Is Raising Bilingual Children Worth the Costs?

bilingual children

I am the daughter of born-and-raised-in-Japan parents and also a proud American citizen. I grew up bilingual because both of my parents spoke only Japanese at home, but at school, I only heard English. I think this is one of the most ideal ways to become bilingual—to be immersed in one language half the time, and in another the other half.

I was very lucky; being bilingual has helped me in my education and given me neat volunteer and work opportunities. Although my English is ten times better than my Japanese, I am grateful for the rusty bit of Japanese that I know.

I am now married to a so-white-it’s-almost-blinding husband, who only speaks English, and together we are attempting to raise bilingual and bicultural children. It is both easier and harder than we anticipated. Oh, and more expensive.

Raising bilingual children is easy because little children are naturally just amazing. Their brains are super sponges. They hear a word once, and they’ve got it. It’s locked into their brains. No need to teach grammar or use flashcards—all you have to do is talk, and they just get it.

My daughter (now three) was slower to begin speaking than some of her peers. She didn’t say her first words until she was nearly 18 months old. We attribute this to her listening to two languages and trying to figure it all out. By the time she was two, you could never get her to shut up. She would turn to my mom and blabber in Japanese, then turn to my husband and blabber in English. We were floored. We did it! She’s bilingual! We are awesome parents.

After awhile though, my daughter figured out English was easier. She learned that most of the people around her speak English, not Japanese. And because of the lack of necessity, she started to speak more English than Japanese. I was terrified. What do I do now? Is it all downhill from here? I put forth extra effort to speak more Japanese in our home (hard), made her watch Japanese shows on YouTube and organized more playdates with Japanese friends. It kind of worked. Her Japanese got a little bit better.

But I knew more was needed. This is where money comes into play. I enrolled her in the local Japanese School ($$$). I bought many Japanese children’s books ($). We found a Japanese music teacher ($). We want to take her to Japan for a few weeks ($$$). And maybe someday, if we have any leftover money after all that, we will get cable ($) so she can watch more Japanese children’s shows on TV.

Some may say all those extra things aren’t necessary: “Just try to speak Japanese more at home.” That may be true, but remember, my Japanese is not great. I don’t want her to learn poor Japanese. Plus, I really want to take advantage of these early years when the brain learns the quickest. I have a feeling that once she starts attending school full-time, it will all of a sudden become much more challenging to keep up her Japanese.

I don’t want to be a “Tiger Mom” and have my kids hate to learn Japanese because I’m pushing too hard (I know I hated studying Japanese when I was young). I hope I can help my children realize the value of bilingualism at an early age and that I will be able to find fun ways to teach them the language and culture. Raising bilingual children isn’t always easy and it can be expensive, but its rewards are absolutely priceless.


  1. I agree that spending some money on extra Japanese exposure with real natives is necessary if you want your children to be truly bilingual. Try as you might, it’s just too difficult to practice a language with someone when you know that person understands English so much better. We always tend to go for convenience, so our children will as well. Good job on all the dedicated effort you put into exposing your kids to Japanese, they will be so grateful for it!

  2. Spending more time with grandma will do the tricks specially if Grandma doesn’t speak English well . To learn a language well you have to practice it. Remember the saying:if you don’t use, you lose it.

  3. All of you are right! My mom and dad are a huge blessing in our lives… we try to visit as often as we can (our free weekends are limited due to Japanese school and other activities). My daughter loves to speak Japanese with her grandparents. Also, I would not be able to understand all the correspondence coming from Japanese school without my mom’s help! Thanks Mom! And thank you everyone for your comments.

  4. It is expensive, isn’t it? In both time and money. I think it’s finding a balance between with your family’s budget and your daughters interest level. Does your area have any Japanese language programs in school? I know it’s not the most common language in public schools, but any opportunities to learn a language along with regular curriculum would be convenient.

  5. No one I know that speaks another language is sorry that they do! Bottom line, it increases opportunity for your children. My son traveled with his father once or twice a year (for several years) to Japan. He went to Saturday Japanese school. I volunteered at that school for about 12 years. Tough? Yup. but well worth it!
    He’s pretty good conversationally with a nice native accent (or so I’ve been told). Take your daughter to school and your mom’s house as often as possible. When she is old enough, summer vacations alone with her grandparents will be the ticket. :O) Then College Japanese or High School if you are lucky.

  6. Volunteered for 12 years? That’s hardcore 🙂 It is very hard giving up our Saturdays for school, but like you say, all the sacrifices will be worth it. I hope high schools will start offering Japanese. I know it’s one of the first languages to get cut when budgets are tight.

  7. Congrats on raising bilingual children! I hope to do the same for our 23-month-old daughter, who speaks mostly Japanese at the moment because she spends her weekdays with her Issei grandparents. (She speaks English to her dad and when we’re out and about.) One suggestion I’ve received–and which happened for us naturally–is to have each parent speak exclusively in one language to the kids. (In our case, it would be Japanese speaking mom, English speaking dad because dad doesn’t speak very much Japanese.) I don’t know how realistic that is in the long run, though, because that means that as our daughter begins saying more than just simple words, dad will eventually not understand what we’re talking about! We shall see…

  8. By the way, I just checked out your site – it is AWESOME! I enjoyed the entries and my daughter will love the youtube links to tomato-chan and others. Thank you!

  9. Thanks for your comments! ありがとう!I wish I was better about speaking Japanese to my kids at home but it is super hard because English comes much more naturally to me. You are lucky to have issei grandparents living nearby!

  10. Wow, this article and the following comments are a real eye-opener for me! My husband and I are bi-lingual in Japanese and English, my husband native in Japanese, myself in English. Our son is two and mostly using English so far, but after reading this I begin to wonder that living in Japan will put him at risk of not learning English as well as Japanese. That would be difficult for me and I think I would feel isolated from my own family, so I’m glad to hear this advice and know that I need to make an effort to help his English. Thanks for the article, Hatsuho, and for your comments, everybody♡

  11. Since your English is so great, I don’t think your son will have any trouble learning Japanese and English while living in Japan! Just speak English to him while at home, and he’ll naturally pick up the Japanese at school.

  12. I was the owner of a trilingual school and movement or eight years, but family budgets kept getting in the way, each year for many. So, we’ve decided to each do FREE hime or public school, and our very own eSchool live in a few days!!!!!
    ( It’s super good. Includes books, music, friendly faces, songs, assignments, and more all for $9 a month. With our savings, we are meeting in Asia this summer. Now, we all can afford to be excellent in three languages!!!

  13. I grew up in Japan from ages of 2-10. (Parents are both Japanese). My parents enrolled me in Japanese schools on Sundays. As a result, I spent my weeknights catching up on studies, and Saturdays catching up on week’s worth of Japanese homework as we were keeping up with the Japanese schools. I grew up in NJ and in 4th grade we had about 10 kids or more. By the time I reached highschool, I was the only kid left as most had given up speaking/learning Japanese. As my activities increased in highschool, and I was the oldest kid in the school, we decided it was best to focus on my US education and no longer attend the school. I became the highest grade they ever taught, which was 中学校 1. I was year behind in Japanese school as Japanese schools start in April/May and I moved to US in Sept and we took one year off to accelerate in English.

    So I think the tough thing is what’s best for our kids. We have a newborn and there’s so much to do. Given the high hopes that our child will achieve in academia, I can not fathom how much time our child will have to learn Japanese. So I am trying to figure out a great approach.

    One option was to bring a Japanese Au-Pair. I think that would force our children to learn Japanese as they will hear up to date Japanese and the aupair will bring Japanese into our home.

  14. Wow, raising bilingual children it’s like claiming Mt Everest. My boys didn’t want to be different at school by speaking 2 languages. So they began to drop Cambodian. I however, just continue regardless. When they gotten into 5th grade, their attitudes changes as the school enforced a 2nd language, suddenly they see being different is cool! They are now in 4th year of Chinese immersion program – and i cant speak Chinese. Furthermore, the oldest gotten accepted into IB – international baccalaureate school next year. I think the researchers are right about the mechanism of the brain. But more so, it helps if children want to learn themselves. Now i only need to claim small hills – LOL. They are working on being trilingual now.

  15. They say to speak the minority language at home as they will pick up the mainstream language wherever you live. So if in Japan, speak English at home, if in an English speaking country, speak Japanese at home. Our daughter is 3 and a half and it is difficult trying to find age appropriate quality material or that we can easily access. Unfortunately we do not have grandparents she can communicate to in japanese but we do have friends who speak japanese and have regular playdates with them. They have half kiwi/japanese children. Although they tend to speak English more so than Japanese, the main thing is that they get to be around japanese speaking people. There is a supplementary school in Auckland and kindergarten I’m thinking about as it does help children’s interest more when they get to engage with others in the language other than yourselves. There are also societies you can join such as NZ Japan Society which has conversation nights and Japan Society, both do activities/events throughout the year which is an opportunity for others to meet and socialise. Although our daughter goes to a regular daycare as it is just as important for her to prepare her for mainstream school here in NZ. You can also source books from the Consulate’s office, although it requires a trip into the city. The libraries have a limited selection and not necessarily easy to locate age appropriate books and depends on the location too as to where the books can be picked up from. But we do have friends who have lent us books. I see Amazon has a limited selection too. None the less, our daughter knows her alphabets in both languages so far and enjoys watching Doraemon and a few other children’s songs on youtube. She knows a few songs in Japanese too so I’m pleased about that as long as she continues to have an interest in it, I want to encourage her so it does become more natural for her environment. I might look into a pre-school kindergarten from maybe 4 years old, but we will have to see how we can work it in around our work commitments and the logistics of having to go to 2 different places might not be practical. Otherwise, she can learn Japanese at school when she gets older and will have an advantage anyway from having a parent who is Japanese. While I speak Japanese myself and currently speak it through my work, I find myself reverting to English when I’m with my daughter as it is more convenient to revert back to your mother tongue when you are trying get your child dressed, fed and out the door. But reading before bed time is always a good opportunity to introduce more to her then. She has experienced mochi making and Taste of Japan event, sakura picnics so far. Yet to take her to Japan but its great she recognises japanese and can explain the meaning of words in English too as she describes ‘ninjin means carrot in japanese’ to us 🙂 I also enjoy taking her into Japan mart when grocery shopping and she gets to speak to the staff there too 🙂 She is our little Himawari.


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