First, let me restrict the scope to those who started to learn after becoming adult (about 20).

Being a native Japanese, I have never met any single non-Asian who is as fluent as an average native Japanese (even though I have met too many Westerners who insist they are fluent in the language!). Their accents are clearly foreigners', and it is pretty easy to spot the difference (if tiny).

The only real exception is Korean (the closest language as well as the culture) but I can still find a difference if we keep talking for hours, even though I can't find the difference in the first 5 minutes. I have also met a few Chinese who are very good at the language, but it is very rare.

Likewise, I have never met any Japanese whose English is as good as native American speakers, with the exception of returnees and those who already reached the level before 20. Almost all Japanese who seem to speak fluent English (CEFR B2 or above, which less than 0.1% of Japanese reach) still have ridiculous accents. Even those who corrected the accent in school still don't sound what native American speakers speak.

This makes me wonder if it is ever possible to achieve the level that native speakers speak.

So my question is:

  • Is it possible to get your L2 to the level as good as native speakers? Especially regarding the pronunciation?

  • If is it possible, should learning the language be any more different or can I reach it by just keep learning it forever?


1 Answer 1


To answer your question, I feel the second question must be answered first. L2 learners must be continually learning the L2 because native speakers are continually learning their own language if we are honest about it. Perhaps, as a native speaker of Southern-American English, I learn new British-English or slang from another part of the country, or as someone who majored in English literature and continue to focus on English by getting an MA in TESOL, I might be surprised by mathmatical language or scientific language that was outside of the general field. Also, there are times when I hear a word pronounced that I had previously only read - like a cooking term, and I have to make note of that in my mind. Native speaker is never synonomous with perfect speaker.

Now, to move back up to your first question, there is a reason that almost all speakers, regardless of CEFR level, grammatical correctness, vocabulary acquisition, fluidity of speech, etc., have a problem with pronunciation. When we are babies, our brains focus on the language(s) around us. For a child lucky enough to grow up in a bilingual home, where both languages are used by native speakers, their brain holds onto the vowel and consanant sounds present in both languages. However, according to the Multilingual Children's Association, in monolingual homes, where only one language is spoken, a baby begins to lose the ability to hear the difference in vowel sounds by around six months and consonants by around twelve months. They continue to explain that there are differing sounds in a baby's babbling by the age of ten months based on the home country. (http://www.multilingualchildren.org/milestones/first_year.html)

Perfection is most likely impossible. However, to continue to try to push past the baricades that nature has placed is a worthy goal.

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