I created this Vlog in response to a question from a follower on Instagram. If you have questions, you can reach out to me @bilinguable on IG! I love offering my point of view, some of my professional and personal experience, when it comes to bilingual language development.

So, let’s talk about accents! In this Vlog I talk about

  • Why we have accents
  • How babies are able to hear all of the subtle sounds in different languages but slowly lose this perception as they get older
  • Why your child may speak your home language with a different accent than you
  • Why accents should be embraced!

So, what shapes our accent and why do we have an accent- specifically an accent in a second language? 

Our accent in a second language can be shaped by applying the “speech sound rules” from one language to another. We may substitute sounds from our first language to the second language we’re learning, especially if those sounds in that second language don’t exist in our first language.  

And with small children,  their accents are also shaped not just by hearing their parents but by hearing all of the people who speak around them, the songs they hear sung to them or on the radio, the people they hear at school, at the supermarket etc.

Parents do worry sometimes about their child having an accent- whether that’s an accent in the home language or an accent in the language spoken in the community. I have had parents tell me before that relatives from their home country have asked, “why doesn’t your child growing up in the USA sound like us when he speaks Spanish?” Well, it’s because your child is shaping their language based on the influences of the majority language as well as other speakers of that language which may not necessarily have that same accent or dialect as those from your country of origin. And that is completely normal! Your child can refine their accent by spending more time with more native speakers of your home language. But above all, accent acceptance is very important. Having an accent doesn’t mean you can’t speak the language or that you don’t speak the language well. 

Of course, the earlier you learn a language from those with a native-like pronunciation, the less of an accent you will have. But the window doesn’t close as soon as your child enters preschool or even kindergarten. Children can gain nativelike proficiency and pronunciation with a lot of exposure even up to eight years of age and even beyond. There are even some young adults and adults who can master nativelike proficiency of a language. But, it can take a lot of practice! I love Portuguese and Spanish with all of my might, but I don’t think I’ll ever pass for a native speaker of that language. And for me, não faz mal e ¡no tiene problema!

Finally, I touched on whether your child may need speech therapy in your home language if they have a lot of difficulty with certain sounds in your home language. I have worked with children who are older and have difficulties with the trill R in Spanish. That’s when you roll the R on the tip of your tongue. In each language, some sounds are more difficult than others, whether the person is a native or non-native speaker of the language. Sometimes these sounds just take a lot of practice for us to master them. But sometimes your child or teenager may need a speech therapist to help them know where to place their tongue, how open to keep their mouth, etc to produce the sound. And sometimes other issues can be preventing your child from saying that sound. Example: tongue ties. A tongue tie may prevent a child from saying certain sounds, just like that trilled Spanish R. 

If you haven’t had a chance to check out my book, click on this link here and get your copy now! 

I’m not offering advice to substitute a medical professional and if you have concerns about your child’s speech and language development, talk with your pediatrician or a local speech therapist!