Speaking like a native

Do you know anyone who learned a language as an adult and speaks so well that he or she would be mistaken for a native? I do not think I do, and I know lots of non-native speakers who speak English or other languages well, phenomenally well in some cases, but they can always be identified as non-native. It does not matter. In fact I am usually even more impressed by them because of the slight give away accent. But do you know anyone who could be mistaken for a native?

I’ve only met one person who I initially thought was a native speaker of English. He was from Sweden and had lived here for about 2 years. In about 5 minutes of conversation (in a group) I didn’t realise that he was a non-native. My judgement might have been impaired due to the fact that there were one or two Finns in the group who had strong accents.

How about this fella…?


How do you know if a person learn as an adult or as a child ? More so if he/she does not have an accent - how to ask about language learning to a person who speaks as well or even better than yourselves ?

I think I never met one. In Germany are a lot of immigrants. Often the children which were born in Germany and live in the second or sometimes the third generation in Germany are not able to speak without an accent. And this besides the fact that they were born and raised up in Germany. But there are positive examples where children have learned to speak like natives. I think, it depends on the environement, on the parents attitude and the school.

But I cannot remember that I ever met someone who have learned German as an adult and was able to speak without an accent.

But I met some foreign speakers who were able to speak flawless.

I’ve heard quite a few speaking Swedish natively. One who stands out is the guy impersonating Julio Iglesias in a TV show - at that time (mid 90s) he had lived in Sweden for two years. I also remember TV host Linda DeMol speaking amazingly well in half a dozen languages. I’ve gone to school with people who had been in USA for a year, and they spoke exactly like our image of Americans. A couple of fellow musicians has Irish accent in English. Something that amazes me is rather that people (some colleagues spring to mind) who have learned a language in school, and been abroad for some time (USA(France/Germany etc.) do NOT speak like a native in any way.

How about DaShan’s Chinese? Julien Gaudfroy’s? Gregory Rivers’ Cantonese?

Then we have those Youtube polyglots such as Luca and Richard/Torbyrne who (in my opinion) have native-like accents in several languages (at least during those minutes we can hear them talk).

I would not be in a position to judge, except in cases of those speaking English. I do find that there are very rare instances of people from Britain, or Australia, who are able to speak like an American, with absolutely no trace of accent. But that is SO RARE that it amazes me when I encounter it. As for those who learned English as an adult, no, I have not met one who is accent-free, but I am constantly amazed by how well a very large number of these people are able to converse in English. They often seem almost perfect in their ability to handle the language. It gives me hope for being able to be truly proficient in French one day.

In general I see the same situation here in Germany what Vera has described.

But often I meet immigrants who really speak German without accent.
However, mostly of them came to Germany as children or teenagers. One of my colleges came with her 18 and she speaks absolutely “clean”, no one can detect any accent- we have deliberately experimented.

Holy cow of Moscow, this Ignacio fellow is darn good! You can tell I’m impressed, because I put an exclamation point at the end of the previous sentence (and I use it very, very sparingly in my writing).

I don’t think I know anyone personally, but years ago, a peculiar thing happened.

I was in the living room at my parent’s house and the TV was on. I wasn’t watching it; I think I was reading a book or, perhaps, involved in some other even more nerdy activity. There was an interview with some diplomat on TV and I was listening with half an ear—something something relations, blah-blah-blah, East Asia something or other. Yawn.

Then I heard him say something that sounded a little odd. I stopped reading and perked up ears without turning around and looking at the screen. Ah, there. He did it again. He said “our country” in the country that should have clearly been “their country.” Or maybe he had just lived in that country for so long that he considered it his? No, impossible. Not in a TV interview.

I turned around and looked at the TV for the first time. What I saw made me raise my eyebrows. And there I sat, my ears perked, eyebrows hovering a good inch above me forehead. Looking at me from the TV screen was an Asian man, probably in his late fifties, and the title at the bottom left corner of the screen identified him as Mr. So-and-So [insert a Chinese or Korean name here], Ambassador of China (or maybe it was Korea).

Perhaps it was then that I realized that yes, it was possible to master a foreign language at a fully native level.

Only natives can judge natives. Da Shan is good but certainly not native. I was told this by a Chinese person just yesterday who even told me that my pronunciation sounded more native-like than Da Shan. I am easily influenced by flattery.

At any rate, it is interesting to hear that there are people who can be mistaken for natives, but I have not seen many, and the person who comes to mind as being the closest is Asatamoore, our friend here at LingQ. You really have to listen carefully to catch the odd indicator that he is not native in American English, at least from the recording that I heard. On the other hand I have not heard his Russian!!

I had people who were amazing in other foreign languages that I also speak rather well and where I felt I can judge their level, but in the case of my mother tongue German, I cannot remember either.

I learnt both English and French at the very same time. My parents told me they couldn’t understand what I was saying until i was like 7 years old because i would mix French and English in sentences.
Now I’m 27 years old and I have a slight accent in both my languages. Very small one. Just certain words even though ive been speaking/listening to both languages for 27 years since i was born.
I went to French school my whole life ( except for college) and we speak French at home and ALL my family , cousins etc… ONLY speak French. But since I lived in an English speaking surroundings, TV was in English, my friends were mostly English etc. My spoken English is “native” but i do have a slight accent but its barely detectable. My French is my mother tongue but I also have a small accent different than cousins who live in Quebec because I’ve never lived there.
My accent does sound like Quebecois its just not 100% because of where i grew up. I now live in Toronto soo everything is English here, i work using English and i speak English and a bit of Korean at home because my wife is Korean.

So i have a hard time believing Adults over 18 learning a new language and not having any detectable accent… I believe they could speak really well and use all the idioms and expressions same as natives , i just don’t think it would 100% =p.

Steve, your Chinese accent may be good, but Da Shan is damn good in my opinion, I saw him on TV doing xiang sheng performances. He is really good! But the fact that a foreigner can become a household name here because of his command of Chinese, that tells you how few westeners actually master the language.

I do not claim to sound like a native. I was just pointing out that Da Shan, at least to this one native, may not sound like a native. On the other hand his command of Chinese is much more fluid than mine. But then he lives in the country. I have only ever just visited. But I have listened a lot, a lot. I am not in competition with Da Shan and don’t want to be, I just wanted to point out the difficulty of being taken for a native by a native.

What is a “native”? And why do we want to sound like one?

With regards to DaShan, I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen top reviews from other native Chinese speakers. What is perceieved as “native” by somebody may sound foreign to another (considering accents etc.). Natives from my area have questioned my accent! (and I’ve lived in the same neighbourhood all my life)

While I (as I wrote in my first post) know several Swedes whose English could fool me ANY DAY, and also have heard foreigners speak super-native Swedish, there are a lot of other nationalites I think I’ve NEVER heard speak another language convincingly (accent-wise).

A native speaker is someone whose mother tongue is the language we are learning. We may choose to try to speak like one or other form of the language as spoken by native speakers. I think this is inevitably our model. But actually being mistaken for one is not a useful, nor really achievable goal.

I lived in France for three years as a student. I was surrounded by French people, studied in French etc. for three years. I am not mistaken for a native.

I think that best that Benny can achieve in Berlin is to be taken for someone trying very hard to imitate a Berliner. That is what he achieved in his Brazilian Portuguese.

I even think that deliberate pronunciation practice is not as useful as a lot of listening and speaking. However, I am not sure of that and there are accent reduction courses out there offered by speech therapists.


I really didn’t mean to compare your accent to Da Shan’s, maybe I was a bit clumsy in my post, but hey, I am not a native writer!

I have a Filipino friend who studies at my university. She has been living in Belgium for about 6 years and I have mistaken her for a native Dutch speaker, while her native language is Tagalog.

I have some German friends. One of them learnt Dutch in Brussels, while the others learnt it in Amsterdam/Groningen. The ones who learnt Dutch in The Netherlands had a very clear and distinct German accent, while the one who learnt Dutch in Brussels was mistaken for a Dutchman (we heard he was not Flemish, but we did not hear that he was German!)

Actually, Steve, deliberate pronunciation practice is extremely useful, provided it’s done in a proper, guided manner. Our vocal apparatus is controlled by muscles, and muscle memory is something achieved only through deliberate repetition.

Even native speakers cannot always sound fluent when they stumble across certain sound clusters (think “tongue twisters”). The only way to master tongue twisters is to, well, practice them.

By tongue twisters here I don’t necessarily mean unnatural phrases like “I slit the sheet.” Some more common expressions can be pretty tough, as well: rearview mirror, the sixth sense, Eyjafjallajökull (kidding).