Bilingual Japanese-English storybooks
January 22, 2015 10:33 AM   Subscribe

We are an American-Japanese family living in the US. We have a 4 year old and a 1 year old who we would like to raise as bilingual as possible. We read both English storybooks and Japanese storybooks, but would love your recommendations for some books that have the story in both English and Japanese side-by-side. Would also be happy to hear about books readily available in both languages. Bonus points if you can vouch for the quality of the story and the translation. (Have you ever read "Goodnight Moon" in Japanese? It's not pretty.)

This question is primarily focused on books, but I'd also welcome additional commentary on encouraging kids to learn a second language. The kids don't get as much Japanese exposure as I wish they did, because I am the primary caregiver, but not the Japanese parent. I read storybooks fluently, and can pass conversationally, but not well enough to be really articulate (plus my attempts to speak Japanese to Micropanda these days are met with howls of "No! In English!")

Micropanda spoke English and Japanese equally well as a toddler, but as his English ability has blossomed he's become reluctant to speak Japanese. We've started letting him watch a bit of Anpanman once a week and that's very exciting for him (we're a minimal screen-time family). We will be discussing hoshuukou next year, but that's a whole other question. I do have hopes that as Nanopanda learns to speak and picks up some Japanese vocabulary, that'll rub off on Micropanda too.
posted by telepanda to Education (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I believe there's a Kinokuniya in the general Chicago area. The ones here in California have a really good selection of kids' books in a variety of language combinations, and browsing those might be the best way to find some good ones. (I know you were asking for specific recommendations--sorry if you've already been there and found it unhelpful.)
posted by wintersweet at 10:58 AM on January 22, 2015

Not targeted towards younger children, but may be of interest to you as your kids get older:

  • A post from KokuRyu: Available online, 30 issues of Mangajin!

  • Kodansha released a few manga titles bilingually. You can just search online for "Kodansha bilingual" to see what's available

  • Now that my older child is 2 years old, it seems like every time I come home from work, Anpanman or some Japanese kids programming is on the TV. Husband also loaded various iPods full of Japanese children's music to play during the day.
    posted by Seboshin at 11:06 AM on January 22, 2015

    The Winnie the Pooh series (one here) has the English and Japanese side by side. I used it when I was learning to read J apanese. There are about ten in the series and I'm sure your little one would love them. Not sure if 4 is too old for Pooh.
    posted by TravellingCari at 1:18 PM on January 22, 2015

    telepanda: "I'd also welcome additional commentary on encouraging kids to learn a second attempts to speak Japanese to Micropanda these days are met with howls of "No! In English!")...we're a minimal screen-time family...I do have hopes that as Nanopanda learns to speak and picks up some Japanese vocabulary, that'll rub off on Micropanda too."

    Sorry, no book recommendations, but on these points, here are some items based on my personal experience. We're an American-Japanese family living in Japan. Microbread is age 8, Nanobread is age 6.

    1) You're just going to have to slog through the "No! In English!", and it may take years. I haven't had any problems with being told to speak in Japanese, but I have had to say "Now say it in English" over and over. With Microbread, I would guess I said "Now say it in English" several times a day for two whole years before he started saying things in English without prompting. Two years is a long time.

    2) The screen-time is going to hurt their vocabulary, a lot. If they were in Japan, they would be exposed to a ton of Japanese from everywhere around them. Instead, they've got you and your spouse. They are going to end up understanding the way you and your spouse speak, but have a harder time with other people (for a long time my wife understood me pretty well, but could barely understand what my other American friends said, because she had just been exposed to my voice). They will also end out only knowing the vocabulary you use, etc. (for example, I noticed that my kids knew "sofa" but not "couch", and "balcony" but not "veranda" (they knew ベランダ but didn't know it came from English), etc.) My kids have limited Japanese screen time, but I'm pretty free with letting them watch TV/movies in English, and they're often coming to me and asking, "What does XXXX mean?", from something they heard on TV.

    3) I think that's unlikely. Nanopanda's Japanese (I suspect) will not be good as Micropanda's. At least, that's how it has worked at the Bread house. And it just makes sense. Microbread grew up hearing English (from me) and Japanese (from my wife). A 50-50 listening ratio. He can speak both, but is more comfortable speaking Japanese. So now Nanobread appears on the scene. Once Nanobread is old enough to talk and play with Microbread, Microbread speaks to him exclusively in Japanese, because that's the language he's more comfortable with. So now Nanobread is growing up hearing English (from me) and Japanese (from both my wife and from Microbread). So a33-66 ratio. Needless to say, his English is nowhere as good as Microbread's.
    posted by Bugbread at 2:59 PM on January 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

    We got 100 Hungry Monkeys (in English) from Kinokuniya and the little dude loves it. I've only got dopey tourist Japanese so can't confirm, but I assume that the Japanese version would be good and readily available since that's the original language.
    posted by tchemgrrl at 6:55 PM on January 22, 2015

    I enjoyed "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter" 竹取物語 by Kawabata Yasunari (in a modern telling), translated by Donald Keene, with gorgeous illustrations by Miyata Masayuki .

    English and Japanese texts are on opposing pages.
    posted by mule98J at 11:18 AM on January 23, 2015

    plus my attempts to speak Japanese to Micropanda these days are met with howls of "No! In English!"

    I'm also in a Japanese-English family, although both my wife and I are fluent in both languages. Since you are a non-native speaker of Japanese and not a particularly strong one, your child will likely come to think of you as English Parent and your husband as Japanese Parent. This is pretty normal in bilingual households. This is fine because frankly, unless you are a very proficient speaker, your children won't get much benefit from speaking with you in Japanese.

    Since you are living in the US (as we do), your children will have stronger English than Japanese. That's just unavoidable, more especially once they are in classes full of English speakers. My kids are 10 and 7 and speak and read Japanese at an age-appropriate level (they do attend hoshuukou, which I highly recommend), but it takes concerted effort by my wife and I every day, including at least an hour of daily hoshuukou homework. I am sure Anpanman is fun for your son but I don't think it does anything for improving his Japanese. (don't take away Anpanman because it is fun and is helpful for his Japanese pop culture knowledge)

    The biggest challenge is going to be vocabulary acquisition. People who speak L2 at home in a country that is L1 generally end up with what I would call "kitchen Spanish/Japanese/whatever". So, they'll learn words like "homework" and "refrigerator" but not "nitrogen" or "posthumous Buddhism name" (that's 戒名, in case you were wondering). To the end, we are big fans of Japanese books. I can't give any recommendations for bilingual ones because I don't think they are particularly helpful, but we read age-appropriate Japanese books with our kids and their hoshuukou reading to make sure they are acquiring vocabulary like 遡る, which was in a recent story about eels I read with my son.

    I agree with Bugbread that the older child is not likely to learn Japanese from the younger child. It is also hard to imagine that the younger child will learn words that the older child doesn't already know.

    Lastly, I'd add it is possible for kids to go through phases. My son went through a phase where he did not want to speak Japanese very much but that passed. My daughter has not gone through that phase and may not. So, don't let your son's current reluctance to speak Japanese discourage you.
    posted by Tanizaki at 1:25 PM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

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