Bilingual Japanese Children Growing Up Abroad

by Natsuki Oshiro

In this article, I’ll write about bilingualism. Especially, I want to take up about children who emigrate to foreign country, or those who use both Japanese and foreign language in various situations. As growing Japanese internationalization, the number of those children is growing.

Many those children touch on foreign culture, and master foreign language, and they will play active parts on the international stage.

However, it is serious that the language study problem of children. In the intercultural situation, they must keep on learning with having mental stresses. Learning language is not merely linguistic problem, but also includes learner’s identity problems. In the aspect of habit, it needs them to assimilate the culture and community that the language speakers are. And those things bring about alteration in learner’s identity. Like that, learning language affects learner’s identity.

According to “America de sodatsu Nihonno kodomotachi” (Japanese children in America) (written by Masami Chinen), in the survey for 60 of Japanese children who were born in America, the author asked them ”Do you think you are Japanese?”. As a result, it became clear that they have identity that not even “Japanese” even ”American”. Having imperfect identity leads to “home-less-ness”, that they cannot depend on anywhere. Because they don’t have clear sense of belonging as Japanese or the other country nation, in many cases they cannot find out their places to call their own.

However, there is the place that they can feel sense of belonging. It is an extra curricular Japanese school (Saturday school). In their Saturday school, there are many friends who have similar worries; that is to say they are in the circumstance that are bilingual and dual cultural. The sense of belonging leads to their sense of unity as a group.

But the sense of belonging is not as Japanese, but the group that “bilingual and dual cultural”. However that may be, I think Saturday schools help them forming their identity.

Important factor for parents from Japan, is how their children can master foreign language efficiently. And for parents who live abroad for a long time, it is important that their children can preserve their Japanese skill. Like these things, a lot of parents worry about language problems. However mastering of language has relation to mental factor and social factor closely. So in order to support children’s language study, it is important for parents not only language part, but also considering total situation that their children are.


Hiroko Kataoka, Gunei Sato, 2008. Amerika de sodatsu nihon no Kodomo-Bilingual no hikari to kage (Japanese children in America-light and shade of bilingual). Tokyo:Akashi syoten

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