Thursday 12 April 2012

Don't Speak English!

Are you an expat? Do you live in an English-speaking country? Want your children to blend in? Want them to integrate perfectly?

Here's my advice: do not speak English with them!

We visited BK1's school assembly a couple of weeks ago. The children had prepared a travel agency scenario and were presenting facts about a couple of countries. They dressed up and moved around, dancing or pretending to be a giant Chinese dragon. It was fun.

The interesting bit from the point of view of this blog: In BK1's class she is not the only child from a non-native English family. There are a couple of others from Indian or Pakistani backgrounds. Comparing how those children speak, I have to say BK1 is the only one who does not have any accent.

Well, she has an accent which apparently is clearly local, but the others speak with pretty strong Indian or Pakistani accents.

I reckon there is a multitude of possible reasons for that, but my personal opinion is: it's because the parents speak English at home and we don't.

Going back to the beginning of our journey. We never thought about it a lot, really. For both the Babelmum and myself, it was always obvious that we would use our mother tongue when speaking with our children. In our specific case, that leads to a combination of OPOL and ML@H, and that works fine. It also meant that we never thought about speaking English with our little ones. They would pick that up.

And they did. So much so that English is now their main language and that someone from around here can tell they live here. "Here" meaning Stockport, as opposed to the bigger bucket "Manchester" or "The North".

I know at least some of the other expat parents speak English with their kids. They do so with an accent, which is totally normal because they didn't learn English when they were young.

The problem is that they're passing their accent on to their kids, effectively negating the very reason why they're speaking English in the first place!

So, if you want your child to blend in, leave the task to the experts, let your child learn the language from the locals. Or from CBeebies, if you must.

Of course, the same goes for any language. If you are an expat living in a country that speaks a different language, use your own when you speak with your kids. Do what you do best.


  1. Could not agree more with this!
    English is our mother tongue (and the only language DH and I speak with the kids), and I never speak German to them.
    I will admit to being tempted when they were younger becasue I worried they would never cope in school if I didn't expose them more, but now I am so glad I didn't. Even the 4 year old corrects my pronunciation!

  2. I agree too (although it's harder in practice as we speak Japanese in the community). I see my kids pick up my bad linguistic habits in Japanese (the majority language) and I cringe when I hear it!

  3. Speak english use in globally. english language is our mother language . Because they can easily understand with english conversation . That's the reason english language is the 1st priority to another language.

    1. No, studies on bilingualism show that language acquisition and competence is far more complex than that. In an English speaking country, the parents not speaking English at home is advantageous.

    2. @James: do you happen to have any pointers?

      I'd love to see any scientific backup to what I'm saying ;-)

  4. Thanks @Fiona and @Perogyo for your comments. I agree that it is hard if outside the house you speak the majority language.

    To @spoken_english: this obviously only applies to those of us who are not blessed with English as their mother tongue and only to expats.

    So, to clarify: use your mother tongue when you speak with your kids, or any other language that you master totally.

  5. Jan,
    I completely agree with you. To sustain in the present scenario we must be perfect enough to understand English. The training can be given from childhood if we are not blessed with it as our mother tongue.

  6. Even if your policy is to speak the minority language when outdoors, as the children get older, you spend more time having conversations with speakers of the local language. When they are young you might just be calling out to them on the slide in the minority language, as you chat in the local language with other parents. But as they grow up, the children come and chat too.

    1. Hi Anne,

      I currently do speak German with my kids outside the house. It means I have to say things twice.

      My hope is that I'll be able to continue doing that.

      Time will tell.


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