Raising kids in multiple languages

A recent episode Japan By River Cruise (Woke Dad Japan) featured Daniel Yoder, one of the hosts of the Konnichiwa Podcast (コニポ). They spoke about the challenges of raising kids in Japan as foreigners. It’s a fun episode, and I can identify with a lot. One of the challenges they spoke of was their kids’ language abilities. My kids’ (aged 8 and 11) situation is different to theirs since we are a family who has been back and forth between Canada and Japan. But the episode made me reflect on how my thinking on child language acquisition has evolved over the years. Generally, it has gone through three stages: bilingualism, heritage language, plurilingualism.

Continue reading “Raising kids in multiple languages”

Advocating for the teaching of knowledge to kids

Having been in the Canadian education system for a few years now, I am very impressed with the high-minded ideals of the early education system here. Things like teaching critical thinking, creativitiy, breaking down a problem, LID, etc are challenging and interesting, and meant to get a jump on the future. However it is pretty unsettling how little our kids actually know.

A few weeks ago I tweeted a recommendation for this piece on skills vs knowledge-based curriculum in The Atlantic. This is an extract from The Knowledge Gap, a book by Natalie Wexler that challenges the shift in elementary education away from teaching knowledge (often derisively referred to as “rote learning”) to teaching skills “that will enable [students] to discover knowledge for themselves later on.” Wexler covers some of the history in the article, but I think her argument can be captured in the example she gives about an experiment in reading comprehension using baseball:

… they constructed a miniature baseball field and peopled it with wooden baseball players. Then they brought in 64 seventh and eighth graders who had been tested both for their reading ability and their knowledge of baseball.

[The researchers] chose baseball because they figured lots of kids who weren’t great readers nevertheless knew a fair amount about the game. Each student was asked to first read a description of a fictional baseball inning and then move the wooden figures to reenact it. (For example: “Churniak swings and hits a slow bouncing ball toward the shortstop. Haley comes in, fields it, and throws to first, but too late. Churniak is on first with a single, Johnson stayed on third. The next batter is Whitcomb, the Cougars’ left-fielder.”)

It turned out that prior knowledge of baseball made a huge difference in students’ ability to understand the text—more so than their supposed reading level. The kids who knew little about baseball, including the “good” readers, all did poorly. And all those who knew a lot about baseball, whether they were “good” or “bad” readers, did well. In fact, the “bad” readers who knew a lot about baseball outperformed the “good” readers who didn’t.

There is a lot more in the article (read it!) — but it really hit me coming from an international family. We are always straddling the line between the British Columbian education system and the system “back home.” Furthermore, my day job is related to the US education system and kids’ education is probably the main topic of discussion amongst our immigrant friends, all who bring different perspectives. There is a lot of (amateur) comparative analysis going around, and a lot of confusion. Wexler’s article really captures one of the main challenges in understanding elementary education here when you come from Asia. It also makes me wish there was a way to mash the East with the West.

Now, I bring this article up again after reading an intriguing essay on developing transformative tools for thought. This essay argues for a new ways to leverage technology for efficient memorization techniques. It is adjacent to the “skills vs knowledge” argument from the above article, but hits some of the same notes.

For example, Matuschak and Nielsen present a caricature of a “skills first” proponent:

“Why should I care about memory? I want deeper kinds of understanding! Can’t I just look stuff up on the internet? I want creativity! I want conceptual understanding! I want to know how to solve important problems! Only dull, detail-obsessed grinds focus on rote memory.”

This sounds so much like the “we teach concepts not memorizing facts. The students can look up facts on the internet!” that I have heard from local elementary teachers.

Matuschak and Nielsen then go on to illustrate some challenges experienced in teaching quantum physics:

He noticed that people often think they’re getting stuck on esoteric, complex issues. But, as suggested in the introduction to this essay, often what’s really going on is that they’re having a hard time with basic notation and terminology. It’s difficult to understand quantum mechanics when you’re unclear about every third word or piece of notation. Every sentence is a struggle.

It’s like they’re trying to compose a beautiful sonnet in French, but only know 200 words of French. They’re frustrated and think the trouble is the difficulty of finding a good theme, striking sentiments and images, and so on. But really the issue is that they have only 200 words with which to compose.

So, in order to understand concepts, you need a certain fundamental layer of knowledge. I am not advocating a total swing back to a Confucian-centric pedagogy — there is certainly a balance to be had. We struggle with this as we try to support our kids’ learning from home. It would be ideal if schools took advantage of those little sponge-like young brains in their early years and filled them full of facts before introducing higher-order thinking skills. But in lieu of that, I suppose it is up to us parents to provide them with actual knowledge (eg. in the forms of structured textbooks, encyclopedia, atlases, etc.) to fuel the skill-based curriculum they get at school. We have tried a few things (tutors, workbooks from other education systems, etc) but are always looking to improve. If you have any recommended resources or techniques for supporting your kids, please share!

You don’t tell me when I should speak English — multicultural parenting and language rights

From @@JRhodesPianist
From @JRhodesPianist

Last month, this story from Wales:

The most perfect thing I have ever seen just happened on the replacement train bus service between Newport and Cwmbran:

White man sat in front of a mother and her son. Mother was wearing a niqab. After about 5 minutes of the mother talking to her son in another language the man, for whatever reason, feels the need to tell the woman “When you’re in the UK you should really be speaking English.”

At which point, an old woman in front of him turns around and says, “She’s in Wales. And she’s speaking Welsh.”


Apocryphal maybe, but perfect nonetheless. It’s got all the elements of a great story: some ignorant rube makes an ass of himself in public and gets his comeuppance.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of publicly ignorant rubes get away with it. Continue reading “You don’t tell me when I should speak English — multicultural parenting and language rights”

Are we a “hapa” family?

Family Portrait
Family portrait by MAUD.

In One Big Hapa Family Jeff Chiba Stearns investigates why there is such a high rate of interracial marriage (95%+) amongst Canadians of Japanese ethnic heritage (otherwise known as Nikkei). Through interviews with his family and other Nikkei in British Columbia, Chiba Stearns explores the historical experience of the Nikkei in Canada and issues surrounding multiethnic identity.

The DVD of this film was given to my wife and I at Christmas by a family friend who, with a slight grin on her face, commented simply: “You guys should watch this.”

She was right.

Sitting down to watch this, my wife and I laughed when we saw it was about growing up as a multiethnic kid in Kelowna! This is a constant topic of discussion in our household as we watch our multiethnic kids grow up here in Kelowna. My wife and I don’t identify as Hapa, but I am sure our kids will. Does this make us a Hapa family? Sorta? ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Continue reading “Are we a “hapa” family?”

Teaching our children minimalism

Obviously we do not force an austere, monkish existence on our children. Yet, we still think it is important to instill in them certain values: a wariness of consumerism, sustainable thinking, recognizing joy in objects. I can give you three examples of how we have been teaching these lessons:

1. The Rock Collection

3 year olds are very curious little bipeds, just learning to exercise their ingrained skills of gathering. While taking walks to the park or beach, our littlest hominin would stop every few steps to inspect the surrounding geology and select a sample. She would bring all sorts of rocks home, with no discernible rhyme nor reason — just whatever struck her fancy in the moment. We decided to introduce some regulatory measures: she is allowed to have a maximum of 20 items in her rock collection; to get a new one, you have to get rid of an old one. The key is to have her take stock of her collection before going on a rockhounding excursion, to make space before getting a new sample, rather than just bringing home any old rock from any old walk and making a decision to keep later. Prioritization and planning for the future are some nice lessons here.

2. The Paper Tray

Paper tray

From rocks to trees. My older daughter is in school and brings home reams and reams of paper creations. She is a budding artist with some impressive Star Wars portraiture skills. Digital photography makes it a lot easier to capture the memories without having to deal with physical storage, but we instituted a limit on what she could keep by giving her a 2 inch high paper tray. Periodically she goes through the contents in an act of “life editing.” We leave the decision of what to keep and what to cull entirely up to her. The key question of course is: what sparks joy?

3. The Christmas Cull


Make room. That is a concept little ones easily understand. Last year, before Xmas, my wife sat the kids down and told them that before Santa brings any new toys we have to make room. The girls had to take stock, determine which were their favourites, and give some of their unused toys to other kids. It was pretty successful and not painful at all.

These three stories are examples of how to teach little ones that more isn’t better, how to identify valuable possessions, and how to say “good-bye” and “thank you for your service” to other possessions. A pretty good basis for full-on minimalism in the future, if they so choose.

Family complete #achievementunlocked

This is where it all started. Above is my completed family of four, standing in front of the college dorm where I met my wife in 1999. As we only have a couple days left in Japan, we decided to take a photo. Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate and it was pouring down, so we weren’t exactly able to pose a bunch and take lots of shots. In fact, we only took one. The result is less than perfect, but it is a pretty good representation of family life: haphazard, slap-dash, but smiling the whole time.

In two days the four of us will be boarding three planes and landing in Canada’s Okanagan Valley next Tuesday. My wife and first daughter have been in Japan for six months. I have been here for three months. My second daughter has been with us for two and a half. Needless to say, it has been eventful. Soon new chapter will begin.

Over the past twelve years my wife and I have moved back and forth between Canada and Japan on average once every two years. As we have now completed our family, this next chapter of our lives will be focused on building a foundation. That means trying to stay in the same place, building a community, creating a healthy and loving environment for our kids to grow up in. So, for the next while, it is goodbye to Japan.

I still have a few months left on my paternity leave, and am looking forward to getting a few things done after returning to Canada. For example:

  • continuing Lining Things Up
  • building some more Rails apps
  • rethinking my wardrobe
  • improving my career
  • getting a vasectomy (・・;)

Helping my wife and daughters re-integrate themselves into a Canadian lifestyle tops the list though. Also, getting healthy. I gained about 10 kilos during this pregnancy and am going to try and lose it by dieting, running and training. I got a Wi-Fi Body Scale for Xmas, and a Nike Fuel Band is in my future. My wife wants to do yoga together, which I am all for.

As always, there is lots to do. But my view on life is different than it was in the past. My new keywords are “long view” and “life-editing”. I know I can’t do everything I want to on a whim. But I am perfectly satisfied with that. Enjoying my time with my family is the cake. Everything else is icing.

Paternity Leave Lessons Learned (in Japanese)

Next month an article of mine will be published in an Osaka-based newsletter. The article is based on a blog post from a few years ago: End of paternity leave and a lesson on negative support. It is all in Japanese (edited by my lovely wife), but for those interested, click on the more link below:











 日本はカナダに比べて、こんなにすばらしい制度があるのに育児休業を利用している男性はわずか 1.23%です。(「平成二〇年度雇用均等基本調査」)

 私はカナダの制度にいろいろな不満を感じるのに、2010年のカナダにおける男性の育児休業利用率はなんと30%(Labour Force Survey. 2010. Statistics Canada.)でした。だが、これには事情があります。ケベック州が独自に2006年に育児休業の特別制度をつくりました。この育児休業制度は父親専用で母親は参加できません。 五週間、完全に有給で父親は育児休業がとれます。それでケベック州における育児休業男性利用率が爆発的に増加しました、現在はなんと77.6%です。ケベック州外でも、育児休業男性利用率は増加しています。2001年で全国的に育児休業を利用している父親はわずか3%でしたが、現在はケベック州外でも11%となりました。


 次に育児休業をとって感じたことを紹介したいと思います。専業主夫の経験のお陰で理解できたことがたくさんあります。この学びを他の新米パパと共有したいと思っています。それは育児休業がとれるかどうかに関わらずです。具体的には以下に書いた、expectation management(期待値管理)についてですが、夫婦のチームワーク、コミュニケーション、プランニング、持久力とサポートにも深くつながっている話だと思います。








育児のお口伝 其の二


expectation management(期待値管理)







Big Day

Click to see all the pics on Flickr

It has been a long 40 hour day.

Today my second daughter Maya was born at 7:24 on 31 Jan 2012 at 3070g and 50.0cm. The birth took about 7 hours. My wife was amazingly brave. No meds, all natural, just like last time. I did the best I could to alleviate the tension with sarcastic humour. That has probably killed some men in the delivery room. My wife is different, and that is just one reason why I love her.

Maya is brilliant too. She is super cute. Her eyes opened right away. She poops like crazy. And she is tiny. Adorable. Sasha is treating her very well (at least for now). I can’t believe the tears that filled up my eyes. The second time around has definitely been a very different experience, and I am such a big softie now.

Speaking of being a big softie, one thing different this time around is my weight. Last time I was battling anxiety, and was extremely thin. After the birth of Sasha, I was so tired and had dark rings under my eyes — I looked like I was just freed from Auschwitz. This time on the other hand, I do have the dark rings, but it looks like it is from engaging in an all-night eating marathon. I felt only a twinge of anxiety this time. Most of all I think it was sympathetic pregnancy. Either way, I am a fat bastard. Good thing I got a cool scale for Xmas (though don’t expect me to hook it up to my Twitter account).

As is tradition (in that I did it before my first daughter was born), I let my hair grow for the duration of the pregnancy. My hair grows slowly, but it got pretty scruffy. This time I took it to another level and grew my beard too. Just like last time, I shaved it all off once the baby was born. See the evidence below.

Anyways, it is time to sleep. Thank you all for your congratulations. We are looking forward to 2012 and all it will bring.

Kiai from Chad Kohalyk on Vimeo.

UPDATE: Job not done yet. Wife suffering from after pains. Back to massaging her. I guess I can sleep when I’m dead.


About I week ago I mentioned on Twitter that the condo we live in has been sold. The new owner wants to move in as soon as possible, thus we have made an agreement to leave by October 29th.

This decision has forced our hand somewhat.

After considering our options, we have decided to have the baby (which we are tentatively calling “Maya”) in Japan. The baby is due late January. I plan on leaving for Japan in mid-January. My wife will leave sooner. In fact, she will be leaving October 18th, taking our 2-year-old with her.

This means that I need to find a room to rent for two-and-a-half months. I am hoping to bunk with a friend or co-worker downtown, but will be checking out Konbinya and other places for shared accommodations. I would gratefully appreciate if anyone out there has any ideas or suggestions.


This will be about the seventh time in 10 years that my wife and I will spend an extended time apart (extending from a few months to nearly a year at a time). It will be the third (and longest) time my daughter and I have spent more than a month apart. International marriages are amazingly rewarding, but also can be very difficult and lonely — not just in terms of cultural and language differences, but also in terms of making the decision (or not) of which country should be “home”. We will return to Canada on April 11th 2012. For a long time we have wanted to make Canada our home, at least for the foreseeable future. But ever since we first set foot on Canadian soil in 2005 we just cannot seem to shake Japan. We’ve never lasted much longer than a year before going back. Needless to say, this is costly: bank account-wise as well as psychologically. That said, I am looking forward to 3 months in my adopted country. I always have fun there, and it will be great to start another round of babycare.

Winter is Coming

Remember back a few months ago when I was in the ER with my wife who had stomach pain?


Yeah, well, it was that special kind of stomach pain that goes away only after nine months.

If I have seemed busy over the past few months, out of touch, always running home after work and often visiting the clinic, you now know why. I apologize if I have inconvenienced any of you.

Anywho, today we went and took a picture:

The baby is healthy and fine, and due January 26th. The ultrasound tech today said she suspects the baby is a girl. Evidence of absence and all. Truth is, we were hoping for a boy. One of each would be grand. I guess there is still a chance. It is early days still.

We already had a name picked out for him: Toma. The Japanese characters (seen left) transliterate as “winter horse”. Pretty cool name. It was particularly cool for a geek like me a couple of months ago when I started getting into Game of Thrones, the tagline of which is “Winter is coming”.

We do have a list of girl’s names, but have not settled on one yet. If you have any suggestions feel free. The rules are: 1) it must be Russian/Eastern European, 2) it must be able to have decent Japanese characters associated with it.

I am looking forward to round two, even if my wife has been suffering from morning sickness a lot worse than usual. For those curious, take a look at some of my previous posts on parenthood and my thoughts first time around.

Wish us luck.