As an adult, I'm working on learning French, coming from a background growing up speaking a few languages natively. According to French friends of mine I practice with, I have a "good" accent, but I've never been a big fan of "good". So to me this begs a question:

Given a few more years of work, could I as an adult reach the point where as far as, say, 95% of native speakers can tell from my accent, I'm Parisian by birth?


I was strongly encouraged to repost this question from Linguistics SE, where it is equally applicable and I'd expect to get answers from a different perspective. I really appreciate the time and effort!

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    For an adult, no. Too many obstacles: even if you are able to pronounce sounds in isolation correctly, you also need to learn how to make necessary changes to those sounds in connected speech. Then there’s prosody, nothing to say about dialectal, gender etc. variation. To make it worse, there also are cognitive constraints.
    – Alex B.
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 14:33
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    @AlexB. It is inappropriate to post answers as comments. If you have evidence that adults cannot learn a foreign language without an accent, please post it in an answer.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 4:37

9 Answers 9


It is definitely possible. There are many language learners who have learned an L2 from birth or a very young age, and thus, have mastered the pronunciation in the language. Others have years of exposure to the L2 inside the home, conversing with native speakers.

However, for non-native speakers who have not been learning the language for a long period of time, here are some steps to reach a native level of pronunciation.

  1. Focus on the pronunciation early on in the learning process. The more grammar and vocabulary you learn without working on your pronunciation, the harder it will be to correct bad habits you will have made when speaking.
  2. Immerse yourself in the target language. If it is possible to move to an area where the language is commonly spoken, do so. If not, listen to songs and watch films in the language, and try to pick up on subtle nuances in the speech. Simple audiobooks are another great tool as well. Look into conversing with native speakers through Skype or in person.
  3. Study minimal pairs in the language. Minimal pairs are pairs of words that, except for one syllable, sound the same; studying them can help reduce the confusion between them and help cement the difference in your mind.
  4. Learn the IPA. Knowing it will allow you to use pronunciation guides tailored to your specific language, and you can ensure that you are producing the correct sounds.
  5. The most important factor of all, however, is to practice constantly. In doing so, you can ensure you don't lose the progress that you have made, and over time, your pronunciation will improve.
  • I actually tend to think IPA is a very bad choice for mastering pronunciation, because it tends to oversimplify sounds to a point that's fantastic for being understood by others, but doesn't catch the dialect-specific and language-specific nuances properly Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 23:50
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    @TheEnvironmentalist That feels like a straw man to me. All pronunciation descriptions for learners are simplified to a point that they miss out nuances and details, but IPA-based ones are generally less simplified than ones based on transliteration. If you want to read up on the detailed nuances of pronunciation in a given language, you’ll almost certainly need IPA, too. So I’d say IPA is a very useful tool for mastering pronunciation, as long as you’re cognisant of the limitations in how IPA is used in different contexts. Commented May 12, 2018 at 12:19
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Yes and no. Yes in that IPA is a very, very useful tool in the right hands, no in that in most hands, it tends to displace better tools. A non-IPA user trying to learn the sounds of a language will tend toward recordings of native speakers, likely the best source for phonology in any context. An IPA user, on the other hand, will turn toward his/her knowledge of IPA. "So the French 'r' in most dialects is a voiced uvular fricative. Gotcha." But the IPA user will find he/she never quite eliminates his/her "IPA accent" while his non-IPA counterpart sounds natural as can be. Commented May 14, 2018 at 0:16
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    @TheEnvironmentalist “The right hands” is essential here. Any learner who’s gone to the trouble of learning IPA (and all that entails, viz. anatomy and sound production) should of course realise that IPA is not enough on its own—the best option is a combination of meticulous listening and analysis of actual native speakers and detailed IPA-based descriptions. The Danish /ð/ is a good example: listening is paramount, but listening alone will not tell you that the sound as pronounced by Danes is not only lowered (an approximant) and centralised, but also velarised and pharyngealised. Commented May 14, 2018 at 0:22
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    In other words, we’re not comparing IPA to an alternative tool, but to no tool at all. Listening to native speakers should be a given for any learner, whether they know IPA or not. (I realise it isn’t in actual reality, but it should be.) Commented May 14, 2018 at 0:23

It is possible, but I am not aware of many adult learners who have achieved this (in spite of watching many YouTube videos about language learning).

The example that always come to mind is Dashan or Mark Rowswell, a Canadian who started learning Chinese at university and became so good at it that he could do xiangsheng or "crosstalk", a Chinese type of stand-up comedy. The funny thing is that Mark Roswell sometimes meets Chinese people who say that his Chinese is not as good as Dashan's, while others say his Chinese is better than Dashan's. (See for example the interview The Most Famous Foreigner in China on YouTube.)

Liam Bates, who has worked as a television host in China, may be another example. (I can't judge his accent; check for example 跟着老外回家乡:第一集 on YouTube.)

Danielle Swisher's guest post How To Speak A Foreign Language Without An Accent on the Mezzofanti Guild describes her experience of getting rid of her American accent in French. She made the following changes in practicing her French:

  1. She listened more closely to the people she spoke with, to people on radio stations and on tv and to her teachers. She also mimicked native speakers: not only the sounds they made but also how they moved their mouth and their body language.
  2. She watched native speakers in action. This also included watching how the greeted and parted from each other, their facial expressions and body language.
  3. Finally, she "practiced using these techniques, sometimes for hours in front of the mirror, and/or with a recorder."

The result was that roughly six months later, people in France started to assume that she was a native speaker of French.

So if you already have a "good accent", forget IPA, forget "minimal pairs" (unless your friends tell you that your pronunciation sometimes causes confusion) and start mimicking people and audio recordings.

  • While Dashan’s Chinese is excellent—his vocabulary, grammar, and speaking style could easily pass for a native speaker—his pronunciation would not be likely to fool native Mandarin speakers for long. His pronunciation is very, very good, and very natural; but there is still something there that gives it away that he is in fact not a native speaker. A native speaker talking to him on the phone would probably notice after perhaps half a minute that there’s something ineffable about his accent or his rhythm or something that sounds slightly different. Still, he comes very close. Commented May 12, 2018 at 12:32
  • Mimicry is a talent though. People with this talent can be very good at accents. I've never come across anybody who was able to learn mimicry as a skill. Commented Sep 9, 2019 at 4:50

It is possible. But very few people achieve native-like pronunciation.

Example: There is a popular Russian TV host Vladimir Pozner. He grew up in US. His parents spoke French at home. When Vladimir was 18, his father decided to return to USSR and Vladimir had to learn Russian. Not only he mastered the language and pronunciation, he became a very popular TV host.

From my personal observation, people who master the accent also have musical ear. They hear the nuances of other person's speech and are able to mimic it.


You can improve and get close, very refined, very mild, but getting an indistinguishable-from-native accent in adulthood is so rare as to be practically unheard of.

And in my experience, there's a large talent factor. I know that's not a popular opinion, but I believe it is the actual truth. Everyone can improve, but that doesn't mean some people aren't just better at it to begin with and can reach a higher level given the exact same effort. That's just how it works.

A highly refined foreign accent is usually somewhat charming though. Don't worry. Just aim for native but don't berate yourself for falling short.


There are several studies that seem to indicate it is indeed possible for adult learners to reach a level of pronunciation that is perceptually indistinguishable from native speakers. One could cite for instance "Authenticity of pronunciation in naturalistic second language acquisition: the case of very advanced late learners of Dutch as a Second Language" (Bogaerts et al., 2000).

I say "perceptually indistinguishable" because some scholars make a difference between perceptual indistinguishability and linguistic indistinguishability. This distinction is sometimes at the root of misunderstandings between language learners and what they're hearing from the linguistic research community.

Put simply, when a linguist tells you that it is most likely impossible for an adult learner to become indistinguishable from a native speaker, he may not have in mind the same kind of things you do, which is probably something more along the lines of "I want to reach a point where in everyday conversations with native speakers, they don't realise that I'm not native", or something like that. The latter is a lower bar than the kind of indistinguishability many linguists have in mind.

Since you're learning French, you could perhaps look up Akira Mizubayashi as an example of extremely high-level proficiency. He's a Japanese author who began learning French in his early 20s. The kind of linguistic analysis done for research may find that there actually are some differences between him and a native speaker. But to my ears, as a native French speaker, I don't hear anything at all that would "betray" him as being a foreigner.

The open question is why did he reach that level when so many others fall short. If it has anything at all to do with innate abilities, it may unfortunately be the case that what is possible for him is not possible for most other language learners. It may tell you something that he is the only example I can think of of an adult learner having reached that level in my native tongue. They're may be others, but they're certainly few and far between.


Personally, I've never met someone who learned German as an adult (or even teenager) without accent. Some level of accent was always audible.

Regarding TV or radio hosts: there have been many popular TV hosts in Germany with foreign roots and VERY noticeable accents.


It is necessary to point an important misconception about learning the correct accent/prononciation in a foreign language: it is not about passing for a native speaker, but about being understood by the native speakers. (Unless your job/intentions actually require passing for a native speaker, e.g., if you are an actor, singer or a professional spy.)

It is not uncommon for second language learners to have an accent so strong that what they say, even if grammatically correct, remains incomprehensible to others. This may range from outright mispronouncing unfamiliar sounds of a language (think about Russian [x] instead of English [h], French nasal sounds or "funny" Chinese accents when speaking English) to simply not getting the rythme of a phrase correctly (which makes the natives visibly pause before registering understanding - very unfortunate, if you were telling a joke). It is worth noting that even speakers of the same language sometimes encounter such problems: just think of the American vs. British vs. Indian prononciations, as well as various local dialects.


I'm a Chinese speaker who speaks English at C2 level and it doesn't matter how much accent reduction training I do, my Chinese accent still lingers in my English. (It gets worse when I'm angry or have had a glass of wine!).

I think to truly sound like a native speaker you have to be a good mimic. I mean that those who can mimic people in their own language can learn the accent of a new language much faster. Unfortunately, this is a rare skill.

I don't put too much value on having a slight Chinese accent now because I choose to believe that function is more important than form. The content of what I'm saying is much more important than the delivery.


For everybody who answered that it is possible I wonder if they have actually done it. If not then I have news for you. I have never met a person who has achieved it after the age of 18 including myself.

Spent a lot of time on languages in my life, being fluent in four of them, but speak with no accent only in my native language.

Took courses in pronunciation, private lessons in pronunciation, courses in other aspects of the language. Definitely improved a lot, but the issue with accent is that people react to it in a binary form. It does not matter how good you are, if you have a slight trace of an accent then you are not considered native and that is it. So even if you are in the first 1% of the foreign speakers you are going to be acknowledged for your achievement, but nevertheless categorized into the group of foreign sounding people.

If you are curious you can go and read what the scientific articles say about it. I think it is evident that there is a cut off age which changes from person to person, but it is somewhere between 9 and 15 or so. It is fairly easy to see in immigrant families who move with their children, provided the adults already know the language. Several years later the children would have no foreign accent and the adults will have it forever. Interesting that even Tesla who was pretty young (late twenties) when he came to the USA kept his accent all his life, so it is not a matter of intellect or immersion, it is what the brain can and can't do after certain age.

There is one interesting factor though: from which native language you come and which language you try to learn. Sometimes the pronunciation is so vastly different that success is fairly limited after certain point. You can try and do what you can do, but be realistic. Maybe picking the right language for your native background is already half the battle. There is one more thing. Not all languages are so obsessed with accent correctness. I believe that English is particularly biased based on accent compared to more phonetic languages like Spanish, Italian, some from the Slavic family and possibly others. This comes from the fact that in English a lot of the meaning is heavily dependent on the actual pronunciation and native people who are mono lingual are really having hard time to understand when there are some differences in speech.

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    Welcome to LL.SE! I added some paragraph breaks (an empty line when writing the answer) to make your answer easier to read.
    – Tommi
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 11:26

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