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Do people who grew up speaking multiple languages typically have a discernible foreign accent in one or more of their primary languages?

Also do they tend to make the kinds of mistakes that non-native speakers do, subconsciously borrowing words, idioms or grammatical constructs from the wrong language and using them in another?

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    No, if they're native speakers, they speak with the accent of the social group they grew up in, just like monolinguals. As for 'mistakes', there's a lot of code-switching, but that's not a mistake; that's just stretching the languages for use, and it's perfectly normal.
    – jlawler
    May 18, 2018 at 0:13
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    Speaking from personal experience: My wife grew up speaking English and Mandarin Chinese. She has no discernible Chinese accent when speaking English, and her accent in Chinese (I'm told) is a combination of the accents of her parents (local accents from the areas they grew up in). She doesn't borrow expressions or grammatical rules into English, but when speaking to her parents she has been known to lose track of which language she's speaking (since they understand both). May 18, 2018 at 1:17
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Anecdotally, no (but research does concur with my account, for example the Handbook of Bilingualism has many relevant chapters).

I have been raised a native Hindi and English speaker from birth, and I have a General American accent in my English and a standard Delhi Hindi accent. I can use both languages idiomatically, but, as a commenter mentioned, code-switching is very common for bilinguals such as myself (in my own case Hinglish).

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People acquire the accents of the speech communities they are part of while they grow up.

Many societies in the world are multi-lingual. If you grow up in a society like that, you'll have the local accent for those local languages. So if you grow up in Quebec you'll have a Canadian French accent and a Canadian English accent. If you grow up in Singapore you'll have a Singaporean English accent and a Singaporean Mandarin. If you grow up in Delhi you'll have a Delhi Hindi accent and a Delhi English accent.

A rarer situation is someone who has spent a lot of time in two different speech communities. If during your childhood you spent 6 months each year in the UK and six months in Mexico, then you would have a normal British English accent and a normal Mexican Spanish accent.

Beyond that, there are a whole lot of other situations in which the accents you acquire may not be very predictable. If you moved from New Zealand to Seoul when you were seven and went to an International school, then you'd likely acquire a normal Seoul Korean accent, but your New Zealand English accent might be transformed by the school environment you're in, picking up Americanisms, Briticisms, etc. Many Australian/American/Canadian/etc born Chinese people can speak Mandarin fluently, but because their ancestors have come from many different Mandarin-speaking places, such as mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia, the local Mandarin community likely does not have a consistent accent for their children to acquire. Overtime those communities will develop their own accents, influenced both by the varieties of Chinese as well as the accent of the dominant language of the area, Australian English, American English, etc. So it wouldn't be inappropriate to say they have an Australian/American/Canadian/etc Mandarin accent.

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Both my children have 'mongrel'* accents in English, one of their native languages, and sometimes incorrectly use English words and sentence structure in French, their other one.

(*) Influenced by their parent, friends, media, they mix English, Irish, American terms with occasional Frenchisms.

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  • One anecdote that insults your children doesn't make for a good answer.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 16 at 23:13

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