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Can you ever Speak another language as good as your native language?

I'm interested in knowing if it's possible to learn another language to the same level as you in your native language. And I'm talking about if you don't have family from that country and have been speaking it since birth as well as your native language.

October 17, 2017



I don't know how you learn best or what specifically your circumstances are but I have a friend who's native language was English. When he was a kid though, he moved to Japan with his parents for about three years. He came back being able to speak better Japanese than English. Overall, I think it just depends on the level of immersion.


Yes you can. But it does take a lot more than just Duolingo. You have to have a talent for it, you have to take classes, you have to read a lot in that language, speak it a lot, etc. Or you move to the country and speak their language exclusively. Then it'll just take you a couple of years.


''you have to take classes''

Are you sure about that one? With internet access it is absolutely possible to teach yourself, and as you say, if you use every day and with full immersion it is possible. I never quite understood classes though - you probably won't have any other natives than the teacher, you might get a few minutes to speak if you're lucky and a lot of it will be spent hearing the teacher explain things to other students which you already knew well, from which you won't learn anything. Not to say classes are totally useless, but I certainly don't think they're necessary and I believe there are often better methods.


Online is not enough. You have to visit the country frequently, or for a long time, or you have to mingle with native speakers frequently, or you have to take classes from a native speaker. I became truly fluent in English when I spent most of my time In California.

You say "full immersion". That's the key.


Mingling with large amounts of native speakers (full immersion) is indeed the key. As for online only - if we talk about reaching native-level, then it is indeed not enough and unrealistic. Fluency is possible, but native-level needs more than just online.


I already know it takes more than Duolingo, don't worry xD


It's probably easier to decrease the level of your native language to the level of your second language. I have been fluent in English for more than 10 years, using it almost every day and it still isn't on the level of my Finnish. Maybe it's possible to achieve that kind of level in a shorter time span but it's probably going to require years of full immersion.


Yes, if you have still spent more of your life using Finnish, your English won't reach or surpass your native language. Otherwise it may be possible, but still not certain.


True, but I feel like if we set the bar at the highest level of Finnish I have ever spoken, I won't be able to reach that with English even if I moved to an English speaking country and never spoke Finnish again. English probably should become my better language at some point, but not my best ever. I don't know if that would be the case, I just feel that way. Now if we took a young enough child to another country (legally, of course), his second language would probably surpass his native language fairly easily but I don't know if the age limit for that happening is 10, 15 or something else.


I think that sort of language skill becomes situational - professionals who use English for example become better able to speak to technical matters in English than their native language, while continuing to otherwise live in their own. Wasn't it Charles V who supposedly spoke Latin to God, Italian to his women, French to his men, and German to his horse?


It is not feasible for most people, but for some it surely is. Joseph Conrad, Samuel Beckett, and Vladimir Nabokov wrote brilliantly in languages not their first.

I had a friend in Architecture school who was Cuban, and he was funny, super sharp and brilliant. His English was unaccented. It wasn’t until I had known him a few months that I found out he hadn’t known any English until he moved to the US at age 17. I would never have guessed that had he not told me.

But for most of us, yes it’s a struggle and we will never quite reach the level we desire.


You mean as well as your native language? ;)

I think it depends a lot on the language in question, and what your exposure is. Languages that you learn as an adult for most people will never be quite the same, between accent, phonemes, and vocabulary. But languages that you have early exposure to or that are similar to your native language can be awfully close.

I have one friend who genuinely cannot tell you what his native language is, English, Spanish, or Portuguese. He is also fully capable of living in French (CEFR C2), but will tell you he is very aware of his accent and construction that he just isn't for the other three.


So he's got three native languages. :)


No i don't think so while i have been able to speak English for over 13 years by now i still have a accent but you can get very close.


Which language do you use more though? If you are still using your native language more than English, then your English will never surpass your native language.


I believe so, but it would take years of speaking it and living in the land that speaks that language.


Most people stop trying for prefect second language accent once they are able to easily speak. No one is going to correct a small accent if you are understandable. Only a spy is going to really need to totally overwrite the accent.

There are special courses for accent removal to sound local. You send in recordings of yourself talking in the second language and they break down what you need to do for correcting the accent.

So yeah its possible but why spend the time trying for perfections when you could spend that extra time learning more languages.


I agree about the accent, but as for spending that extra time learning more languages: well, not exactly - people might not want to do that. Let's imagine Nick (or anyone) moves to Spain, but in general he hates learning languages and gets absolutely zero pleasure from it, and he only learns so that he can communicate with his locals. Obviously, he has no plans to ever learn a third language, but he wants to master his Spanish - for him, I wouldn't recommend 80% Spanish and 20% others, because he only wants Spanish. His language study should be 100% Spanish.

I personally aim for a high (not perfect) level of mastery in French, and I don't have any plans to learn more languages. I choose to have excellent French over having good French and good Spanish. Many would choose otherwise, but everyone has their own goals and none of them should áre ''right'' or ''wrong''. I certainly don't aim to have absolutely zero accent at all, as that would be unrealistic... but neither do I have plans to use or replace any of my time for learning more languages. I will be happy with 2 languages, personally.


I agree, my prime focus will be learning a columbian accent and removing am much of the english accent as i can. Speaking with a very light accent is a serious task for most people that will take effort.

Speaking like a pure native with no accent is next level, you would need to treat it like a job, spies 8 hours a day for over a year to remove native accents depending on target language, who has the time for that.


Of course the answer is yes. Not only is it possible for your second language to reach the same level, but if it's the language you use and hear more, it can surpass your native language! Exactly that has happened with a close friend of mine, and I have read other stories about it on other sites. Basically, first or second language, whichever you have spent more cumulative hours using and whichever is more prominent in your life is the one you will be stronger at (maybe with exceptions for some people). Sadly I don't think my French will ever reach the same level as my English, given that I have to use English all the time (home, work, majority of family, all friends) and my surroundings are extremely monolingual - French is virtually only in free-time. I would like a bit more language variety in my life, to be honest.


If you've been speaking it since birth as well as your native language, then by definition it's another one of your native languages. :)


Here is an answer to your Question. If you use it everyday with others and I mean multiple native speakers. You will eventually adapt a native tone. But You have to continue this everyday day as much as possible. It won't happen right away the time length varies from person to person and depending on the exposure and how crucial it is emphasized that you do so. If you stop doing this you will drop the native tone. The reason Native speakers keep their accents is because they learn it at a very young age when there brain is absorbing things at a much faster and deeper rated. Than more developed humans. Your brain waves change in their frequency level as you age thus changing the rate at witch you learn and adapt. I'm not going to take this space up in an exempt to explain besides it is hard to do in this way. But you can look it up yourself if you have farther interest. And don't worried if you don't have time to master it or even if you have to stop for a while unless you have physical brain damage you never really forget. However if you don't use it your dendrites will thin in connection with the synapse. Witch will make harder access to the memory. That's why the more you use it every in mastery the stronger and it is vice versa. Your brain also has a section that intepeds your reality and with this if you put the language you want to be native in play as everyday part of survival type. You brain will set it as a priority thus making it something you can make happen. Sorry if I went on to long and took up to much space Just tring to be help full. Good Luck in your Journey to you and all. You can do anything if you really want to and go out unitl you do. Bonne Chance :)


I only think you can achieve this is you go for full immersion and allow for accents.

For example, I am Dutch, but also fluent in English and German. I've known English since I was a teenager (mostly due to Internet, television, and video games), so it feels like a native language to me. I learned German later in life, so there's a noticeable accent and plenty of grammatical errors. Thanks to DuoLingo and other sources, I am also conversational in Spanish, but I doubt this will ever be at same level as Dutch and English.


it just takes a lot of work ;)


It is possible tbh. I speak and write English pretty much in the level of Spanish (my native language), and I've spent the grand total of four days of my whole life in English-speaking countries (two in England and two in Scotland), and no family from there. Thing is that I've been learning the language for more than 20 years, and I've pretty much exposed myself to it daily through internet, books, music and film. So yes, it is possible.


"Pretty much" is a shaky term to be sure, and one would expect no different given limited time spent where the language is spoken, but in just your first two sentences I see two examples of what strike me as clearly non-native usage. Of course they don't impede understanding, and I only know my own English dialect, but when the standard is "as good as your native," such things are relevant. It is a towering standard.


Yes, you can, but independent of the language that you study, you have WORK HARD as hell. And if it's possible, moving out for the country who speaks the language that you learn. Immersion continues been the best way.


nope. My granddad does, but not me

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