Young children acquire languages almost effortlessly. Typically developing children under the age of three learn new languages easily due to a process known as simultaneous second language learning, whereas older children learn a second language sequentially. Although there was once a fear that exposing a child to two separate languages in different environments would cause significant developmental delays, an infant’s brain compartmentalizes the two languages as they gain exposure. This allows the child to discern between the two languages without feeling overwhelmed. However, this does not mean that a child who is exposed to two languages within the first six months of life has significant future cognitive advantages over a child who is exposed to only one language.
In sequential language learning, a child initially speaks in their native language despite being surrounded by non native speakers of the aforementioned language. They then enter a silent period where they are reluctant to speak to those who do not speak their native language before gradually becoming more confident in their ability to express themselves in the secondary language. Language acquisition in children occurs predominantly at an intuitive level, therefore accent reduction programs alone are not useful for young children. Alternatively, many adolescents excel during accent reduction classes.
Maintaining a Linguistic Identity
As a non-native English speaker and parent, you may be concerned that any action taken towards supporting your child’s accent reduction when speaking American English will cause them to lose a vital part of their self identity. Central to accent reduction therapy is the understanding that one’s native accent is an important part of self identity and the goal is not to eliminate one’s native accent when speaking their native language, but rather to lessen or eliminate the accent when speaking American English. Sessions are modified to meet the specific needs of the individual and only proceeds if both parents and the adolescent are comfortable with the accent modifications that are being made when speaking American English.