Yoshito Darmon-Shimamori, a trilingual language teacher: Advice for parents raising bilingual children and his new book!

[ 0 ] 17/04/2023 |

Today I have the honor of hosting another interview on the blog with Yoshito Darmon-Shimanori. He’s launching his new book for bilingual children In Search of the Lost Words which can be pre-ordered on Kickstarter with exclusive rewards for the backers right now! On the first 2 days, there will be early bird rewards like discounted packages and the 40-page digital guide “How to Turn Your Multilingual Ability Into a SUPERPOWER“! His new book is quite unique as a concept and that should not come as a surprise; Yoshito grew up with two cultures and languages at home, he’s a father of two multilingual and multiliterate children, he’s also a language teacher, and very creative so he totally gets the kids’ needs! Let me present you the book, and then you can scroll further down for the interview <3. Link to check out the book and back the campaign here!

Hi! I’m Yoshito Darmon-Shimamori. I am half-French half-Japanese and grew up in France. This is where I learnt to read and write in Japanese. And it hasn’t been an easy journey. As I became a dad, it was very important for me to provide a more enjoyable, fun experience to my sons of learning to read and write in their home languages. My (now twelve years of) experience as a secondary school language teacher has helped me tremendously in this respect, and I have founded The Library 4 Multilinguals to help fellow parents and educators create an enjoyable experience for their children and students.

This is how I came to write The Parents’ Guide to Raising Multi-literate Children, and now In Search of the Lost Words – A Bilingual Time Travel Adventure. The former, as the title suggests, is aimed at parents (and educators). And the latter is a graphic novel aimed at multilingual children aged 8-12. It is a book specifically designed for multilingual children by its content AND format.

The format is probably what makes this book the most unique. On the one hand, it is designed to create opportunities for parents and children to discuss their family and culture. This is done by inviting the reader to complete some of the illustrations that demand details specific to the grandparents’ country and/or culture.

On the other hand, it creates a genuine need for the reader to write in their home language. Anna, the main character hardly speaks her father’s language. She (and the reader) therefore needs to work out from the situation and some words she can pick up (written around the speech bubbles) what the people are saying.

Is a bilingual/multilingual child someone who speaks equally well, and “without an accent” in all their languages?
This is one of the important questions I wanted to deal with in this book.
Representation matters. And this is also why, the main character, Anna is an “unbalanced” bilingual person – i.e. she speaks better one language than the other. It is important for children to understand that the widespread idea that a bilingual person speaks equally well both their languages is unrealistic. There are of course people who are more balanced. But it demands tremendous work and is relatively rare. This book both normalises the above but also demonstrates how to help our children want to speak more their home languages. Spending time with the family is what motivates Anna, the main character, to speak again her dad’s language, and consequently reconnect with her family.

Regarding “accents” I would like to quote my good friend Tetsu Yung who once said, “Accents are like good looks. We can all agree that there are times when they can be helpful in life, but they are not necessary”. To be bilingual, does not mean “sounding like a native”. And in many cases, regional accents make people sound different in various parts of the same country. Accents are part of our identity. They are our history. Our children’s accents are the reflection of the incredible life they are living. They have a foot in many cultures, and roots in different countries. Let’s treasure their accents!

How can we motivate a child to talk in their home language(s)?
This is a very frequently asked question. The most important point is to create an environment where they hear the language. So, we, parents and carers, should speak as much as possible in the language(s) we want our children to speak. It is a whole environment to create.

Of course, this is not all. On top of that, helping our children want to speak our language(s) with them is crucial. In our family, we have game nights, movie nights, and bedtime stories that are all mainly in our home languages and happen on a daily or weekly basis.

When we watched “Home Alone” with our sons, for example, they found it so funny that they re-enacted some of the scenes. But because we watched it in French, they were speaking in French. On game nights, when we play some traditional Korean games, we are going to say things in Korean. For children who are not that confident speaking in their home language, games that have set phrases to be said, and only a few of them, are ideal.
Going on holidays and getting away from the term time schedule and stress has also helped our sons be more inclined to speak in our home languages. And I don’t just refer to holidays in our home countries but any holidays. Going camping for a few days, sleeping in a tent, cooking on a barbecue, lighting the campfire, and going to the beach, were all things that contributed to our sons speaking to us more in our respective languages (French with Daddy, and Korean with Mummy). They learnt the terms related to the different activities such as preparing and cooking on a barbecue with us. So they know more the vocabulary related to all these activities in French and Korean, than in English. And when they’ll want to talk about them, the words that will come to their minds first will be in French and Korean (rather than in English – their strongest language).

Another important way to motivate our children to speak their home language is to NOT FORCE it onto them. Sometimes our children want to tell us something that is very important to them. It might be easier to say it in their school language. If at that time we decide to prioritise the language used over the message, we are showing our language as a barrier, and our home language can endorse a bad connotation…

How can we motivate a child to read, and later on write, in their home language(s) and not just be read to?
In the same way, as for speaking, we need to first create an environment for them to see how much fun they can get from reading. In the beginning, we, parents are those reading 100%. This shows them what they can get on their own once they can read.

It is important to not solely focus on books in the home language(s) to avoid making it/them “limiting criteria”. By this, I mean that we want our children to see that being able to read in more than one language gives them access to more books. This is why for bedtime stories, we read books in all our languages (French, and Korean of course, but English as well).
Once they love reading, deciphering the letters are the only barrier to doing so on their own. If we, parents, are those teaching our children, I would highly recommend doing it in a playful way. Because let’s be honest, children who want to work outside school are very rare. If you want some ideas, feel free to check The Parents’ Guide to Raising Multi-literate Children where there are 70+ activities that help you do that in a fun way.
Here is a video with 3 examples of games.

As teachers, teaching through games has tremendous power. But as parents, it helps us spend time in a fun way and creates bonding moments. At home, any work might be felt like an extra effort that our children’s friends don’t have to do. So this can be demotivating for our children. But which child would say “no” to a treasure hunt, or a memory game? It becomes 80% of fun for 20% of effort. And in that case, the effort is felt as being worth it as they are having fun! (The Parents’ Guide to Raising Multi-literate Children explains in detail how to adapt the level of difficulty to keep the effort around 20%).

And on top of this, one important habit to keep or include in our daily routine is to read regularly together. In our family, we read bedtime stories. Generally, my wife and I read most of the books. This helps our sons access the story effortlessly and see how fun they are. What is great is that in the morning, they often take that book back and pick up where we left off. Please note that this is because they can now read more or less fluently in French and Korean. But what helped the most is definitely finding the books they can’t get enough of! So spending time on blogs, reading reviews of books, and asking for recommendations is very much worth it!

The main message I want to convey is to attract our children towards reading and writing in their home language(s) with fun (instead of pushing them towards it).

Once they can read, writing is only a step away and can be achieved in exactly the same way. (Again, I will direct you to The Parents’ Guide to Raising Multi-literate Children).

How can children’s books, and your new one, in particular, help us achieve that?
Finding/creating the motivation to read and write is key. The story of In Search of the Lost Words features a main character who does not speak very well her dad’s language. She can only pick up a few words when people speak to her in that language. The scenario, therefore, gives a genuine reason to have empty speech bubbles that the reader will complete. It follows as well the 80% fun 20% effort ratio advised earlier.
Children are free to write texts that are only a few words long or more elaborate sentences. It is totally adaptable to the reader’s ability.
One thing I want to stress is that this book should be used mainly for parents and children to connect and talk about their language, family, and culture.

They can read it casually together. Children don’t HAVE TO write in the speech bubbles straightaway. Whenever there is an empty speech bubble, they can work out what the characters are saying. And if it’s a nice sentence that your child wants to keep in the book, that’s when they can write it.
Because it is going to be in a book, it is likely that your child will want it to be neat and “perfect” (i.e. without mistakes).

This becomes an ideal moment to teach your child about spelling or grammar rules. It will therefore help with the retention of this teaching/learning moment. Feel free to discuss these rules together and write on a separate sheet before your child copies the sentences in the speech bubbles. That way, they will feel in a safe environment and will learn better.

This book is therefore NOT a workbook to complete one speech bubble at a time. It can be completed over many readings, always by following your child’s lead.

In Search of the Lost Words – A Bilingual Time Travel Adventure
Support the campaign to help this book come to life!
You can learn more about the book, its benefits, and the rewards available as part of the Kickstarter Campaign here!

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