Why do people from other countries generally lose their accents if they move to the US at or about 14 years of age? But if they move to the US AFTER the age of puberty, the accent usually is retained as long as the individual lives.
Perhaps it has something to do with peer pressure. Up through the early teens children tend to get ridiculed ever every little thing that makes them different. However, by the mid-to-late teens, an accent makes one sound unique and interesting.
Reminds me of the bassoon teacher that lead our woodwind quintet in college. Old german guy with an extremely thick accent. Later, I found out that after he’s had too much to drink the accent starts to dwindle. I never saw this first-hand, but knowing this guy it wouldn’t surprise me.
Mr. K’s Link of the Month:
Everybody has an accent.
The “broadcast English” you hear TV people use is a midwest accent that was determined to be the easiest for most North Americans to understand back in the days of radio.
Having said that, Mrknowitall addressed your question.
For the most spot-free pronouncation of the language at hand it still helps if the child was surrounded by it at the earliest age.
I just thought this could be slightly relevant:
My grandma takes all the grandkids on a cruise every summer (JUST the grandkids, no parents, Whoo-hoo!) Anyway, by the time we get back (after only one week) we have usually picked up the accents of the friends we hung around with the most. Age ranges of 10 - 21. Feel free to analyze this down, or ignore it if you so wish.
“Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate.”
I’ve noticed and can’t prove - that the most musical in my family seem to pick up accents and the “tin eared” seem to keep their accents without difficulty. And the musical ones got better grades in foreign languages, too.
I’d say it happens a lot earlier than at 14. My cousin came to Canada when he was 11 or so and he still has a very noticeable accent.
A lot depends on the person and the languages you are familiar with. I started learning French when I was 9 and Spanish when I was about 13 or 14 and my Spanish accent is better than my French one. Why? I think it’s just because Spanish uses sounds that are also used in Polish, which is my first language.
From my experience, to master the local accent by osmosis alone you have to start learning it at around 10 years old, plus or minus 3 years.
Hmmm. . . according to my extremely unscientific survey of all the immigrants with whom I’m acquainted, I’d have to propose that the maximum average age for one to immigrate to this country and lose the accent ( at least, to such a degree that a person unaware of one’s foreign-born status and without the experience of having spent a lot of time listening to them) is about six or seven.
Obviously, this doesn’t take into account the possibility that one can spend a great deal of time and effort in phonetic & intonation training at a later age in order to rid one’s self of an accent. (This sort of training doesn’t seem to be very highly valued in this country, though, as far as aspects of second-language pedagogy go.)
Well, I thought one of the important goals in language teaching at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA-US was to produce speakers of foreign languages who could be mistaken for native speakers, in foreign lands at times when an accent foreign to that land might make a difference of life and death.
Ray (Californian as a first language)
Muscle memory plays a large roll in accents. Part of an accent is how you form a sound. If you form your tongue and lips in a certain way when you are young (like in pronouncing your native language), it becomes more difficult to change that practiced motion when you are older. Being able to master that particular way of forming a sound is what gives the speaker a consistency in the accent. One of my old bosses was from the Phillipines, and had been studying English since a child (and Spanish and Japanese and probably a few other languages). Even after living here for 10 years he would say “buh-laht-i-kal” for “political” and would struggle with other words as well. Ben could hear the difference, but simply could not get his mouth to easily and properly form the words. He could stop and pronounce it correctly by itself, but casual conversation is one long string of words without the spaces that we insert in text. He didn’t bother. Lots of practice and instruction could help, but he was (mostly) understood, so who cares? I mean, he is no longer in English class and isn’t getting a grade. As far as the age of 14, that does seem to be a rough cut off point for setting your mouth muscles in place . Henry Kissinger, who fled with his family from Germany as a teen ager still has that Dr. Strangelove accent, but his brother, a year or two younger, has the graceful and melodious English enunciation mastered only by real Nu Yawhkers.