Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Non-native Accents

We are preparing to sell our piano and so we had it tuned today. No one in the house has played the piano since I stopped taking lessons almost 20 years ago. It just so happened that the piano tuner is a native German. What a small world! She casually paid me the highest compliment -- she said I sounded like a native speaker. Oh wonderful day! When I was studying in Munich, this was a real badge of honor for us students - we were always hoping to be mistaken for native Germans as a sign of our excellent linguistic abilities. I don't think anyone was completely fooled by my accent LOL, but perhaps I could pass for some other nationality.

This leads me to think about what kind of accents my kids will develop. Their German exposure is native from my husband as well as my pretty good accent. They also hear native speakers in German music and on DVDs. They have a really hard time understanding our Oma and Opa, though (from the Black Forest). I, too, didn't understand much of my in-laws initially but have since adjusted to their version of German with it's Badisch bent.

My oldest son has a beautiful accent - he seems to have a real talent for languages. My four year old, however, has the funniest way of speaking. It's not so much an American accent, but it's not quite German either. I guess it will work itself out in time.

I think the key for me was the total immersion in native German I had while learning. (I didn't start studying German until college so I'm proof that you never are too old to learn!) Most of us won't be able to provide total immersion for our kids, at least not most of the time. That's when it's critical to find other ways to provide native German for your kids, either from native speakers or also from CDs and DVDs. My kids listen to the same stories over and over, and easily pick up words and phrases, intonation and all, and so this can be a great way to reinforce a good accent.

So now we have a tuned piano and we had a nice visit with a lovely piano tuner. After hearing her play, I am longing to play the piano again! Maybe we won't put it up for sale just yet :)

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