Podcast (ALT comes from JET ALT terminology) and is currently sponsored by JobsInJapan.com, so the focus is definitely on foreign job-seekers in Japan. As a result, we ended up spending a lot of time on my background and my early (aborted) attempts at finding a job in Japan. Hopefully this was valuable to listeners of the podcast even though it’s not the focus of nihongodomo.com.
Unfortunately, I never asked the host how much time he intended to allot for the interview, nor did I do a good job of keeping an eye on the clock during our Skype call. This meant that I didn’t steer the conversation to the topic of raising kids in Japanese until quite far into the interview. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to share more of that on another stage (besides this blog) in the future.
If you’re a podcast listener, you know that different podcasts are produced with different levels of technical investment. Some, even those with remote guests, employ high-quality recording and careful editing. In those cases, high quality isolated recordings of participants are done individually and the audio from the Skype or Discord voice connection (used to actually hold the conversation) is discarded. These individual “dry” recordings are then synched and edited and the result sounds like people in the same room having a conversation. At the other end of the spectrum, the raw Skype audio call may be used with minimal editing even though the audio is of much lower quality than a dry local recording. I think the Inside Japan podcast has used various techniques over time, but my episode ended up at the “raw Skype call with minimal editing” end of the spectrum. I guess that’s just the reality of putting out a weekly podcast while working a full-time job and raising two kids.
“Doing it on Hard Mode”
At one point, the host mentioned that raising kids in two languages the way that we are is “doing it on hard mode” and I agreed without much elaboration. This is something I have thought a lot about, but failed to express on the podcast.
While raising our kids in a minority language is definitely harder than just using the majority language (of which we are native speakers) all of the time, it is not abnormal. In fact, it is very normal for the immigrant families that live all around us. In our case, one third of our town’s residents were born outside of the US. There are over 30 languages spoken by the 600 or so children at our son’s public elementary school (around 6% speak Japanese)! Going to a playground in our community is like going to the UN. We have made many Japanese-speaking friends by just keeping our ears open at the playground.
Those actual immigrant families don’t have the option to fall back to the majority language as effortlessly as we do in interactions outside of the family. So, from the typical American monolingual-default perspective, we are doing it on hard mode, but from the perspective of actual immigrant families, we are definitely doing it on easy mode.