Can we learn to speak a foreign language like a native?

In a lengthy comment to a previous post here, Billy the Kid had this to say.

It is emphatically not impossible to become native-like in one’s second language, even if one doesn’t come in contact with that language until adulthood”

Is it realistic to expect to speak like a native in a foreign language, if we start studying as an adult?

My answer is no. I think there are very few people who achieve this level of fluency in another language. I have probably dealt with thousands of people speaking a foreign language. I would have trouble remembering even a handful who spoke “just like a native”. There are people who speak well, but almost always they can be identified as foreign. And so what?

No only is it not realistic to expect to speak like a native, it is not necessary. We learn languages either to enjoy them and the related culture, or to communicate with the natives of that language, for pleasure or work. None of this requires us to sound like a native. The native speaker is the model,?? the ideal which we seek to emulate, just as we may try to?? emulate Tiger Woods if we are a golfer. But we do not realistically expect to play golf like Tiger Woods, nor should we expect to speak like a native. The natives do not expect it either.

We can try to get as close as possible to the ideal, to speak with as few mistakes as possible, to continuously improve. But if we fall short, we can still be satisfied. The thousands of people of all nationalities whom I have met, who had effective and practical control of English or other languages,?? achieved their language goals without sounding like a native.

Non-natives can be better than natives in some aspects of the language. Joseph Conrad apparently had a pronounced Polish accent and yet was an outstanding figure of English literature. A highly educated non-native speaker can be more literate than some of the less well educated natives, or , in the case of English, spell better and even be more grammatically correct. But even the semi-literate native speaker will sound more native than most of these highly educated non-native speakers.



2 thoughts on “Can we learn to speak a foreign language like a native?

  1. I think it’s possible to speak like a native. I know a couple both french canadian, moved to Miami in the 70′, barely speak english then. They didn’t want to be seen likeforeigners, so they increase their english level, they speak to each other only in english, raise their child only in english, now the same guy who was not able to speak english correctly at 20, is now a real american and have difficulties to speak french…and the child doesn’t even know a word of french.A friend of mine is Serbian. First time, I talked to her, I didn’t notice she was not french canadian. She moved here at 16, and at 20 it’s impossible to tell than she’s not from here if she doesn’t speak serbian. She speak french and english with a french canadian accent.If your goal is to speak like a native and 100% of your language input and output is in your target language(even thinking), you’ll speak like a native after few years.-If your goal is to learn basic, you’ll only be able to barely talk the language. Only output can do the job.-If your goal is communicate with native and put the time, you’ll be able to communicate with native, but they’ll know than you’re a foreigner. Input is the important part.-If your goal is to speak like a native, you have to put the time and live in this language. Lots of input first, and after almost all the communication must be in the target language.If you can speak a language after few years, it take few more years of communication in a language to be perfect. Important part, you have to live in the target language, get rid of your native language, need a commitment. Without changing country and way of life, it quite impossible to speak like a native. No one speak like a native while learning a language, it happens when we lived in the language.

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