The right accent for your child

Posted on November 29, 2012


How should our children speak? I’ll cut to the right answer – there is no right answer.

I ask the question because as a parent speech is often linked to our children’s development. There is at least a perception – if not a truth – that the better speaking kid is the one who will be more confident, intelligent, successful… pick a positive adjective of your choice.

I live in London. My daughter goes to an ordinary primary school. In her class the students’ parents represent every continent on the planet. (OK, not Antarctica. Picky.) 

Many parents – including me and my wife – come from different countries. Also many parents – not me in this case – if they grew up in the UK are quite likely not to have grown up in our little part of the world.

What this all means is that when our children talk they might not sound much like us.

Is that so bad? I don’t think so.

Couples that are mixed by nationality see this coming. They know their child or children will one day speak like one parent. Or perhaps neither. It’s happened for years, all around the world, often in a different language.

Where it sometimes becomes a problem is when a parent doesn’t like the way their son or daughter sounds in the same language.

In London, the dropping of Hs and guttural stops in words like ‘butter’ and ‘water’ are common. (Which makes “Mad as a hatter” interesting.) So that kind of language is only natural.

But kids are flexible. Kids can be chameleons. The only thing I ask my daughter is that she’s aware of different ways of speaking. Like most of us – though few of us admit it – she can drop in and out of different ways of saying the same words. (Just hear her say “hotel” in the American South for full proof of this. Though that might be pure DNA at work.)

Other parents get much more upset about it. They seem to expect all children to speak with Received Pronunciation (even how you say the word “pronunciation” can be controversial), blaming school for a local accent.

I’m not sure that’s realistic or as important as some people think.

Am I the only parent who thinks about this? Would love to hear from you, especially if your kids are growing up sounding different to you.

*photo credit: HA! Designs – Artbyheather via photopin cc

Follow Tony on Twitter – @tphallett

Posted in: Family