What is essential in maintaining the balance between both the local and non-local language? Julian Takeshi Ogata tells Polyglo how his family successfully tackled this topic.
Which method of bilingual education did my parents choose?
From the very beginning, my parents were aware that they wanted to raise my older sister and I bilingually. Neither my German mother nor my Japanese father had any experience with such an upbringing, nor did they know anyone around them who could advise them. Apart from the fact that mixed marriages were still fairly uncommon at that time, there were no forums on the internet where parents could share their experiences. Although my parents lacked knowledge, they knew one thing for sure; “We will each speak to our children in our own native language.” They both thought that was the most "normal" thing to do. They were not aware of the One Person - One Language (OPOL) method - however, my parents instinctively applied it.
How did they successfully counterbalance the local language?
At that time, my parents decided to raise their children in Germany, which meant that German, my mother's language and as the local language, was weighted much heavier than Japanese. Bilingual education is more difficult when the father, the representative of the non-local language, is rarely present during the child's early childhood, which was also the case in my family.
That's why my parents agreed to speak Japanese with my sister first, despite my mother's beginner knowledge of Japanese. My mother had acquired knowledge of the Japanese language since meeting my father, so she sometimes used Japanese vocabulary when speaking German with us.
As a representative of the non-local language, how did your father seek to maintain Japanese within the household?
I remember him spending a lot of time with my sister and I, reading us bedtime stories and letting us watch children's shows, even though he came back late from work every day. These were sent to us by our grandparents from Japan. All of this had a positive effect. We were able to build up a relationship with our grandparents without language barriers by naturally acquiring our non-native language, which was made possible through phone calls and regular visits to Japan during school vacations.
Did you have a balanced education and social contacts in both languages?
My parents also had a tough job establishing and maintaining additional relationships with Japanese people. Despite some distance and the German school, they took us to the Japanese supplementary school (Hoshuko) several times a week, which allowed us to establish a closer relationship with Japanese culture and contact with the non-native language. I made many Japanese friends with whom I am still in close contact today.
To what extent has this affected your attitude towards language and identity?
I owe my Japanese identity and the accompanying positive attitude towards the Japanese language and its linguistic ability especially to the consistent upbringing and strong personality of my father. His strong sense of ethnic identity has led him to pass his identity as a Japanese on to us. Due to frequent praise and encouragement, the Japanese language has always had a high value for me, which is why there was never a refusal to speak the language and I was able to develop a distinct cultural identity.
Would you want to raise your own children multilingual, too?
I also want my future children to be able to identify with both of my languages and identities, while at the same time remaining aware of the effort and troubles that come with this. However, I will be willing to make that effort. Of course, it will depend on which country my children grow up in, but I have a strong desire for them to acquire the Japanese language in particular, as I did.
Julian was raised bilingually in German and Japanese. At university, he studied Multilingual Communication in English and Spanish and lived in Chile for 8 months. His Bachelor's thesis dealt with successful bilingual education and he loves to communicate with international people.
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