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Aiming for native level in your acquired language
Thread poster: Guofei_LIN

Guofei_LIN  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 20:36
Chinese
May 3

Over the past six years I have been systematically following a plan I made with the aim of improving my English towards infinitely close to the level of a typical college educated native speaker. I wonder if anyone else here is doing the same thing and has the same goal in your second language acquisition, particularly with a language that you started to learn as an adult learner?

I'm not looking for advice on the best way to do this because the internet is inundated with such advices. The problem I have with these advices is that they all seemed to come from someone who himself/herself has not made the journey but is only theorizing. I'd like to hear the perspective of someone who has made this journey or is currently on this path. All translators have considerable experience in acquiring another language, but to achieve the level that is infinitely close to that of a native speaker, and to do so as an adult learner, is a challenge of a different league.

If anyone here in Brisbane is interested in this topic, maybe we can get together and discuss about this. I welcome fellow translators to join me for co-working/co-studying in the State Library of Queensland (Level 4) on the first Friday of each month.


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Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 12:36
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
I tried, I really did! May 4

When I first arrived in France my aim was to speak French like a native, having learned it from age 11. (Funnily enough, I just wrote "like a naive" there, maybe I shouldn't have corrected that Freudian slip!)

After more than 30 years living here, having raised two French citizens, I still mix up "le" and "la" when I speak. If you stop me and ask whether the word is masculine or feminine, I will give you the right answer, but when I'm bursting to say something I just cannot stop to think of things like that.
My written French, on the other hand, is pretty well flawless. Clients have been known to say "maybe I should also pay you to proofread my French".
Having just worked on a project which involved me transcribing a conversation in English that I took part in myself, I realise that I do also make mistakes in English as I speak, just not mistakes typical of foreigners.

So my conclusion is that my French is almost as good as my English, and I'm simply better at writing than speaking, whatever the language. I don't think I will ever achieve the same level, I have probably stagnated for a good ten years. I'm fine with that.

I reached my current level of French by living the language. I shunned any contact with native English speakers for about ten years (until I had my children, then I sought out others so that my children would see that it wasn't just Mummy who spoke funny). I refused to speak in English with anyone, saying they could either go to the UK to practise, or pay me for conversation lessons. I read voraciously in French, I forced myself to watch French TV, I would read the sub-titles when I watched a film in English.

I did all that out of a passion for French. I often joke that it's my longest-lasting love affair. The love is what drove me.


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Hugrún Hanna Stefánsdóttir
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:36
English to Icelandic
+ ...
Still on the journey May 4

Here is a perspective from an Icelandic native speaker aiming for English native level.

I've spoken English to some extent since I was ca 11 years old (definitely wasn't fluent by then), so that probably won't count as a language I started learning when I was already an adult, but still not my mother tongue.

Since then I've had many English speaking friends, have consumed English via shows, movies and books, and then finally by living in the UK for a year. Since moving there my native accent has softened (not disappeared), I find that the language streams smoother from my mouth and I have a better understanding than before of how native speakers use colloquialisms.

I've now worked in the UK for a year and have learned a bunch about professional etiquette and language. What gives me the most confidence is seeing how similar I actually am to the natives, language wise. My job requires working closely with a team and I find myself correcting (usually to myself) my colleagues' errors in emails/speech, remembering why a comma should be here or a space there. If I find errors in college educated English speakers' emails, then surely I must be even with them, linguistically speaking. To summarize the whole: I like comparing myself to the natives to know where I stand.

That being said, the English language is extremely rich in vocabulary and I don't expect to ever understand every English word, nor do I think it's necessary. I don't think that needing a dictionary on occasion makes you any less of a linguist or a language speaker. Although I am good now, I probably need to get better to reach my goal to become a certified translator (requires the ability to be able to translate into two languages).


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:36
Member (2008)
Italian to English
A few tips May 4

Guofei_LIN wrote:

... the internet is inundated with such advices. The problem I have with these advices

"Advice" does not have a plural, ever.

the level that is infinitely close


It is not possible for anything to be infinitely close to anything.
[/quote]

The only way to become completely fluent, without mistakes, in a language not your own is to live permanently and continuously, for at least 5 years, in the country where that language is spoken and written, and where you never speak your native language.


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Emma Page
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:36
Member (2017)
French to English
+ ...
Hmm... May 4

Tom in London wrote:

Guofei_LIN wrote:

... the internet is inundated with such advices. The problem I have with these advices

"Advice" does not have a plural, ever.

the level that is infinitely close


It is not possible for anything to be infinitely close to anything.


The only way to become completely fluent, without mistakes, in a language not your own is to live permanently and continuously, for at least 5 years, in the country where that language is spoken and written, and where you never speak your native language. [/quote]

I assume by "infinitely close" he is acknowledging that appearing to be a native speaker and being a native speaker are fundamentally different....but do not appear to be so in day-to-day interactions or from an observer's perspective. I think your response is overly literal...https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asymptote the concept of an Asymptote could plausibly be described as a curve and an axis which are "infinitely close". Certainly you understood what he meant.

Yes, that is the way to become "completely fluent without mistakes" (although I assume you mean "without mistakes a non-native speaker would make"...as pointed out above, native speakers make mistakes all the time in our oral production of "our" language.)...but more interestingly, that kind of complete immersion does certainly not guarantee native-like fluency. Many people retain strong accents, continue to make telling errors, etc, even after 5 (or 50) years living in immersion.

I don't have an answer at all (I'm far from native-like in my acquired languages) but I do think it's a question worthy of more than a one-sentence dismissal!


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:36
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
OP is not from a Romance language background... May 4

Tom in London wrote:
It is not possible for anything to be infinitely close to anything.

Of course, being a specialist in Italian you couldn't be expected to know, but this is possibly a (subconscious) transfer of a linguistic device in Chinese similar to 限無く近い in Japanese, which does indeed mean "infinitely close". For an example of real-world usage, see "Almost Transparent Blue" here, the original title of which is "infinitely close to transparent blue" in Japanese.

The above does not invalidate your point about its use in English, but now at least you know the why of it and your stock of knowledge has increased accordingly. The world is bigger than Western Europe, after all.

As for the original topic? Myself, I went, I saw, I immersed myself in Japanese. By the time I left university I had decided it was a pointless project. Sometimes good enough is good enough. Or, to put it another way, sometimes "le mieux est l'ennemi du bien".

Dan


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Daniel Frisano
Monaco
Local time: 12:36
Member (2008)
English to Italian
+ ...
Ended up in a mess, gave up May 4

I deliberately chose to fly too close to the sun by trying to become native-equivalent in multiple languages. Now they tell me that I speak my native Italian like a Spaniard, English like a mildly educated Italian who doesn't move his hands as much as one would expect, Spanish like a Frenchman or sometimes a Basque/Asturian, German like a Dutchman (must be those throaty g's), and Hebrew like a native but only if I stick to my very limited vocabulary.

So much for asymptotic approximation, i.e., getting infinitely close.

Can we start from scratch?

[Edited at 2018-05-05 00:07 GMT]


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Helena Chavarria  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:36
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Well said! May 4

Kay Denney wrote:

When I first arrived in France my aim was to speak French like a native, having learned it from age 11. (Funnily enough, I just wrote "like a naive" there, maybe I shouldn't have corrected that Freudian slip!)

After more than 30 years living here, having raised two French citizens, I still mix up "le" and "la" when I speak. If you stop me and ask whether the word is masculine or feminine, I will give you the right answer, but when I'm bursting to say something I just cannot stop to think of things like that.
My written French, on the other hand, is pretty well flawless. Clients have been known to say "maybe I should also pay you to proofread my French".
Having just worked on a project which involved me transcribing a conversation in English that I took part in myself, I realise that I do also make mistakes in English as I speak, just not mistakes typical of foreigners.

So my conclusion is that my French is almost as good as my English, and I'm simply better at writing than speaking, whatever the language. I don't think I will ever achieve the same level, I have probably stagnated for a good ten years. I'm fine with that.

I reached my current level of French by living the language. I shunned any contact with native English speakers for about ten years (until I had my children, then I sought out others so that my children would see that it wasn't just Mummy who spoke funny). I refused to speak in English with anyone, saying they could either go to the UK to practise, or pay me for conversation lessons. I read voraciously in French, I forced myself to watch French TV, I would read the sub-titles when I watched a film in English.

I did all that out of a passion for French. I often joke that it's my longest-lasting love affair. The love is what drove me.


My 'love affair' is with Spanish but other than that, Kay's experience is very similar to mine.


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Guofei_LIN  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 20:36
Chinese
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks everyone May 5

Hi Kay Denney, hi Hugrún Hanna Stefánsdóttir, yours are exactly the kind of experience I want to hear about as I'm also planning to do it through immersion except that in my case it is more of an artificial kind of immersion through activities such as reading books and watching movies/TV series, and your experience allows me to have a glimpse of what I might hope to achieve some years from now.

The reason I emphasise on 'artificial immersion' is because in this kind of immersion, I only need to read and listen, observe, I don't need to speak the language a lot. I believe that if one is forced to speak a foreign language too early before he/she has had enough passive exposure, it will create mistakes that will fossilise and hinder his/her progress in the future. Also, I want to continue to have regular exposure to my native language Chinese through reading and speaking and spending two months each year in China.

Talking about vocabulary, the first four years of my plan was focused on building up my vocabulary and I think it has been a success. I read 50 novels plus 10 issues of The Economist, looking up every word in my electronic dictionary, and reviewed these words and expressions 20 times over a period of 3 to 4 years, with about 80% retention rate.

Tom in London - Actually I know the word 'advice' is an uncountable noun, but I think I can break a rule here to convey the idea that there are all sorts of advice out there, often contradicting each other.

Daniel Frisano - As much as I love to acquire more languages, I have given up that idea once I realised that to simply improve my English and maintain my native Chinese at a high level would be a herculean task that requires lifelong commitment. Now I see myself as a professional language learner, only a part-time translator.

When I say 'infinitely close', I actually have half a mind to say 'native level'. But I know that when we learn a foreign language, we are coming from a different path or paths as the one travelled by a native speaker, so we will be bound to be carrying different baggage, and even though some of us may succeed in achieving a level in the target language that is to all intents and purposes comparable to that of a native speaker, a contrarian person may still wilfully point at those baggage to prove that you are not there yet. Hence the qualifying word.


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Josephine Cassar  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:36
Member (2012)
Italian to English
+ ...
Nothing beats living in the place May 5

[quote]Guofei_LIN wrote:

The reason I emphasise on 'artificial immersion' is because in this kind of immersion, I only need to read and listen, observe, I don't need to speak the language a lot. I believe that if one is forced to speak a foreign language too early before he/she has had enough passive exposure, it will create mistakes that will fossilise and hinder his/her progress in the future. Also, I want to continue to have regular exposure to my native language Chinese through reading and speaking and spending two months each year in China.

Talking about vocabulary, the first four years of my plan was focused on building up my vocabulary and I think it has been a success. I read 50 novels plus 10 issues of The Economist, looking up every word in my electronic dictionary, and reviewed these words and expressions 20 times over a period of 3 to 4 years, with about 80% retention rate.

Well, like you, I try to listen and follow Italian and French TV, read newspapers online so I am up-to-date with local current affairs but whenever I go to Italy which is quite often, it is never the same. I stumble when it comes to talking -which I do not do when I speak in French somehow-so I think your idea of acquiring native level through the internet and reading is not guaranteed to bring success. At least, that has been my experience and I watch Italian TV every day because I like certain programmes which I do not find difficulty following at all. The TV is always there in the background in the evening even if I'm still working. I think nothing beats spending time in the country concerned and making sure one speaks to the locals and not one's native language. And all this while I find it easier to pronounce Italian words than some French words, especially those that contain the 'r'


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Guofei_LIN  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 20:36
Chinese
TOPIC STARTER
Nothing brings guarantee May 6

Josephine Cassar wrote:
so I think your idea of acquiring native level through the internet and reading is not guaranteed to bring success. At least, that has been my experience and I watch Italian TV every day because I like certain programmes which I do not find difficulty following at all. The TV is always there in the background in the evening even if I'm still working. I think nothing beats spending time in the country concerned and making sure one speaks to the locals and not one's native language. And all this while I find it easier to pronounce Italian words than some French words, especially those that contain the 'r'


I'm experimenting with all methods and I know that nothing is guaranteed to bring success, but I still enjoy the process though. I have been learning English since age 16 but my progress has been especially phenomenal in the last six years when I became more actively engaged and made a plan instead of expecting miracle to happen sometime during immersion. I divide my efforts into three stages and I'm currently in stage 3 and have clocked 3,894 hours (time spent on reading and watching TVs). I'm hoping for the miracle to happen at the 10,000th hour. But nothing is guaranteed and I would love to continue to hear from others who are on this path for tips, advice, warning of pitfalls and support.


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Baran Keki  Identity Verified
Turkey
Local time: 13:36
Member
English to Turkish
+ ...
Just out of interest May 6

Guofei_LIN wrote:

I'm experimenting with all methods and I know that nothing is guaranteed to bring success, but I still enjoy the process though. I have been learning English since age 16 but my progress has been especially phenomenal in the last six years when I became more actively engaged and made a plan instead of expecting miracle to happen sometime during immersion. I divide my efforts into three stages and I'm currently in stage 3 and have clocked 3,894 hours (time spent on reading and watching TVs). I'm hoping for the miracle to happen at the 10,000th hour. But nothing is guaranteed and I would love to continue to hear from others who are on this path for tips, advice, warning of pitfalls and support.


How long does it take you to write your messages here in English since you count the hours you spend in front of the TV?


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Guofei_LIN  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 20:36
Chinese
TOPIC STARTER
10,000 hour rule May 6

Baran Keki wrote:
How long does it take you to write your messages here in English since you count the hours you spend in front of the TV?


I only include the time spent on reading books and watching TV shows, that is, time spent on ACTIVE engagement. There are some other activities such as reading a Wikipedia article or reading customers' reviews of products on Amazon.com that are not included in the tally. So if I clocked 100 hours, I actually probably have spent 120 hours reading or listening to things in English. I do not own a TV, I watched TV shows such as Downton Abbey on DVD borrowed from the library, and recently I have also subscribed to Netflix, so it is easy to find out how long a TV show is.

The point of this exercise is that it spurs me on to engage in active learning. I have known some Chinese people who, after having lived in Australia for 5 years or so, lament that they still cannot understand English while their kids have already picked up the language in the meantime. I suggest to them that the way they do the calculation might be flawed. They may have spent 5 years in Australia, but they live in Chinese language (online or offline), so if they spend 2 hours a day(which is a very generous calculation) to learn the language, over this 5 years they would have spent 2 hours X 365 days X 5 years = 3,650 hours, while their kids are living in English and would have spent 10 hours X 365 days X 5 years =18,250 hours learning English. So you may say my way of calculation is to provide a more accurate estimate by calculating that 3,650 hours, not that 5 years.

If the 10,000 hours rule (Malcolm Gladwell) is to be believed when applied to language acquisition, then these kids have already clocked 10,000 hours while their parents would need 14 years to just to catch up.

I'm not treating this 10,000 hours rule religiously, but it is a good tool to encourage me to go forward actively.

[Edited at 2018-05-06 10:19 GMT]


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finnword1
United States
Local time: 06:36
English to Finnish
+ ...
it is being used in plural May 7

Try "good advices given" in Google search. I got 4,580 hits.

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Anna Herbst  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 20:36
Member (2008)
English to Swedish
+ ...

Moderator of this forum
Countable or uncountable? May 7

Some good advice on 'advice'.

https://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2014/05/30/advise-advice/

Cheers,
Anna


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