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I'm Chinese and have been learning English for more than 10 years. As it is a compulsory course in China, so we start learning it from a very young age. I can communicate with others fluently when it comes to daily topics, but if talking about some academic or technical topics or issues, I still feel out of depth quite often, especially in conversation with native speakers. So I just wonder if it's possible to master a second language like a native speaker? Thanks!

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    I'm always amazed by people who ask questions and then vamoose before accepting any answers.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 12 at 12:24

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Mastering a language like a native speaker has lots of dimensions.

Learning a native-like accent in a foreign language as an adult is difficult, and, for most purposes, not useful or necessary.

For specialist vocabulary, you master what you use. I teach and have a read a lot of didactics of mathematics in Norwegian, which is my third strongest language, so there is a good chance I would find talking about it in Finnish (native language) or English (second language) challenging in comparison.

I know more acoustics in English than Finnish, and little in Norwegian.

But if we talk about cooking or other kitchen vocabulary, I am pretty much helpless in all languages aside from Finnish.

All of this is normal. Native speakers do not master all aspects of their native language, either.

Personally I find technical subjects easier to learn than managing a lunch table discussion at work, because a lunch table discussion can go any which way, because the technical discussion is often limited to a particular subject matter, whereas the lunch discussion might suddenly jump to mushroom species and which ones people have picked and how much, and then to someone's confirmation planning. They assume a lot of cultural familiarity and often niche vocabulary.

TLDR: it is possible (in general) to reach a full working proficiency in a language, where you can communicate what you want, and with maybe sometimes asking for clarification, understand what others communicate in a given context.

We do not know how easy this is for you, since we do not know your background, existing skills and situation in life.

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You will be pleased to know that most native speakers struggle with some technical terms and with rarer parts of the English vocabulary. It therefore seems that you are already speaking English like a native. Specialised areas have specialised vocabularies - to most native speakers, these are a foreign language and have to be learned.

The obvious markers that a person is not a native speaker are the accent, grammatical structure, and not comprehending common cultural references - not the vocabulary.

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  • Very few people who are not born into it speak English [or any other language that is not their native language] like a native, technical terms notwithstanding.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 15 at 13:54
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The answer is certainly yes, but it takes time. There are many examples of people who couldn't speak any foreign language as a child, and yet they got better at speaking than the natives themselves later on, to the point where they would actually teach locals how to says things more appropriately.

However it is of course important to start early.

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