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Feb 022017
 

Should a parent stop speaking a non-native language so that a child does not get an accent?

 

Question

Hello,

My family and I live in Iran. We don’t have many bilinguals or multinationals in our country. People know a little English but not very much.

I have a daughter, who is 6 years old. I am an English-teacher in my country, too. I teach kids under the age of 7. When our daughter was 3 and a half, I started to speak English with her. I believe a kid can learn the second language easily through fun and play and daily life experience. Her father spoke Persian all the time. My accent is American.

Since I started speaking English with my daughter I never stopped learning and improving my accent and grammar. I could be considered a semi-native speaker. Me and my daughter have been watching a lot of English cartoons and we have learnt a lot from them. We play, sing, read English books together. We also have made a community of other bilingual kids to interact with each other.

Now my question is that: Is accent very important? Should I stop speaking and interacting in English because I am not a native speaker? Should I let her learn and hear only from cartoons since we don’t have any American native speakers in our country? My daughter’s accent is really good because she is a young learner and she’s been watching only English cartoons since she was 3. Should I stop our English interactions or continue?

Thanks and all the best
Zohre

Answer

Dear Zohre

Thank you for your message and congratulations on raising your daughter to speak English with limited access to resources and native speakers!

You are clearly comfortable in speaking English with your daughter and she is learning Persian from her father, the rest of the family and everyone else. Fantastic that you have found other families who also raise bilingual children. It is important that your daughter also gets used to interacting in English with other people and especially with other children.

As you are the person your daughter is interacting in English with she will most likely pick up any accent that you may have. You ask whether you should stop speaking English with her because of this. Most bilinguals have an accent in their additional languages, some more others less. However, this does not make their language skills any less valuable. Being bilingual does not mean that you have to have a native-like accent in all the languages you speak.

You are giving your daughter a great gift by passing on English to her. For her to continue developing her language, she must be able to use English, to speak it with someone every day. If you stop speaking English with her, she will hear the language but only occasionally interact in it, and that will not be beneficial for her progress. There is overwhelming evidence that the best way for a child to learn, improve and maintain a language is to regularly use it with other speakers of the language. I would recommend that you continue the way you have done until now, unless there is some other reason you would like to switch back to speaking Persian with her.

Are accents important? you ask. I would like to answer with a quote: “Respect those who speak with an accent, they probably know one more language than you do!”

Wishing you a successful bilingual family journey!

Kind regards
Rita

Rita Rosenback

  Rita Rosenback Rita is an author, Family Language Coach, blogger and speaker, who was born into a bilingual family on the Swedish-speaking west coast of Finland. After studying languages in Finland and Germany she worked as a university teacher, translator, interpreter and manager of multinational teams. Rita is now a full-time writer and coach and has been living in the U.K. since 1998. Rita is the mother of two grown-up multilingual daughters, who are the inspiration for her book: “Bringing up a Bilingual Child”, an easy-to-read guide for parents, where she navigates the reader across the “Seven Cs of Multilingual Parenting: Communication, Confidence, Commitment, Consistency, Creativity, Culture and Celebration”. Currently English and Swedish are Rita’s main languages, but she instantly switches to Finnish or German or to her Finland-Swedish dialect when the opportunity presents itself (and when push comes to shove, she can communicate in a very basic Punjabi). Rita is the creator and driving force of this website, and she gives talks and holds workshops for parents and teachers on the topic of bilingual children. She also coaches families on how to make the most of their languages and raise their children to become confident speakers of the chosen languages. Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

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