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Subject: Timing for Third Language Acquisition in Moving from China to Japan for Three Children
Question: When should we move from Shanghai to Tokyo? Factors are my children's development and
lifetime linguistic gain/loss and successes/failures.

My family and I are to move from Shanghai to Tokyo. We are originally from New York City. Our
three children (8, 6.5 and 3 years old) are bilingual English/Chinese and have attended Chinese
schools only, though they speak, read, and write fluent English. They are at their grade levels in
local schools in Shanghai (they are the only Caucasian children, meaning they do not attend
international schools) and are awarded as being at the tops of their classes. I speak Japanese,
English, and French. Though Japanese is my first language (my mother is Japanese), English is
now my stronger language.

My husband's first language is English, his second language French (he lived in France until he was
eight and attended a local schools there -- his father is French), and studied Mandarin seriously in
college, so is fluent in Chinese.

So, I have a linguistic/child development issue that will most likely decide when we will move to
Tokyo. My husband's job will start there within the month -- quite sudden.

My children and I can decide when to move to Tokyo. We plan to put our children into local public
schools in Japan.

When should we move? The school year in Japan starts in April, but they are on the trimester
system -- the trimesters begin in April, September, and January. China's semester system begins in
September, and their second semester begins in February after Chinese New Year.

My issue is the language acquisition/loss (speaking, reading, and writing) of Chinese and Japanese.
When is the optimal time of your move, if there is such a thing? Would it be better to have three-five
more months of Chinese for my 8 year old in Shanghai's third grade for before moving him to
Tokyo? He would be in the second grade, based on his age, in Tokyo. For my second son, who
would be starting in the serious primary school system in Shanghai in September, is it better to give
him a few months in the Chinese system to give him a stronger base (reading, writing) before
moving him to Japan? I also have concerns about moving out of China and into Japan -mid- term,
though I have been re-assured this is quite common in Japan. To compound the decision-making
process, we will not know for how long we will be in Japan. Meaning, if we decide to move in in
January or March 2013 and not right now for Sept school start, maybe we would only have one full
school year in Japan before we would have to move again. This could be a lost opportunity for
Japanese language acquisition. But, maybe their Chinese language would be strengthened. So,
basically, if we were to start the kids in Sept in Japan, how much Chinese language loss would they
have vs. how much more Japanese language gain? This is also probably age-dependent.

My children are pretty gifted, so maybe I should be worried, but I am not too worried about the
academic challenge. They are also quite keen to learn Japanese.

So, might you have some parental and academic advice for our situation? Our timing is stressfully
short. Clearly I am confused!

Thank you very much for your time.

Reply: Speaking as a child of parents in motion, I'll say that I moved mid-year at least 2 times
(3/4 through 4th grade; 3/4 through 9th grade) and at the end of term a couple of
times (entering 1st (from kindergarden); entering 6th; entering 11th grade) all within
the US, so no linguistic component. (Though I will acknowledge that moving into Texas
from the West awakened my ears to extremes of dialect variation before I knew the

Your last point ["keen to learn Japanese"] is among the most telling: I'm in the camp
that suggests keeping the family together may be a strengthener during a time of
transition. And, when you suggest that your next move is on the horizon after this one,
I'm concerned that you provide the maximum time in the Japanese environment to help
both establish the language and the create a social life among the children's peers. One
year is barely enough time to get confident in the language. Their previous Chinese
education will certainly help with the kanji (as Susan Fischer suggests); and you can
tutor (or add a tutor to the mix) for recognition and production of kana quickly.

I am quite ignorant of both the Chinese and Japanese (public) school systems, so do
rely on others for advise in that regard.

Reply From: Nancy J. Frishberg      click here to access email
Date: 26-Jul-2012
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Timing for Third Language Acquisition in Moving from China to Japan for Three Children    Madalena Cruz-Ferreira     (16-Jul-2012)
  2. Re: Timing for Third Language Acquisition in Moving from China to Japan for Three Children    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (18-Jul-2012)
  3. Re: Timing for Third Language Acquisition in Moving from China to Japan for Three Children    Susan Fischer     (16-Jul-2012)

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