How many years does it take to learn the second language as your native?

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DaveBee
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Re: How many years does it take to learn the second language as your native?

Postby DaveBee » Wed Oct 25, 2017 2:34 pm

reineke wrote:What's interesting in that vocabulary study is seeing educated native speakers score under 12000. I've witnessed one college-educated individual achieve such a score. The person can be classified under "definitely not a reader". On the other hand it is beyond any doubt that the person can run circles around non-native academics in terms of overall language performance.
I was reading a piece about a test for french vocabulary size earlier. Within that, they mentioned the requirements for english knowledge for university students:
An investigation using the VST, reported by Nation (2013), found that learners of English who were able to perform adequately in undergraduate studies at an English-medium university had vocabulary sizes of 5,000 to 6,000 word families. Learners studying at the doctoral level were found to have a vocabulary size of around 9,000 English families.

https://www.lextutor.ca/tests/batista_horst_2016.pdf
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emk
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Re: How many years does it take to learn the second language as your native?

Postby emk » Wed Oct 25, 2017 2:44 pm

LinguaPony wrote:Writing like a native is perfectly possible, but it does take some practice :) With speaking, the accent is the stumbling block - too hard to get rid of, and, personally, I can't be bothered.

Even native speakers can have accents, of course. I've known southerners and Californians who've moved to New England. Their regional accents will slowly fade, but they almost never sound like locals. Similarly for British immigrants. My wife still has a trace of a French accent after 15 years in the US, and it's actually gotten stronger since she started speaking French to the kids. But my wife's French accent is still closer to the local New England accent than a typical southerner's accent would be.

On some level, I don't think is particularly interesting. According to several studies of immigrants to the US, accents start "freezing" as early 6 years old, and they are pretty solidly frozen by puberty. But a faint accent won't prevent you from holding a professional job, becoming a movie actor, or even working as Secretary of State.

As for the larger question...

I've seen quite a few graduate students and post-docs immigrate to the US, and after 5 years or so, they almost all speak intelligently, clearly and colloquially. (Especially if they marry a native speaker.) Writing is actually more of a mixed bag: People who read constantly in their new language usually learn to write just fine. People who don't have time to read tend to be fairly weak in the written register.

And finally, it's important to keep in mind just how much experience a well-read native speaker has—I've been speaking English for decades, every day of my life. I have years of schooling and writing papers. I've read hundreds of millions of words. Of course somebody from another country is going to have trouble matching that.

So if you ask, "How many years does it take to learn the second language as your native?", my answer is, "It depends on how close you want to get." Do you want to be flawlessly like a native? Then the answer is probably "never." Would you be satisfied with a faint accent, but otherwise all the linguistic skills of a college-educated native speaker? Then the answer is, "You need to be prepared to pay the same price the natives did, and it took them over 20 years of immersion, including 17 years of school." Or would you be content with the ability to work at a professional job? Then the answer is, "Around 1,000 to hours to become marginally employable (assuming you're moving between major western European languages), and another 3 to 5 years of full immersion for everything to become truly second nature—provided that you read enough."
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Re: How many years does it take to learn the second language as your native?

Postby reineke » Wed Oct 25, 2017 3:13 pm

DaveBee wrote:
reineke wrote:What's interesting in that vocabulary study is seeing educated native speakers score under 12000. I've witnessed one college-educated individual achieve such a score. The person can be classified under "definitely not a reader". On the other hand it is beyond any doubt that the person can run circles around non-native academics in terms of overall language performance.
I was reading a piece about a test for french vocabulary size earlier. Within that, they mentioned the requirements for english knowledge for university students:
An investigation using the VST, reported by Nation (2013), found that learners of English who were able to perform adequately in undergraduate studies at an English-medium university had vocabulary sizes of 5,000 to 6,000 word families. Learners studying at the doctoral level were found to have a vocabulary size of around 9,000 English families.

https://www.lextutor.ca/tests/batista_horst_2016.pdf


"Many researchers have tried to assess the number of words adults know. A general conclusion which emerges from such studies is that vocabularies of English monolingual adults are very large with considerable variation. This variation is important given that the vocabulary size of schoolchildren in the early years of school is thought to materially affect subsequent educational attainment. The data is difficult to interpret, however, because of the different methodologies which researchers use. The study in this paper uses the frequency based vocabulary size test from Goulden et al (1990) and investigates the vocabulary knowledge of undergraduates in three British universities. The results suggest that monolingual speaker vocabulary sizes may be much smaller than is generally thought with far less variation than is usually reported. An average figure of about 10,000 English words families emerges for entrants to university. This figure suggests that many students must struggle with the comprehension of university level texts.

Introduction There are many reasons for wanting to study the development of vocabulary knowledge. Anglin (1993, 2) lists just some of these. Vocabulary knowledge provides the essential building blocks of language and without vocabulary neither language production nor language comprehension is possible. According to Bates and Goodman (1997) it is vocabulary knowledge which drives the development of grammar. There is also considerable evidence that vocabulary size in infancy is a strong predictor linguistic and cognitive abilities at four years (Feldman, Dale, Campbell, Colborn, Jurs-Lasky, Rockette & Paradise, 2005) and even at eight years (Marchman & Fernald 2008). In addition, vocabulary size is clearly linked to the acquisition of competence in reading (see for example Ouellette 2006; Snow, Tabor, Nicholson, Kurland 1995) and, in turn, to success in school (see for example Biemiller & Boote 2006; Bornstein & Haynes 1998; Tymms, Merrell & Henderson 1997). Vocabulary knowledge, and in particular the size of the lexicon has been the subject of systematic research for over a century. Despite this, even basic information such as the size of monolingual speakers’ vocabularies, and the rate at which vocabulary is acquired in childhood, remains something of a mystery. The history of this research is characterised by figures for vocabulary size, usually among The history of this research is characterised by figures for vocabulary size, usually among English speaking educated or college students, that can vary by a factor of 20. One of the earliest estimates, Kirkpatrick (1891), concluded that a US citizen with a common-school education had a vocabulary of about 10,000 words, and a college graduate between 20,000 and 100,000 words. Fifty years of research served to extend the estimate. Seashore and Eckerson (1940) suggested undergraduates have vocabularies of 155,000 words, and Hartmann (1946) 200,000 words. More recent estimates can still be large and both Aitchison (2003) and White, Graves and Slater (1990) suggest 60,000 words among educated monolingual speakers, but they can also be much smaller and Goulden et al (1990) suggest 17,200 words. D’Anna, Zechmeister and Hall (1991) using a self-reporting method conclude that college students know 16,785 words and of these 14,076 words could actually be defined. The smallest estimate (Milton 2009) suggest that British undergraduates may have a defining vocabulary as small as 9,000 word families."

Vocabulary size revisited: the link between vocabulary size and academic achievement James Milton (Swansea University) and Jeanine Treffers-Daller (University of Reading)
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Re: How many years does it take to learn the second language as your native?

Postby Serpent » Thu Oct 26, 2017 6:15 pm

emk wrote:So if you ask, "How many years does it take to learn the second language as your native?", my answer is, "It depends on how close you want to get." Do you want to be flawlessly like a native? Then the answer is probably "never."
This of course assumes you're in your twenties or older and have already gone through schooling in your native language. If you're a teen and you have an opportunity to do your university degree in another language (several years, not just one semester or one year), you have much better odds. Realistically this mostly applies to English, FIGS or a language closely related to your L1.
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emk
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Re: How many years does it take to learn the second language as your native?

Postby emk » Fri Oct 27, 2017 9:24 am

Serpent wrote:
emk wrote:So if you ask, "How many years does it take to learn the second language as your native?", my answer is, "It depends on how close you want to get." Do you want to be flawlessly like a native? Then the answer is probably "never."
This of course assumes you're in your twenties or older and have already gone through schooling in your native language. If you're a teen and you have an opportunity to do your university degree in another language (several years, not just one semester or one year), you have much better odds.

I've seen a couple of studies of immigrant children, which tend to suggest that nearly everyone who immigrates before 6 will become flawlessly "native". Starting around 6, however, maybe 10% of children will keep some hint of their original accent. By 12, however, something like 80% to 90% of immigrant children will keep some of their accent.

English may be an exception because of heavy media exposure from a young age. Similarly, anglophones growing up in English-speaking areas of Quebec can apparently develop French accents that sound native.

There's a similar cutoff somewhere for French gender agreement—beyond a certain age, immigrants can have near-native ability with gender, but that Double I study showed that if you made recordings and played them back at slow speeds, there was still around one minor error per minute of conversation, even in the strongest speakers.

My perspective on this stuff, of course, is "Who cares?" You can reach extremely high levels in an L2 even in adulthood, given hard work and a demanding environment. If you're able to work in a demanding job with people and you can socialize normally, then a tiny residual accent is no problem, IMO.
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Re: How many years does it take to learn the second language as your native?

Postby DaveBee » Fri Oct 27, 2017 9:41 am

emk wrote:English may be an exception because of heavy media exposure from a young age.
I was a bit surprised that so many of the TV finalists in the recent Eurovision Song Contest sang in english.

One of those who sang in their own language was the Belorussian entry, but looking into it, in the national Belorussian contest to select their contestant, all the other competitors sang in english too!
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