I was just wondering if you have any feedback on a similar situation.
Sam is now almost 3,5 years old. He'd been talking German (ML) to us for a long time but since the end of May and the end of June, he's been speaking to us in French (Maman) and English (Dad) respectively. Since beginning of September, he has been going to a German-English Kindergarten, it's a very lovely and lively place with great staff.
His skills both in English and French (vocabulary and grammar) are improving day by day. However, we are a bit "disappointed" (it's probably too strong a word) because his accent in English is, let's face it, not conventional ^^, especially on words that end with an "-r" sound like "there". It's a mixture of non-native English-speaker with German intonation and a hint of American accent, which is weird considering that his dad has a British (hint of Mancunian and Wolverhampton accents).
Do you think his accent has been influenced by the kids and staff at kindergarten? There are many North-Americans, two Spanish kids who'd previously been to an American preschool, one staff member is Polish but studied in the UK, so her English is very good but non-native, the other staff member is, I think, from the US (I always forget to ask) (the other staff member is the German-speaker).
Is there any way to improve it? Will it improve at all?
Sam has no accent whatsoever in French; well he sounds like a French-speaker.
I kind of know the feeling. My eldest is 4 and learns Spanish (ml1) from her Daddy. In spite of his beautiful accent, my daughter still has a slight French (ML) accent. Same goes for English (ml2 which she learns from me). I guess the ML schooling really does not help.
ml schooling by staff from different backgrounds with different origins might not help though I'm not sure it might be just that. I myself was schooled in a British school as a child (n.b: I'm French). My teachers where all British and the kids were from all over the world (though around 40% were English native speakers). It was not until I moved to the UK and saw some people's reactions when I spoke to them that I discovered I had an "unconventional" accent. It was my living in the UK that finally allowed me to get a much more conventional English accent.
Maybe your little Sam needs a bit more time. He has the chance to have a British family on his Daddy's side, so that could provide him with loads of future opportunities to hear a good English accent and to pick it up.
***"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars" - Oscar Wilde***
Your last sentence made me smile... On his Daddy's side, they have unconventional accents too. ^^ His sisters having lived in Germany for more than 30 years actually have a German accent in English (my husband went to university in the UK, so I guess, he was less "affected"), his parents are from India originally so they have a phased out Indian accent in English, with some German hint. ^^
But it's true, you cannot really explain accents... Myself, I was raised in a monolingual family and I was the only one in the family "gifted" with languages. I had some kind of British accent, so that my teachers at school and university usually asked if I had some family in the UK. Since we have been in Germany, I have a more "global" British-American accent, having friends from all over the world. People can rarely place where I am from, or not straight away, when I speak English or German.
Hopefully it'll change for Sam...with time anyway!
Sam is still very young, and he started speaking English only just before starting school, if I understood correctly? If so, his accent will naturally follow that of his source of greatest exposure, which in this case is the school environment. The direct interactions letting him respond in real time are probably letting him consolidate some of his pronunciation skills. In relation to the environment. If you want him to be more "British", more listening and talking from Dad, more audio books, more exposure to native speakers...
I wouldn't worry now, so long as your son becomes grammatically correct, uses appropriate vocabulary, and easily makes himself understood. The accents of the bilingual/multilingual people around me -- based on observation rather than scientific evidence -- take on the dominant accent of each environment, almost as if their ears are so fine tuned to each new parameter that they just adapt. Those that have kept their base accents regardless of environment tend to be monolingual, like in the case of our Australian friends who have been in the USA for over 20 years and yet are totally identifiable when they open their mouths to speak.
My dad had a British accent, yet I had a slight Australian accent as a child (thanks to environment). Today I have some French inflections in my English, coupled with some Americanization, and I am sure that it will continue to evolve. Whereas I will always sound like an anglophone when I speak French because I learnt it as an adult. My husband sounded more British when he lived in London, then developed a Texan drawl when we lived in Texas. Today he also has French inflections in his speech because he speaks in English with the many French speakers in his international work environment. In both our cases, our written English remains the same, although I now use American spelling vs British spelling! As for my dad, he sounds really Chinese now when he speaks English.
My children have a New England accent when they speak English now, after 4 years in an "Americanized" environment. However, my son sounds British when he is upset. Useful for us in determining his mood, but funny. Whereas for Mandarin, they sound mainly like me!
Your son might end up with a best friend who is American and even though your husband is British, not sound like Dad at all? He might pick up 4 different accents growing up before settling into a "majority" accent?
I have a pupil in this situation. Speaks ml with a strong ML accent though both parents are native ml and speak it to her all the time. How can one explain this? I just reassure them that it does not stop her being bilingual.
I guess we'll pay attention to the audiobooks we buy. At the moment, he only wants to listen to one CD though (in English, and British accent ). And when we decide to start TV or cartoons on the tablet, we'll make sure to choose something British (probably not Peppa Pig ^^).
Kids accents are definitely influenced by outside sources. I am American and a stay at home mom, so I speak to my kids all the time. However, they were going to British nurseries and have a mixed accent...mostly British accent with a few words in an American accent.
One thing I have been doing with my 3-year-old son is asking him to listen to his words when he says them the same way he would listen to someone speaking to him. I suspect that children have a similar, subconscious urge to copy the accents they hear around them (assuming they are conscious of hearing them) to their ability to choose appropriate languages (ml or ML) depending on a situation. But the key is being conscious of it.
The main point is, I think we can teach our bilingual children to be conscious of and self-regulate their pronunciation.
Also, in a perfect world, maybe this wouldn't be necessary--accents wouldn't matter as a marker of status. But especially for young children, I think it's important to practice listening to and consciously copying speech because they're beginning to move into environments where there are greater expectations and demands for language production than familiar home environments.
Just a little comment - while as Fish points out, accents are of course a marker of status, I do think that in English (compared to French, say), there is more of a variation in what is considered "high status". For instance, I work in an international environment, and the accents that garner the most 'respect' (in terms of giving the impression of the speaker being extremely educated) tend to be Indian and Pakistani accents - not British ones at all! Similarly, there is definitely an 'international school accent', which is probably what Amy had some variation of before living in the UK.
I myself am Australian but only other fellow Australians tend to pick up on it - I've been asked whether I was everything from British to South African to American and...Swedish! Yet Australians identify my accent straight away, even if it isn't the most typical.
All that to say that while it's good to ensure that our children are able to pronounce words as clearly as possible, I wouldn't worry too much about the actual accent as a whole!
That is an interesting comment about accents and status. I think it depends on where you live, which English accent has the most status. I don't think in Canada, an Asian person (Indian, Chinese, Japanese, etc) speaking English with an accent is viewed as highly educated. Maybe it is because there is a high number of immigrants here from those countries? Maybe it is my own bias because I lived in India and so many of their schools are British based or have a British background and teach in English. At least in Ontario, I find people go crazy over the English accents we don't hear as frequently, like Australian, New Zealand, Irish, etc.
Yes, it definitely depends on the environment! I work for an international organization, so I am referring to a diplomatic environment where most people have PhDs and the quality that is perhaps most prized is the ability to win an argument through advocacy (i.e. giving good speeches!) and negotiation, in addition to giving the impression that you are a very 'cultivated' person. In that environment, when an Indian person speaks in a large meeting, say, it often has the effect of silencing everyone else, as other delegates - including those from the big English-speaking countries - tend to feel very inarticulate after hearing them! This is obviously very different for many Asian accents, as people from countries that were not colonised by the British do not for the most part master the English language to the same extent, which makes it difficult to speak with the same level of authority (I am really learning this now since I moved to Latin America and have to conduct negotiations in Spanish, which I am far from fluent in!). In the end, I guess it is really not just about accent but also confidence in playing with language. And in the case of many Indians, the eloquent use of some rather beautiful old-fashioned expressions no doubt helps!
Your example about people in Canada liking Australian/NZ accents is a perfect example of what you were saying about environment, because growing up in Australia we were always given the impression that Australian accents were "low status", particularly in the UK. This has probably changed now to some extent but not completely I suspect. So it shows that how accents are considered really does vary based on time and place, and there is no point in worrying too much about it - we should all embrace the ones we have and enjoy the diversity!
On another note, funnily enough, I lived in India for a few years. As you say, the British influence is still certainly very present!
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Nellie: Adam - will watch the video as soon as I can (living circumstances not permitting right now - we are still in temp accommodation and I can't turn on volume) - looking forward to it!
Sept 22, 2017 5:56:44 GMT 9
Mayken: Skyping with grandma last night had to be cancelled due to technological problems - I needed to talk my mom through a Skype update and her phone battery died. :-(
Sept 25, 2017 20:45:42 GMT 9
Joanna: sorry Mayken...this is sad but funny as I'm sure many skype Grandparents have the same woes !(mine..) For us this weekend: potty training has led to great quality time reading and chatting, and some pretty hilarious ml questions
Sept 26, 2017 6:20:44 GMT 9
Adam Beck: Mayken and Joanna, I can relate! My mother (Grandma) can't seem to get the sound on her computer working so when we Skype, we also have to use the telephone!
Sept 26, 2017 6:36:03 GMT 9
Mayken: Adam, and Joanna, it's good to know we're not alone in this!
Sept 27, 2017 2:46:28 GMT 9
Joanna: Planning a long Christmas minority language visit, so exciting!
Sept 30, 2017 14:46:01 GMT 9
Mayken: Yay! Skype is working again on my mom's tablet, meaning we can skype with ml grandma again!
Oct 2, 2017 23:12:24 GMT 9
Mayken: The other day my mom (monolingual ml) called while my daughter and I were out, so Daddy (monolingual ML) answered. My mom was amazed to find out he isn't monolingual ML any more after all, and praised his active ml ability.
Oct 3, 2017 23:28:39 GMT 9
Joanna: For each day my daughter is exposed to other people speaking English (here in France) I put a little star on the calendar...trying to fill it up!
Oct 8, 2017 3:52:17 GMT 9
Adam Beck: Nice motivating idea, Joanna! And Mayken, thanks for sharing your good news on two fronts!
Oct 9, 2017 7:11:50 GMT 9
Marisa: My daughter won't say number one in Spanish or English, but in German! She loves recognizing the number and saying it out loud... it sounds more like the word 'ice' in English, though, but it's 'eins.' Number 9, however, is 'nueve'. So funny!
Oct 11, 2017 10:33:45 GMT 9
Mayken: My dad's giving Adam's book to his Lithuanian friend's daughter, whose husband is sceptical about their little girl learning German.
Oct 14, 2017 21:10:20 GMT 9
Adam Beck: Mayken, thank you for sharing my book! I hope it can be helpful to them!
Oct 16, 2017 15:57:32 GMT 9
Marisa: Adam, another bilingual monkey is about to be born near me (one of my colleagues is giving birth tomorrow), so I also got her and her husband a copy of your book... this world needs more bilingual kids!
Oct 18, 2017 0:06:43 GMT 9
Adam Beck: Many thanks, Marisa! In my humble opinion, more bilingual kids = more empathy in the world = a more peaceful planet.
Oct 18, 2017 7:33:04 GMT 9