I would like to start with some information about my background. I studied in "English medium schools" throughout my life. I put English medium in quotation marks because although books of all subjects were in English, until the eighth grade not even my English teachers spoke in English when not reading and dictating answers. Also, it was only in the eighth grade that I learnt some grammar and was able to construct my own sentences, shifted away from memorizing answers and learnt to write my own answers. I started reading from the eighth standard; since then I have read quite a lotof a lot of fiction and non-fiction.

However, I still feel my spoken English is not at the level where I want it to be even though I went to a college where the medium of instruction was actually English, by which I mean the instructors spoke in English at all times. Students were from diverse linguistic backgrounds, so English became the lingua franca and the undergraduate programme was a residential one, so I spoke in English every time I was talking to someone in college except when I was talking with my two close friends from a similar linguistic background.

Why is my spoken English not at the level where I want it to be? Is it because I actually learnt it late, when I was twelve. And by actually learnt it, I mean when I could form meaningful sentences in English, still not speak it well though. I could read and write English earlier too. Is it because I actually learnt it later than 6 years of age (critical period hypothesis)? How can I improve my spoken English now and bring it to the level of native-like competence?

3 Answers 3


The latest research (see this large-scale study using a huge dataset of 2/3 of a million people) suggests that the critical period for grammar is much later than thought (so you can produce native-like grammar even if you start studying at 17 or 18).

However, in terms of pronunciation, the best guess is that the critical period closes at about 12 years old.

In any case, sounds like you are fine! :)

  • Please provide the link to "the latest research" and some details about the reasoning why the source claims what it claims. Unbacked claims attract downvotes and criticism. Jul 3, 2021 at 1:54

There should be some increased neuroplasticity going on at a young age. However, having heard more about language acquisition recently, I've come to see things in a different light.

My first language is Portuguese. However, I've been consuming media in English ever since I was super young or something (aka video games), and somehow I was absolutely fascinated by it. I'd whisper the words to myself and try to make sense of their meaning. What's interesting is that I would eventually "grok" a word. I wasn't able to define it properly, didn't know about its applications in grammar, but I could recognize it, point to the object it was referring to, or even gesticulate to convey its meaning.

I learned enough to read 97% of stuff at 12, probably. But my pronunciation abilities were atrocious. I realized this only at 15, and started actively improving, and at 20-21 I could finally speak decently. It's not a native level accent, sure, but it's definitely not a heavy accent either and people can understand me comfortably.

It took a while, but through language acquisition alone, I learned English. I know absolutely nothing about grammar. This guy talks more about it. Check it out when you have the time.

Don't go and drown yourself in English books trying to understand English syntax purely for its own sake. It's highly ineffective, in my experience. Instead, focus on listening to words and associating meaning to them. Not the formal dictionary definition, someone needs to explicitly point to the object that the word refers to, or enact the concept (book, dancing, desk, happy). This is a common practice and it's called language exchange, as I'm sure you're aware. You need to try and pronounce the words too.

Therefore, this approach applies specially for spoken English, because there is no way to fully impart theoretically the pronunciation of a word, you have to look at someone pronouncing it, listen to them and try it yourself. Progress in speaking definitely comes later for a lot of us, but try and imagine that the phonemes of the English language are different than the ones from your native language, so that when you get to practice, you switch your brain to the "English" vibes, remembering the position of the tongue for that, this, the, not to roll your r's etc.

You can talk to yourself in English (or record yourself), and try to correct any mistakes you hear. Jumping on different Discord servers related to something you enjoy (for me it was video games) also helps. Don't aim for a specific accent: try something that sounds close to your native language and speak it in a comprehensible way. You'll get better with time. Check out this poem if you haven't, about all of the seemingly contradictory pronunciations of English words.


Do you like watching TV? There are TV series and programs you can watch on TV to enhance your listening and language skills. You can also watch on YouTube.

It also helps to know your parents' nationalities. Are they both of the same nationality?

Where were you born? Are you still there?

How did you grow up? Were you very social from 0-10 years old at 'home'?

Were you socializing outside of your house in your days of adolescence?

Have you thought of having a relationship with someone from a country that its majority speak English as their first language (USA, UK, CANADA, AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND, IRELAND)?

Do you want to live in one of those countries in the future?

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