6

I speak French natively, with a level of spoken English I would rate at around 9 or 9.5 out of 10, in terms of grammatical accuracy. (My written English is at least as good.)

Problems I sometimes encounter when speaking include:

  • Forgetting to pronounce the 's' in plurals (indeed, this is not done in French).
  • Slipping on choices between 'do' vs. 'does', 'has' vs. 'have', and 'go' vs. 'went'.
  • Omitting articles such as 'a' or 'the'.
  • Choosing conventionally correct prepositions.

Can anyone offer suggestions on methods, tools, or learning materials for people who:

  1. learned English to a high but not perfect level when they were younger (and therefore have some ingrained bad habits), but
  2. would now like to improve and complete the last step to attain a totally native level of speech?

More succinctly: how should one go about erasing ingrained bad habits in a second language?

4

Matt vs. Japan on YouTube talks about how, even after achieving a high level in Japanese, he had to go back and retrain himself to hear and correctly use pitch accent.

His experience won't be 1:1 with what you're working on, but it definitely seems like the last bit of polish in any language will require some deliberate study.

The rough map might be --

  1. Get specific, objective feedback to isolate your biggest problem areas (it seems like you already have a sense of these),

  2. Maybe pick one area to focus on at a time, (depending on how complicated that thing is),

  3. Get lots of input and pay extra attention to how natives deal with that,

  4. Use flash cards to drill on those concepts. For prepositions, say, find good sentences from native language content (books, blogs, movies, TV) that feature prepositions you have trouble with.

For pronouncing plurals you're just going to have to practice pronouncing them in a lot of sentences. In front of a mirror if not in conversations.

Some language learners recommend "shadowing" when you're at an advanced level, that might help with this. It's basically finding someone where you can copy their speech patterns, like a podcaster or comedian, where you can try to mimic and use phrases they say as much as possible to sound more and more natural.

Keep in mind that articles in particular are incredibly difficult to explain in a simple set of rules. It even varies with things of the same type. We go to "the Rockies" and "the Grand Canyon" but just "Pike's Peak" and "Mount Everest." I don't think any English speaker consults a set of methodical rules before using them, and I'm not sure many of us could explain them to you. There are some good rough guidlines out there, but it's going to be a bit like learning genders in other languages -- you just have to learn them as part of the nouns. More input, and mimicking sentences you know are correct, is going to build the instinctive pattern-matching to make this subconscious, like the way English speakers use it.

Good luck, you're at a level not a lot of people make it too. Remember to congratulate yourself for how far you've come while also knowing you can always do a little more.

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2

I have witnessed three friends achieve your goal of speaking English perfectly (perfecting their grammar and eliminating their accents). One is Romanian, one is Israeli, and one is Albanian. Quite different backgrounds. One woman, two men. All were adults when I met them.

But they all used the same "methodology":

  • They all moved to the USA permanently (two in their 20s, one in their 30s).
  • They all made a specific effort to perfect their English, i.e., turn themselves into native English speakers.

I have spoken to all three of them over the years about this, and their methodology, in effect, was simply paying attention to their English way more than the average immigrant and actively trying to turn themselves into native English speakers. They listened to how natives spoke and changed their own way of speaking based on what they heard. They read tons of native books. They watched a ton of native television. They interacted constantly (maybe even exclusively} with natives. One of them even read dictionaries for fun (!) to boost their vocabulary to native levels. They completely immersed themselves in work and/or school such that they no longer spoke their native language on a daily basis. All three were really committed to making English their best language - and they succeeded.

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