Should I Worry about My Child’s Accent in Her Foreign Language?

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Should I worry about my child's accent

Dear Dr. Gupta,

My three-year-old daughter lives in Greece, is being brought up by a German nanny, speaks German perfect and German is her dominant language for the time being. She also speaks Greek and English but her accent is not very good in English as her teachers are Australian.

Should I seek a teacher with a British accent? In which language should she start reading and writing? At which age? She will definitely attend the Greek school since we do not have a foreign school in our city.

Yours truly,
Konstantina​

Dear Konstantina,

Wow!  This is a fantastic bilingual success. I gather that the family are Greek.

First of all your last question, which seems to me to have an obvious answer. If she will definitely attend a Greek-medium school then certainly she will start to learn to read and write in Greek. However, a three-year-old has already learnt a lot about reading and writing. I assume that you are reading books to her in all three languages. She may already know that Greek uses a different alphabet from the other two, and may even be able to distinguish written German from written English. This is all part of learning to read and write.  Most children are starting to write their name at the age of 3–do you show her it in Greek? She is already on the way to learning to read and write, and experiences in all three languages will help her, even though her formal learning will be in Greek.

As she gets older, it is likely that Greek will become her dominant language. If you change nannies, it would be nice to hire another German one so that her German does not disappear.

Your question “Should I seek a teacher with a British accent” is based on your extraordinary statement that “her accent is not very good in English as her teachers are Australian.” I am a woman of British origin, living in Australia, and writing for an American website. Your assumption that British accents are better than Australian accents is actually quite offensive. You have to understand that English is an international accent, spoken in many countries all over the world. There is no single ‘best’ accent of English: people speak with the accent of the place they come from, or grow up in, or want to be a part of.  People’s accents also change over time as they find themselves in new situations.

I don’t know why you want your daughter to have a British accent. It seems a strange thing to want. Perhaps you were yourself taught English by someone who had the idea that only one accent of English was right. What is important is that your daughter is learning English happily and that she has kind and qualified teachers. Their nationality doesn’t matter. Even if they were British, you would have no control over which accent the teachers spoke. There are many accents of British English.

In addition, we pick up our accent from our peer group. If  your daughter starts speaking English among a group of friends of her own age (which is something to want), they will develop a group accent. There is no way that you can control the accent a child picks up. And it really doesn’t matter. Part of being an English-speaker is learning how to cope with a range of accents. And we may need a range of accents as we grow up and have different life experiences.

Dr. Gupta

Photo by Thiago Cerqueira on Unsplash

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Anthea Fraser Gupta is a sociolinguist with an interest in how children learn to talk. She was born into a monolingual environment in Middlesbrough, England, but enjoyed learning about languages from an early age. She gained a B.A. in English Linguistic Studies and Archaeology at the University of Newcastle, then went on to do an M.A. in Linguistics. She left Newcastle in 1975 to work in Singapore, where she encountered a society in which multilingualism is usual and expected. In Singapore nearly all children come to nursery school already able to speak 2 or 3 languages. While lecturing in the linguistics of English at the National University of Singapore, she did a doctoral degree at the University of York, looking at the language acquisition over two years of four Singaporean children who were growing up with four languages. In Singapore, she also married a man from a multilingual family from India. She returned to England in 1996 to the School of English at the University of Leeds, where she taught courses on both English language and bilingualism until her retirement in 2010. Anthea has had experience in a range of multilingual and multicultural societies and families. She has published books and articles on English, especially the language use of children in Singapore, and has also produced a novel for children set in Singapore. She is deeply interested in child development and believes that the most important thing in raising a child is to provide love and stimulation, regardless of what language or languages are learned.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I think Konstantina is actually responding to what is probably more familiar/praised/or preferred socially as well. I was an English teacher in Poland with a distinct accent. I struggled to get English teaching language classes because they preferred people with strictly English or American accents not African ones. Sometimes I had to hide my nationality which was incredibly offensive. It may be, that in Greece the system is racist

  2. I love this website and its insight on raising global citizens. I agree with what you say about no one English accent being correct – the thing that I was surprised by in this article was the fact that you endorse the view that children should start to write their name by age 3. As my children were in the UK at this age this was the type of situation we experienced however I think that expectation to write at an early age is damaging. Those children who develop later can be set up for failure from the start with this system, leaving aside all the other creative opportunities that could be missed by setting off on this path where following on from this increasing amounts of writing and even spelling creep in by age 4, 5 and 6. I have enjoyed your suggestions in other posts too so I’m sorry to pick you up on the one thing that I disagree on. It’s something I feel strongly about and it’s something that I hope will change from being held as the norm in so many countries.

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