Raising Bilingual Children
Should we be speaking only English to our kids? Should we be speaking both languages? Should Maki only use Japanese and I only use English? There are a variety of answers that people will give you to these questions. We want our kids to be bilingual (able to function well whether they choose to live in Japan or America in the future), but we realize that this is not an easy task! Most of the kids that go to the bilingual school where I teach will not become fully bilingual, even verbally. Many of the students from homes where two languages are spoken do not become bilingual either. As you can see, this is topic of interest, and sometimes one of stress to us and others around us!
Maki and I have talked a lot about this, but we have decided that I should speak only English in the home (when the kids are around), and that Maki should try to use English as much as possible. Since the kids are surrounded by Japanese people in Japan and have a Japanese mom, they will most surely learn Japanese. The bigger thing is that they get enough exposure to English. Some people think that it would confuse a child to hear two languages being spoken all the time, but we have not found that to be the case. It seems Noah sees Japanese as more important, and so he chooses to speak this language more often, but when we have people at our house that only speak English, he is quick to speak only English to them. At the age of two he already realizes that there is a distinct difference between the two languages (even in the written characters, for example, he will ask me to read English books and ask Maki to read Japanese books) and can decipher when to use what language when.
It seems that we are on the right track for now. As Maki always says, (and I agree with her!), kids are like little sponges. The main thing is that they feel positive about using both languages at this point. If they feel forced to use English, for example, it may cause them to dislike it such that they don't want to speak it at all. However, if they have a good feeling about the language, and can see that is important to use, and have enough meaningful contact in that language, I don't think we will have anything to worry about twenty years from now. But it just may take that long!
If you'd like to read more about this from a more informed person (!) read this very good article on the topic from the Linguistic Society of America.