I’ve never been one to shy away from beating a dead horse, so I’d like to continue today on the topic of bilingualism. This time I’ll take a swing at it from another angle: literacy.

When I was a teenager, my mom used to work with a group that taught adults how to read. They had a name I thought was catchy at the time, but now I can’t remember. Hmm. Anyway, Mom said that these people weren’t particularly dumb or anything; for some reason or another they had just fallen through the cracks in the education system. As a kid, I didn’t see how this was possible. There was one particular first grade teacher who had been at the local elementary since just after Adam and had personally failed half the county. Good thing for Adam. She would have paddled him over that fig leaves nonsense for sure.

As an adult living in a country with a notoriously complex writing system (two phonetic “alphabets” plus 2000+ Chinese characters, oh my!), I can see how a person can make it through life without a firm grasp of the written word. I’m not completely illiterate in Japanese; I can usually manage to extrude most of the meaning from most of the words I see most of the time. But I don’t get any pleasure from reading in Japanese. It’s an exercise in deciphering for me that makes me use the undeveloped mathematical portions of my brain. (It’s a wilderness in there, folks.) Not being able to read for pleasure is just a step up from not being able to read at all.

Of course I could probably remedy this with some hard work and effort, but that would take, um, hard work and effort.

Me First, however, is the opposite. He’s making leaps and bounds in his ability to read Japanese. They practice all day at school. The book store is full of attractive and glossy new books just begging for a peak. If worse comes to worse and Mommy won’t buy anything, there are well-loved, dog eared volumes in the library practically calling to him with their siren song.

I wish he was as interested in learning to read in English. There is so much I want to share, so much knowledge out there waiting for him, a great and grand tradition with a seductive siren song all its own.

We go to Saturday school; I work with him a little bit every day, but the passion isn’t there yet. I’m forcing him, which makes it a struggle. I hope that one day the light will click on like it did for me when I was learning to play piano all those years ago. What was a chore one day turned into a joy overnight. There are times when I wonder if I’m putting too much pressure on him or causing him too much stress with the extra work. (It seems most of my Japanese moms don’t have this dilemma since they schedule their kids into activities at the very real risk of running themselves into the poorhouse.)

I hope that one day, when he is able to read Shakespeare or (let’s be realistic) “yahoo omg,” then he will appreciate the effort. Until then I guess I’ll continue struggling in the dark, unsure if I’m doing what is best for him or not.

That’s the deal when you’re the oldest, I guess. Your parents are amateurs.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rebecca Whitehead
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 10:25:30

    Here, I’ll make you feel a lot better. I lived in Japan for 4 years and the only Kanji I recognized was the symbol for our prefecture and “exit”. You showed me that exit looked like an open mouth.


  2. chrysanthemummum
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 19:12:19

    My son is 5 and can’t read much in English only recognises words really. He reads much more in hiragana as it is easier to read. I have done phonics with him and didn’t get anywhere really and then my daughter found the phonics cards buried in the bedroom somewhere and my son could read them. It suddenly made sense to him. Must capitalise on this newly emerging knowledge. He isn’t interested in writing yet, but enjoys “reading” with me. Luckily I found a whole shelf load of the Oxford Reading Tree in my school library and so we are ploughing our way through those. I have no idea if it will sink in, but I think just giving them exposure to easy books is a start. I never push or force it and if he says he doesn’t want to do it then we don’t – reading at bedtime is a given and something both kids enjoy. The writing is harder for them and they get so tired tracing all those letters, eh?

    I hear ya on the reading in Japanese. I survive quite happily (well, not always happily!), but it is such a chore to read in Japanese and no enjoyment is derived from it so I avoid it if I can. I’m dreading it when the kids start elementary school when I gather the endless letters home will drive me mad. I get enough from the hoikuen but they don’t seem as important as I imagine “proper” school letters do.

    Sorry, rather long comment. I love your blog!


    • hamakkomommy
      Nov 05, 2011 @ 20:53:36

      I feel a bit torn about making them do English “homework” since he already has Japanese homework every day already. We had been working through “Dr. maggie’s Phonics Readers” for a year or so, I guess, but when he started going to the Saturday school I realized he could actually read much better than I thought. Just doesn’t really want to, since as you said, it is much easier for him to read the Japanese children’s books with just hiragana in them.

      Writing is horrible in both languages, so I think that is probably a motor skills issue.

      And yes, the letters from school are a pain in the @ss! Especially as they tend to emerge from his backpack wrinkled and wet, if they emerge at all.


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