Sunday 8 January 2012

SGP -Interview with Steven Verrier

Today's SGP (Sunday Guest Post) is with the author Steven Verrier

Last month I wrote a couple of posts about raising a bilingual/bicultural child which led me to re-read the book Raising A Child To Be Bilingual And Bicultural. The book is written about Steven his Japanese wife and how they decided to raise their two sons, the book finishes as his eldest son is about 7 years old which got me wondering, what happened next. Thankfully, due to the internet and my friend google, it didn't take long to track Steven down and he agreed to do an interview for me.....

Could we start with you giving us a quick catch up? What has happened since you finished the book Raising a Child to be Bilingual and Bicultural?

Shortly after the book came out, my family left Japan. We've been back for a couple of summers since then, but we reside in the US and Canada now. Motoko and I have had three more children since I wrote the book, which, as you may recall, focuses on how we were raising our first two kids. As far as the younger kids are concerned, we've continued patterns set out in the book.

So you now have five children. Are they all fully bilingual/bicultural?

Yes. San Antonio, Texas, where we live most of the time, isn't the easiest place for instilling a sense of being Japanese, but we've plugged into the Japanese community here. Our younger kids can't get enough of Anpanman.

Now that your two older children are grown up, do they still keep to the OPOL system with you and your wife?

They do. Riki is fifteen and still with us. Last year he earned four years of high school Japanese credits by taking a single course and testing out of the others. He didn't need the course because he was already fluent, but the school required him to take it before they'd give credit for the courses he'd tested out of. His mother, Motoko, was actually the teacher of the course he had to take, and Riki's interaction with his mother in the classroom wasn't all that different from his interaction with her at home.Yori is twenty now, on his own, and a university senior. When he comes by our house he still speaks to each parent in the parent's native language.

What about the common language used between siblings? We have noticed with the kids in the playgroup that they switch language depending on what they are playing or talking about. Does that happen within your family?

Often it depends on which parent they're with. And, yes, the activity can have some bearing. As far as the younger ones go, they converse among themselves in English more than Japanese. If we were in Japan that would probably reverse itself quickly.

I know each family is different, but looking back, is there anything you would have done differently or anything that you tried which was a flop or failure?

Not really. Motoko and I try to be consistent and to make the most of our opportunities, and we've had good results overall. For example, it's New Year's Day as I speak, and since last night our children have eaten soba and mochi, Japanese foods traditionally associated with the holiday. We've always tried to keep our kids immersed in both our native cultures, and the children have responded favorably.
For you, what was the most difficult or trying part of raising a bilingual/bicultural family? And on the flip side, the most rewarding?

I touch on this in the book. Most difficult perhaps is the self-sacrifice. Ensuring my kids become fully bilingual and bicultural pretty much guarantees I won't have the same opportunity. For their sake I have to remain grounded in my own native culture. I converse somewhat in Japanese and I know plenty about the history and culture of Japan, but I'm careful to provide a good reflection of my native culture for my children to draw on.  Most rewarding are the results of that sacrifice - as is often the case when a parent puts his or her children's interests first. I'm the father of bilingual, bicultural kids - kids who can move pretty much seamlessly from one language or culture to another - so I can see any sacrifice wasn't for naught. 

I have heard of bilingual kids here having problems when they get to JH school because they answer their English test papers as a native not as an EFL student and so get marked down or don't get the grades that they should. Did you ever have such issues with your children? If so, how did you handle the situation?

That really illustrates what "education" has degenerated into in some places. But what you describe hasn't happened to us. When our oldest boys - both born in Japan - were first enrolled in US schools, though, I had to explain to those handling the enrollment how children born in Japan to a Japanese mother could still be considered native speakers of English as well as Japanese. Believe me, the people I spoke to weren't quick to grasp that, thinking our sons were perfect candidates for the ESL program. Our boys were tested and any talk of ESL was put to rest, but plenty of other native English-speaking children aren't so fortunate.Here in San Antonio, I've taught many students with native fluency in Spanish as well as English. Because secondary school students need to earn credits in a foreign language, and since most schools here don't offer a lot of variety when it comes to foreign language courses, most of those kids ended up studying Spanish in high school. Some, I know, didn't do well grade-wise. This could have been a situation like the one you describe. Maybe those kids just "knew too much."

This is a question from a friend who has two boys, 5 and 9, who are fluent verbally in English/Japanese but only read and write in Japanese because of their family situation, how old the kids were when they moved, etc. She wants to know when you think is the best time to introduce them to reading and writing. Should she be trying at home or just wait until the kids do it at school?

It's hard to answer without knowing more about the family situation. If your friend is a native English speaker, the children's father is Japanese, and each parent speaks his or her native language exclusively while around the children, I'd say they're already doing a very good job. If this is the case, I'm not sure what aspect of the family situation would prevent the boys from reading and writing English, and I don't see any reason to put this off until they learn it in school.
This is a question I get asked a lot. Have any of your children at any point refused to speak/listen to one of the languages you use? If so, how old were they and what did you do about the situation?

It's never happened to us.
Do you have any book recommendations (other than your own, of course!)?

There are plenty of websites and blogs addressing this subject matter, and some of them make recommendations, so I'll leave it at that. I haven't done much further research in this area in the past several years, as I've been occupied with other projects.

Finally, do you have any pearls of wisdom to pass on?

I'm not sure about that. But I stand behind what I wrote in Raising a Child to be Bilingual and Bicultural. The summary at the end of the book boils all the key points down to a few pages. To boil things down even further, I'll just say that nearly any child given a fair opportunity can grow up to be bilingual and bicultural. There's no reason children shouldn't enjoy the process. And if a child is fortunate enough to be born to parents of different cultural backgrounds, those parents owe it to the child to apply principles like the ones I discuss in the book. A child shouldn't be deprived of his or her own heritage.
You can find Steven and his more recent books both fiction and nonfiction - at Thank again Steven for taking the time to answer my questions and update us on your family situation, it is a great inspiration to read about a success story.


  1. Wonderful, fascinating interview. Thank you.

  2. This is amazing, thanks so much Jojo and Stephen!

  3. Rachael in SydneyMonday, January 09, 2012

    Very interesting and relevant to me at the moment, thanks for looking him up and managing to get the interview!

  4. Thanks for the interesting interview! Anne

  5. Thanks for the interesting interview! Anne


Thank you!
I love hearing from you and if you haven't joined us in Moms That Rock, come on over!

Pin It button on image hover