What Is Wrong with My Children’s Accents?

by Madalena · 4 comments

Dear Madalena,

My daughters’ (age 5+) spoken language sounds like it has an accent. It is widely asked if they have an accent, especially when they are around strangers.

I know they definitely sound different. Some say that they sound like cartoon characters, which upsets me. Others say they sound like foreign speaking kids. Their father and I are both Jamaicans and Jamaican parentage, so how is it that they sound the way they sound?

Thank You,

Dear Tina,

Let me start by clarifying that we all have accents in our languages. So the question that your daughters get asked, about having “an accent”, must be answered “yes” for every single one of us – including the people who ask.

You notice that your children “sound different”, and I presume from what you say that they sound different from you, parents. I also presume your girls attend school, playschool, or other kind of schooling, and may have done so for a while? From around age 3, when children become aware of other children as their peers, the behaviour of adults around them becomes uninteresting. This includes linguistic behaviour, that is, speech patterns, vocabulary, accents, and tone of voice in general.

Children want to be able to fit in among their peers (like all of us, at any age!), and may start imitating and adapting to other children’s ways of speaking – again, we all do so, in our respective peer groups. This might be the reason why your children do not sound like you.

A different issue is of course the opinions that some people feel entitled to express about others. There is no problem whatsoever in sounding “different” or sounding “foreign”, unless you believe that being different and being foreign is something worth commenting about. Your daughters do not have a problem simply because other people may believe that they do.

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: beingmultilingual.com.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jude October 27, 2012 at 1:17 pm

My partner and I are both Australian and my 6 year old son has an American accent. He has always had the accent and it is not something that has developed or changed. He even uses the American words for different things as well such as diaper not nappy, gas not petrol, penny, dime or quarter etc. I find it difficult to understand how he has picked up or developed this accent in a total Australian house. The 2 accents are very different. People do notice and think it’s cute. I thought it may subside as he grew older but this is not happening. Do you have you thoughts on why or he this has happened?


2 Jane October 27, 2014 at 3:24 pm

Hi Jude, I have the same thing going on in my household. My son is now nearly 11 and has always had an american accent (we are Australian and have no Americans in our circle). His classmates and people we know think its cute and funny but I worry that he may struggle when in high school and get teased about it. Most people I talk to assume he watches too much American content on TV and its through this and his love for playing video games that has caused it. I don’t know though, I was sure he would have dropped it by now.


3 Tanya M July 1, 2016 at 7:18 am

Hi Jane & Jude, My 10-year-old Australian son also has an American accent. I often wondered if he picked this accent up from television but I have three older children who had the same exposure and never developed an accent so I was baffled as to how this came to be. He also uses some Americanisms such as trash etc.

He has dyspraxia or Developmental Coordination Disorder as it is now known. This affects his muscle coordination so he is clumsy, lacks skill and confidence with gross motor activities such as riding a bike, and has difficulty with fine motor skills such as handwriting. Fortunately it has not affected his swallowing so he does not choke on food or drink (but it can in some children). I was told recently by a speech pathologist that it’s not unusual for children with dyspraxia to have an accent as the muscles that control their tongue and mouth are also affected and thus their ability to form sounds is affected. Another condition similar to this but with a focus mainly on speech is apraxia of speech.

Many people ask me about it and they think it’s cute. I’m not too worried about him being bullied or picked on for this. He doesn’t really care what people think and will tell them so if they make fun of him. It’s just who he is. He can make himself understood so that’s all that matters.


4 Madalena Cruz-Ferreira October 28, 2012 at 1:32 am

Dear Jude,

Home settings are not the favourite role models for children after around age 3, as noted in my answer. This is is the age when children realise that there are peers around them, other little ones who share their interests and thoughts, and who are therefore much more appealing as models than parental ones. The start of (pre-)school usually marks this watershed awareness among children.

The media become powerful instruments of these changes too, either directly or indirectly through peer preferences concerning, for example, songs and films, all of which are sung/spoken in some accent.

In my family, our children did use our parental accents in our two languages (Portuguese and Swedish), because we lived in places where there were no little friends who spoke these languages around them, and no media in these languages either. Instead, they acquired a whole new language, English, from their peers, which was their school language. Still today, in their twenties, English is the language that they use among themselves.

As children grow up, quite a lot can happen as far as language uses are concerned, that parents end up having little control over, whether we’re monolingual or multilingual. Have a look at this blog post of mine, titled ‘Making a home for new languages’, at http://beingmultilingual.blogspot.com/2012/02/making-home-for-new-languages.html
You could also read the post title as ‘Making a home for new accents’.

Do come back, if you’re still wondering about anything!


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