Josh Hyman’s daughter Penelope started watching Peppa Pig around the same time she began to talk.
She was two and started picking up words like “holiday,” “potato” or phrases like, “Who’s speaking, please?” — all with a British accent. Peppa Pig, an animated series from the U.K. following the family and friendships of an adorable pig, is one of the most popular TV shows for kids.
At first, Hyman, of Brooklyn, N.Y., panicked, but then he realized — like other Canadian parents that their children’s vocabulary can be impacted by a sort-of “Peppa effect.”
“I guess as new parents, you always have those panicky moments, even with something little like TV-influenced accents,” he told Global News. “But I think overall, we loved Peppa’s spunk and inquisitiveness, so we figured it was a good thing and let’s be real, people thought the accent was adorable.”
Parents say children love the show
Over time, Penelope, who is now five, began to phase out the words and accent.
“When she was just starting school, it certainly made her stand out and seem more precious.”
Natalie Preddie-Zamojc of Toronto, said her son’s British accent started about six months ago. “[He watches the show] a few times a week. He has Peppa books and a Peppa learning app too.”
Preddie-Zamojc never found a problem with the accent and lets it happen, rather than telling her child to change it.
“My mother and brother-in-law also have English accents so I think either the show solidifies the way they say things for him, or vice versa,” she explained. “At this point, he is in school two mornings a week and the number of people he interacts with is minimal. It makes sense that these interactions will affect the way that he speaks, be it Peppa, his grandma or his uncle.”
Lauren Bondar of Toronto said her son watches Peppa Pig almost every day during TV time.
“He started watching the show more [and] started mimicking the pigs in certain situations — how they speak and what they say. It’s not constant,” she told Global News. “Like all things my three-year-old ‘picks up,’ we overlook or ignore the habits/behaviours that we want to go away. The more we focus on something, the more he will do it.”
Bondar isn’t worried about the accent sticking. She believes it will phase out as he starts speaking with more people who don’t have the accent.
Why children pick up these words
Speech and language pathologist Melissa James of Toronto said the phenomenon of children picking up words or accents from TV shows isn’t new, and watching children develop these accents can be interesting.
“Kids have this amazing ability to pick up language,” she said. “Their brains are ripe for the learning of language and it’s a special window of opportunity that adults don’t possess.”
She added this is why adults have a harder time learning a new language or picking up an accent (unless they modify it deliberately). “Accent modification therapy is time-consuming, but for kids, their brains are so perspective to nuances of how words are pronounced.”
The British accent is the perfect example. When Canadian adults hear words like “mummy” or even “potatoes,” we can map it back to the original word with a Canadian accent. For most Canadian adults, “mummy” is easily “mommy” and we don’t have difficulty saying these words back with our own accent.
But for children, they don’t have the ability to map the word back to an original source. If they hear certain words on television, but they don’t hear it from their parents, relatives or friends, they have a hard time distinguishing how to pronounce the word, James said.
“When a child, two, three or four, is watching a show with a British accent and hears [words] for the first time, they are mapping out the speech and sound for that word in the British way.”
Other shows that have similar effects include Dora The Explorer, where some parents have claimed their children were picking up Spanish words before English words, Baby Center noted. In 2015, the Daily Mail reported some British children were picking up American accents after watching imported shows.
For any parent who has a concern, most of these accents phase out, James said. “It’s unlikely to result in a longtime accent change,” she continued. “You have other influences that balance out the particular word.”
If a child hears the word “mummy” 35 times on a show like Peppa Pig, but then “mommy” 325 times during the day somewhere else, the impact of the pronunciation of the word starts to change.
“It’s not going to be a permanent accent. Accents really develop with repeated and consistent exposure.”
The real concern, she added, is how much time we allow our children to watch TV. The 2014 Active Healthy Kids Canada report noted kids between the ages of three and five should only have an average of two hours of screen time per day.
“Watch [TV] with them and make it a conversation point,” she said. “Repeat the word back with a Canadian accent.”
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