A reader asked the following question in the comment section of the article Non-Native Speakers Can Raise Multilingual Children! Here is the answer from our resident expert, Madalena Cruz-Ferreira:
Even though my husband speaks English to my kids with his native English accent, my kids (5 y.o.) have a Greek accent in English, which is the language I speak to them, native to me, and the language of the place we live in. Does anyone know if it is because they hear me speak to my husband in English with a Greek accent (and are thus copying me), or because they are still developing their language/tongues and are being influenced by the environment they live in (and thus they will eventually revert back to a natural English accent)?
Madalena Cruz-Ferreira’s Answer:
Here are a few thoughts on your query:
First of all, I see no reason why your children would choose to imitate your accent, and not your husband’s, in one of their languages.
Second, it might well be, as you say, that what you are actually hearing from your children is a developing pronunciation in English, not a Greek one. It is of course difficult to ascertain whether this is so, without access to speech data from your children. Perhaps what you hear from your children sounds Greek-tinted to you because you know what a Greek accent in English sounds like? I wonder whether your children have contact with other speakers of English, besides you and your husband, who use different accents in this language. School/preschool models, particularly peer models, become extremely powerful from around age 3, in uses of language as in everything else. And I wonder whether your children’s Greek accent matches yours.
Third, what language(s) do your children use to each other? Siblings are well known to influence one another in all sorts of behaviour, including linguistic behaviour, so they could be imitating each other — yet another example of peer models taking over adult ones.
Fourth, I understand that your children are twins. Twins are also well known to develop special ways of communicating with each other, which are specific to twins and different from other sibling traits. Perhaps their choice of accent is one way of demonstrating their twin identity and solidarity to the outer world.
Lastly, you mention a “natural English accent”, which tempted me to ask: natural to whom? The way your children will come to use their languages will be their natural way of using them.
Do feel free to contact me privately, if you wish to discuss these matters in greater detail.
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