Of Accents and Acquiring English
Internationally-adoptive parents often have questions about their child’s acquisition of English. Will it be easy? Will it come quickly? Will that cute baby have a heavy accent for the rest of his or her life?
That would be yes, yes, and no.
But your mileage may vary. It all depends on the age at which the child leaves their native country. If it’s around puberty, they may well keep their accent. If it’s in toddlerhood or early childhood, they will probably lose the accent.
Out of our four children from Russia, the oldest and the youngest have not so much of an accent any more. They came home at the youngest ages, when both were around eight. The middle two children were older and still have slight accents. All have the occasional odd speech pattern in English even after several years home.
If you can put up with the odd occurrences and bumps along the way….
“Wh_re,” the foul word pops up at our breakfast-time Bible study, as one of our children innocently (?) chooses this particular verse as their “verse of the day”.
Benedetto almost spits out his morning coffee.
“Do you know what that word means?” I ask, anxious to know why this particular verse was chosen out of all the other verses in this specific chapter, how this verse “spoke” to that child.
“I don’t know….”
So naturally, I wade in to explain the meaning and the context, which was probably their intention in the first place: to waste time, since they could have asked a word meaning anytime before our morning meeting.
The other children struggle over much more pedestrian phrases. Discussing airlines, one asks if everyone gets to choose whether or not they will sit in “First Class” or “Last Class”, or if employees just place them wherever they want.
A question travelers have been asking for decades.
Our youngest struggles with a compliment, excited and out-of-breath, insisting to her father that she’s wearing a cougar-tooth skirt because Ms. So-and-So just said it looks nice. He glances down at her skirt, realizing that Ms. So-and-So speaks a few languages and generally knows what she’s talking about, whereas our daughter usually does not. Not that it stops her.
“Cougar-tooth?” he echoes, wondering if sharks’ teeth are hanging from it in some odd, aboriginal pattern that their fashion-forward mother must have bought them….
Seeing the grey-and-black wool pattern, he understands.
“Hounds-tooth, HOUNDS-tooth, that’s the pattern in the skirt. We call it hounds-tooth,” he explains about the plaid.
“HOUNDS-tooth?” she says in disappointment, face screwed up, not that we’re even sure she understands what a hound is, much less why his teeth would be in her skirt.
“There is no cougar-tooth,” he stays calm and matter-of-fact.
“I liked being a cougar,” she pouts.
“One day, one day,” he pats her on the back, most likely not realizing what he’s saying, either.
Welcome to my Russian-Italian-American family, where many times, proper English is optional.
—————Tags: a houndstooth wool pattern, adoptive parenting blog, at what age do children retain their foreign-language accent?, challenges in learning English, EE children learning English, ESL/ELL among adopted children, funny mix-ups when learning English, our adopted children learn English