Bilingual Baby or Bust!

March 27, 2020
Mickie Okamoto-Tsudama



What color is this?

Green! (well.. more like gween!)


Success!  She’s bilingual!

If only it were this easy. 

Attempting to raise our daughter to be bilingual is probably, at the moment, my husband's and my biggest challenge that we chose to take on.  Why did we add an additional layer to the already stressful job of parenting a toddler?

List of things we already have to teach M:

-        How to communicate using words.

-        What is right and what is wrong.

-        How to be nice to others and share.

-        How to eat using utensils and eat veggies.

-        When we say no, it means no.

-        How to respect others.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg of our long list of things to teach M so that she becomes a motivated, ambitious, open minded, patient, strong, friendly, social, and (every other great characteristics we can think of) computer scientist. 

Now we are adding.. BILINGUAL motivated, ambitious, open minded, patient, strong, friendly, social, and (every other great characteristics we can think of) computer scientist.

M well on her way to future computer scientist-hood!

So what does this entail? 

A little background of our family:

I am shin-nisei.  My parents are from Tokyo, Japan and my extended family all still live in Japan.  I attended and graduated middle school from a Japanese school that is accredited by the Japanese government.  It was not a language school but we learned literature, math, science and history in Japanese as if we lived in Japan.  While (mostly) fluent in speaking, reading, and writing Japanese, my primary language is English.

The author's family, with author third from left.

My husband is a yonsei.  His great-grandparents came from Japan.  His grandparents spoke/speak a little Japanese but his parents do not.  He took Japanese in high school and spent a few years there teaching English.  He can understand basic Japanese. 

The author's husband's family, with author standing second from right.

So how are we going to raise M to be bilingual?

I speak Japanese to her and my husband speaks English to her.  Would this be enough?  I’m not convinced.

We have tried where I speak to my husband in Japanese as well but this requires a lot of patience.  A lot of patience. 

Me: 電気消してくれる?
Husband: Um.. what about the light?
Me: Denki … KE SHI TE kureru?
Husband: Um..
Me: Can you please turn off the light?

You get the picture.  We have to communicate in English to keep up with the fast paced life of 2 working parents with a toddler.

We are currently living with my parents and sister who are Japanese speaking.  This has helped tremendously for me to set the tone to speak to M in Japanese.  M is exposed to Japanese daily by 3 out of the 4 adults in the household.  Without this, I don’t even think we could have gotten this far.

This living situation is not forever.  My husband and I have discussed various options to ensure that M learns Japanese.  He has offered to take language classes.  We are exploring Japanese immersion elementary programs for her.  Perhaps Japanese language school.  Perhaps arranging homestays with our friends in Japan when she gets older. 

We don’t know how this will all turn out.  We just know that it’s up to us to give this option of second language to her.  We are committed.  We just have to figure it out.


But first, perhaps we should work on colors with her… in both English and Japanese.

Mickie Okamoto-Tsudama

Mickie Okamoto-Tsudama, MPA, PHR is a human resources professional at Loyola Law School. She is a University of California, Los Angeles graduate and received her Masters in Public Administration from Cal State Northridge. Mickie is a bilingual-bicultural Shin-Nisei and was born and raised in South Pasadena. Mickie became involved in the JA Community at UCLA where she served as the External Vice President ('06-'07) and President of the Nikkei Student Union ('07-'08). During this time, she was a leader in the Intercollegiate Nikkei Council, co-chairing the ReVISIONS Nikkei Youth Conference in 2006. She served as an Event Co-Chair of Kizuna’s Annual Family Showdown from 2011 - 2016 and as a workshop facilitator from 2011 - 2014. She is currently the chair of the Board of Governance committee. As a mom to her now toddler, Mickie's passion to challenge the next generation to find their multi-cultural identity and encourage community engagement is now even stronger. She looks forward to having her daughter be a part of the 2024 class of Nikkei Discovery Camp.