If children are to acquire two languages they need to hear enough of both languages spoken directly to them (i.e. sitting a child in front of a television programme in the target language will not generally be enough). But if children are regularly spoken to by non-native speakers of the language they will probably pick up features of their speech. Some parents are concerned about speaking their non-native language in front of the children (even if not speaking directly to the children) lest the children pick up non-native characteristics from the parent’s speech. In the case of the minority language parent speaking the majority language, there is probably no need to worry. Most children hear so many native speakers of the majority language that they will probably not use any erroneous pronunciations, words or grammar that they pick up from their minority language parent. Even if a small child copies a parent’s foreign accent in the majority language, this will generally be replaced by a local accent as the child’s social circle grows. In the case of the minority language, it might be better for children

to hear even non-native speakers if this means that they also hear more native speech in the minority language. In other words, the child will hear the minority language-speaking mother more often if she speaks her language both directly to the child and also when she speaks to the child’s father. This more than makes up for the possibility of the child picking up the father’s foreign accent in the minority language. Our experience is that children soon become aware of which parent makes mistakes in a language and will join the native-speaking parent in pointing out errors.

Losing a language