And speaking to Big Sister on the phone the other day I realised, for the first time, what a strange accent she has.
Frankly, I’m amazed I didn’t notice it before. In terms of grammar and vocabulary, she speaks English well for her age (surprisingly well, really, considering that she has never lived in an English-speaking country). Her pronunciation and intonation, however, are a direct reflection of the fact that she has lived in Japan and Finland, has parents from Australia and Finland, and attends a school where teachers speak English with American, Finnish and British accents.
She has what could be called a truly international accent. Her English pronunciation is, frankly, a bit of a mongrel.
In one sense, I love this. I love that she’s not from anywhere in particular and has absorbed all kinds of cultural influences during her young life. I love that, at the age of 6, she has already learned three different languages. I love that she’s bright and original.
On the other hand, her different-ness – the very thing I love about her – makes me panic a bit. As a child, especially at primary school, what I always wanted most was to be the SAME as other children. People who were different got teased and bullied. In this sense, I can’t help worrying about my little mongrel.
I also worry from a language perspective. If you don’t speak English with a recognisable accent (British, Australian, American) is your English still, technically, “correct”? Amongst native speakers, will you still get recognised as one of the crowd, or will you always be regarded (consciously or unconsciously) as a foreigner? I am not a native speaker of Finnish, so I can’t make an accurate first-hand judgment of Big Sister’s accent in her second-strongest language, but what if my little girl’s Finnish is similarly tainted with The Unusual?
Does coming from a culturally-rich background mean, in real terms, that actually she comes from nowhere in particular, and consequently will be an outsider wherever she goes?
Many friends have told me to let these worries go; that they are not worth fretting over; that her uniqueness is a strength, not a weakness. Of course, over time I will try hard to help her be confident in herself and proud of who she is. I will try to help her embrace challenges and tackle them in her own, distinctive way.
God help me, all I want is for her to be happy, but have I, by my own hand, already denied her that? I can’t help worrying that my own life choices have set her up for a bloody complicated road through life. Please let her be up to the challenge.