My Bilingual Children Only Answer Back in English & Speak German With Heavy American Accents

by Corey · 0 comments

I am raising my two children bilingually. I am originally from Germany so I only speak German with them. But my 7 year old always answers me in English and I am noticing that she is having more and more trouble speaking German. Also she has a very heavy American accent when she speaks German. As I am a native speaker, I always thought she wouldn’t have an accent at all. Any help is appreciated.
— Marion

Dear Marion,

You don’t say where, exactly, you live, but I presume from your question that your family is based in North America.

There could be several reasons for what you notice in your daughter. She has probably been schooled, in English, for a number of years now (I’m presuming this too).

From around age 3, children start realising that the world is full of interesting people who are more like them than their own parents ever were: other children. Very early on, peer models take over parental models, and your girl has had many years to consolidate this finding. This is a fact of life, and nothing to regret or attempt to counteract.

There could be an issue of identity here too: she may be wanting to show you that she has chosen “her” language, or “her” way of speaking your language.

Another reason, probably less likely, is that she has contact with English-accented German-speakers whom she finds appealing.

It could also be that she answers you in English because you and her are talking about matters that took place, for her, in English. This would then be the natural language for her to express these happenings. I noticed the same thing with my children, who were schooled in English, and had serious difficulty (understandably!) talking about school matters in any other language. We used, and still use, two other languages at home. The children would have the same difficulty talking about home matters in English, because the different languages of multilinguals are there precisely because they are needed for different purposes.

What we did was to tell our children that it was all right for them to use English with us to talk about school. When the first eagerness of telling us the latest exciting news from their “workplace” was over, we also noticed that they switched over to our languages with us, including to ask us how to say, in our languages, what they had just told us in English.

I would be curious to know which language(s) your children use with each other, and whether your daughter is choosing English as peer language with her sibling. In case you’re wondering, my children did exactly this. Still today, in their 20’s, they go on using our languages with us parents, but English is “their” own language.

One final comment, about your remark that “she shouldn’t have an accent at all.”  Regardless of how many or which languages we use, we all speak them with an accent, the one that is used in our environment. I understand that you mean “accent” to refer to a “foreign accent,” but I just thought of taking this chance to clarify this issue. There are no accentless uses of language.

Do feel free to contact me privately, if you wish to discuss these matters in greater detail.


Madalena Cruz-Ferreira, PhD, University of Manchester, UK, is a multilingual parent, educator and scholar, and the author of Multilinguals are...?, a book on myths and misconceptions about multilingualism. Her blog Being Multilingual deals with multilingualism at home, in school and in clinic. Her contact, and details on her work, are at:

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