In this post: Author and bilingual parenting expert, Adam Beck, shares 5 challenges he faced as a minority language parent, and the important lessons he learned on his journey to successfully raising bilingual kids.


Inside My Own Success Story at Raising Bilingual Kids

My children are now 17 and 14 and have become strongly bilingual and biliterate in their two main languages, Japanese and English. As we live in Hiroshima, Japan, our majority language is Japanese and our minority language is English.

Now that we’re nearing the end of our bilingual journey together, I can breathe a sigh of relief and satisfaction, but, as the minority language parent, getting to this point was a significant challenge, day after day and year after year.

A bilingual parenting success story

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When I was writing my first book, Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability, my kids were still just 11 and 8 and I was in the thick of my efforts to nurture their English. In the introduction to this book, I described several factors that were working against my bilingual aim.


Five Common Challenges as the Minority Language Parent 

These less favorable conditions include:

1. I’m the main source of exposure to English, yet not the main caregiver.

2. My children have always attended local Japanese schools, starting at age 3.

3. My wife’s speaking ability in English is low and has never been a realistic option for increasing our children’s minority language exposure.

4. English isn’t spoken widely in Japan, and our interactions with other English speakers are limited.

5. We rarely travel outside of Japan.

Honestly, because of these basic circumstances, the odds of success were inherently rather low. But as I was well aware of these odds, and the need to be proactive in order to raise them higher, I did everything I realistically could to address the challenging conditions I faced.

Not the Main Caregiver

In fact, during the first few formative years—which is a vital time for fostering progress in the minority language—I was working a busy full-time job at the Hiroshima-area newspaper and I struggled to spend time with them. Knowing how important this early language exposure was, I went as far as making videos of myself, alone, talking to them, reading books, and singing songs. And I asked my wife to play these videos each day in my absence for at least half an hour. We dubbed this “Daddy TV.”

While creative input like this was helpful, I knew it was no match for the much heavier amount of majority language exposure in their young lives. Though my job at the newspaper was a “good job,” it was clear that this work situation was not at all good for my bilingual aim, and moreover, for my relationship with my kids. Somehow I simply had to spend more time with them each day.

I was even thinking of quitting when the newspaper gifted me with the solution: they phased out my full-time job at the company’s headquarters and offered me the chance to continue doing the same sort of writing work from home, part-time. I can’t say my wife was happy about this development—it was a hard hit to our finances—but I was quietly thrilled because I would now be able to spend far more time with my kids.


When you’re the minority language parent, and particularly if you’re not the main caregiver, you must shape the circumstances in a way that will enable you to spend time with your children, especially during those crucial younger years. This may even mean changing your work situation, as I was fortunately able to do.

But whether or not that’s feasible, the challenge remains the same: Spend time with your kids, as much time as you can, and provide them with as much playful language input as possible. This is not only vital for your bilingual aim, it’s essential for building a close bond as parent and child. The hard truth is, you won’t get a second chance at these “golden years” of childhood once your kids are older.

Related Post: How to Raise a Bilingual Child

Bilingual Parenting Success Story

Only Majority Language Schools

Though I was once a teacher at Hiroshima International School, where the main language at the school is English, we decided to have our kids attend Japanese schools. Even if the cost of this private school hadn’t been a consideration, we still would have chosen Japanese schools because strong literacy in Japanese, and neighborhood friendships, were high priorities.

This meant, though, that there would be very little English support from the public schools. The level of the English classes through junior high has been very low compared to my children’s English level and hasn’t really stretched their ability much at all.

As a consequence, I not only sought to bathe them in as much English as I could when they were at home, I affixed little notes in English to their lunch boxes on a daily basis (in preschool) and appeared at their schools for activities and events whenever I had the chance (through junior high). In other words, I sought to inject myself, and English, into their days of Japanese immersion as much as possible.

At home, too, I established a daily “homework” routine in the minority language, consisting of reading and writing tasks in English, which I’ve managed to sustain, right up to today, from the time they were in preschool.


When your children are being schooled in the majority language, you not only need to be proactive at home—and, for literacy development, I recommend a daily homework routine from early on—you should make the most of your opportunities to be present at their school, even if that presence comes in the form of a daily message written in your target language.

The point, again, is to make every effort to strengthen the language exposure they receive in order to add weight to the balance of input between the minority language and majority language.

The Partner’s Lack of Language Ability

Though, early on, I may have wished that my wife made more effort to improve her English, and was willing to use this language more actively, I soon came to accept that this wouldn’t be the case and that my bilingual aim was basically up to me. Still, I commend her for the English ability she does have, because her passive ability in daily conversation enabled me to avoid using Japanese with her in front of the kids. This is no small thing because this meant I was able to stay in English when all four of us were together. I didn’t have to switch to Japanese for her to (mostly) follow along, which could have potentially undercut my efforts to “condition” the kids to speak only English with me.

At the same time, I actively sought to bring other speakers of English into our home to increase the children’s input in this language and for them to recognize the value of English for communicating with a wide range of people. These other English speakers included:

*Older playmates, like university exchange students, who would play with the kids in English

*Students from the international school who I was tutoring privately and had time to play with my kids before or after their lessons

*Homestay visitors from other countries, mostly high school and college students, who were visiting Hiroshima for a few days or so


The more ability your partner has in the minority language, the more helpful this can be for your bilingual aim, even if they’re unable to use this language actively to contribute to the amount of direct language input.

At the very least, they can be a source of moral support and input from resources like music, TV, and other forms of media (as my wife was in playing my “Daddy TV” videos each day). This supporting role is particularly important when the majority language parent is the main caregiver and spends more time with the children.

Adam Beck books

The Minority Language isn’t Spoken Widely

While English ability is highly admired in Japan, the language isn’t spoken very widely. In this respect, like the school system, society in general provides little reinforcement for language acquisition.

In addition to the efforts already mentioned, like inviting other English speakers into our home, I’ve also been very proactive when it comes to creating an English-rich environment by bringing in ample resources throughout the childhood years: books, magazines, music, games, apps, TV, videos, DVDs, etc. Although the world outside our door may be almost entirely in Japanese, inside these four walls I have sought to emphasize English and, to the extent possible, “de-emphasize” Japanese. In other words, I may not be able to control the influence of the larger environment, but, to an important degree, I can control the smaller environment of our home (with my wife’s blessing). And I believe this mindful emphasis on English resources, especially in their younger years, had a powerful impact on the development of their English ability.


Along with efforts to connect with other speakers of the target language, focus on creating a home environment that’s rich in resources in this language. The more you’re able to emphasize the minority language and “de-emphasize” the majority language—even if the majority language is also being used for communication within the family—the more influence you’ll be exerting on your children’s language development.

And make no mistake, the more influence you exert during the earlier years, the more progress your children will very likely make. Keep firmly in mind that your influence is potentially strongest during these “golden years” and will inevitably wane as your kids get older and begin to lead more independent lives.

Related Post: How to Teach your Kids Spanish

Lack of Travel to a Majority Language Location

My daughter is 17, and my son is 14, but they’ve spent only around a month of their lives, in total, in the United States. My daughter has been there three times and my son has been there twice. The hard reality is, the distance between Japan and the U.S., and the considerable cost involved in visiting family members there, living in several different locations, has made this difficult. Still, these trips—at least until my parents passed away in 2018—were a priority for us and we did what we realistically could to pull them off.

And even though their time spent in an English-speaking country has been limited, those experiences did have a powerful impact on their language development and cultural understanding—not to mention affording them the chance to bond with their grandparents while they were alive.

Meanwhile, we made a faithful habit of exchanging handwritten letters and Skyping on a regular basis. Admittedly, these were bittersweet attempts to overcome the distance between us, but it was the best we could do given the circumstances.


To be honest, I think my greatest regret, when it comes to my children’s upbringing, is that they were unable to spend more time, in person, with their American grandparents. While I did what I could from afar, and tried to travel to the U.S. every few years, it was a continuous ache that couldn’t really be eased.

So I encourage parents to make the most of the time they have, while distant grandparents are still alive, by communicating with them frequently and visiting them in person when this is possible. It’s true, I spent thousands and thousands of dollars on our trips back to the U.S., and this no doubt made us poorer today, but, looking back, I’m glad we took these trips when we had the chance. Not only did they provide a productive boost to our bilingual aim, they also, and far more importantly, enabled my kids and their grandparents to experience some precious time together.

Meeting Our Challenges with Proactive Efforts

Success at the bilingual journey comes down to meeting the challenges of our particular circumstances with proactive and productive efforts. While every family has its own distinct challenges, it’s nevertheless true that some situations are considerably more challenging than others. And when such circumstances make the odds of success inherently low, we must do all that we realistically can to raise them higher.

My latest book, Bilingual Success Stories Around the World, takes a close look at the experiences of 26 bilingual and multilingual families. The book—like this article, which shares my own personal story—details the challenges that a number of parents have faced and the efforts they’ve made to effectively address their difficulties in order to realize the success they seek. Though these families are all very different, in terms of their circumstances, what unites them is the deep desire to gift their children with more than one language and pursue the actions necessary to realize that heartfelt goal.

Whatever your circumstances may be, and however low or high the inherent odds of success are, your family, too, can enjoy the same sort of joyful, rewarding experience through the mindful actions you choose to take, day by day, over the years ahead.


Books by Adam Beck

Thank you to Adam for this incredibly valuable and encouraging post. You can read more about Adam and his bilingual parenting work on his website Bilingual Monkeys. 

Below you will also find links to his books available on Amazon and on Adam’s website.

Maximize Your Child’s Bilingual Ability (Amazon)

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Bilingual Success Stories Around the World (Amazon)

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28 Bilingual English-Spanish Fairy Tales & Fables

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