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

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

Postby Ольга » Fri Jun 02, 2017 6:15 pm

I have been studying English for 7 years. University (linguistics) +self-learning.
And I am still like a beginner! I am as stupid as an owl!
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Re: How many years does it take to learn the second language as your native?

Postby iguanamon » Fri Jun 02, 2017 7:48 pm

I can't tell you how long it will take you to improve. I don't know enough about your studies to really give you good advice. Please don't put yourself down. You can improve your English but it will take time and effort. How much time, I don't know and can't tell you, but if you do the necessary work to improve your weaknesses, given your good knowledge base of written English, I'd say you could make great progress in six months to a year with concentrated effort.

You've been studying English, writing English and reading English but you probably haven't been speaking, listening and using it with native-speakers nearly as much. Using the language with natives isn't critical to your success, but it will help. Improvement can be made without this but it will take a lot of concentrated effort to work on your weaknesses. Member PeterMollenburg worked extensively with long sessions of pronunciation work and by all accounts has an excellent pronunciation in his chosen language, French. His hard work has paid off well for him and he hasn't spoken much at all with native-speakers of French, living in Australia.

Where I live, there are no Portuguese-speakers. Portuguese is one of my advanced languages. I have spoken with native-speakers (worked with a tutor), traveled in both Brazil and Portugal, watched hundreds of hours of TV series and films, listen to about an hour per day and I still make mistakes and am far from perfect. Very few adult second language-learners will achieve a native accent or usage without spending a lot of time in a country where the language is spoken. Still, it is possible to improve accent to close to native for most people, or at least to easily understandable.

You are most definitely not a beginner. Your command of written English is quite good. You just need to work more on speaking, and yes, you're going to have to go over some basics again. If you approach this process with an open mind and a genuine desire to get better, you can undo some errors that we call "fossilized" errors. Fossilized errors are errors that are so ingrained they need to be discarded and replaced with new training. All of which you can do, but it will take effort.

I am certainly no expert on second-language learning. Others are much more adept than I am and I hope they will give you some quality advice on this subject.
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Re: How many years does it take to learn the second language as your native?

Postby Estrella » Tue Jun 20, 2017 5:46 am

I think you're too harsh on yourself. A beginner couldn't have written what you just wrote. ;) Instead of comparing your knowledge of English to your knowledge of your native language, you should compare it to what it was like when you first started.

And to answer your question, the time it takes can really vary from one person to another. Most people will always feel more comfortable speaking in their native language than in their second language. Those who live with people who only speak that language usually learn it a lot faster because they have to speak in that language all the time.
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Re: How many years does it take to learn the second language as your native?

Postby LesRonces » Tue Jun 20, 2017 6:47 am

I like to think in terms of hours, pages, series etc and not time as in 'years'. If you've put in 1 hour a week for 7 years then your level will be drastically different to someone doing 4 hours a day for 1 year for example.
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Re: How many years does it take to learn the second language as your native?

Postby zenmonkey » Tue Jun 20, 2017 6:54 am

I'm on my 8th year with German and still struggling at times.
I expect it will never be as good as my native because that shouldn't be the goal.
However, I think you are really just talking about the frustration of reaching a level where you feel orally fluent.

Find someone here or on italki that wants to learn Russian and do tandem exchanges several times a week.

Talking is the key to talking.
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Re: How many years does it take to learn the second language as your native?

Postby LesRonces » Tue Jun 20, 2017 4:35 pm

zenmonkey wrote:I'm on my 8th year with German and still struggling at times.
I expect it will never be as good as my native because that shouldn't be the goal.
However, I think you are really just talking about the frustration of reaching a level where you feel orally fluent.

Find someone here or on italki that wants to learn Russian and do tandem exchanges several times a week.

Talking is the key to talking.

Agreed, but we musn't forget that to understand in adult conversations is also a big part of the puzzle.
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Re: How many years does it take to learn the second language as your native?

Postby zenmonkey » Wed Jun 21, 2017 11:30 am

LesRonces wrote:
zenmonkey wrote:I'm on my 8th year with German and still struggling at times.
I expect it will never be as good as my native because that shouldn't be the goal.
However, I think you are really just talking about the frustration of reaching a level where you feel orally fluent.

Find someone here or on italki that wants to learn Russian and do tandem exchanges several times a week.

Talking is the key to talking.

Agreed, but we musn't forget that to understand in adult conversations is also a big part of the puzzle.


Certainly - orally and aurally. I should have been clearer.
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Re: How many years does it take to learn the second language as your native?

Postby Ogrim » Wed Jun 21, 2017 2:08 pm

Ольга, having read several of your posts I would say at least your written English is quite good. By the way, in my country owls are a symbol of wisdom, not stupidity :) .

Forget about speaking as a native. As iguanamon says, very few people achieve that, even if they live in the country of their TL. I have spent more than 10 years in French-speaking countries, and my French is fully proficient, I use it at work every day, but one or two sentences uttered by me are enough to reveal to the French that I am not a native speaker. I do strive for the best possible pronunciation, for enriching my vocabulary every day, learning how to use idiomatic expressions etc. and be able to understand most registers of native speech, including colloquial, non-formal language. If I have reached that level, it is thanks to massive exposure and input every day during 10-15 years, and speaking and writing the language almost every day.

So to the question in your title, I cannot say how many years it takes. It will depend on many factors. For a child who gets immersed in the language from early on it may just take months. For a grown-up living in a different country with limited time it possibly never happens. My point is, don't let that frustrate you, just keep on improving.
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Re: How many years does it take to learn the second language as your native?

Postby desitrader » Wed Jun 21, 2017 2:44 pm

Reading / writing like a native: Entirely possible.

Listening / speaking like a native: Impossible.
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Re: How many years does it take to learn the second language as your native?

Postby jeff_lindqvist » Wed Jun 21, 2017 5:30 pm

This thread reminded me of the old HTLAL topics Help me to have a real “native language" and Learning like a child learns their native.

English is my #1 second language and has been part of my repertoire since... maybe 1983. I still make mistakes. Every day.
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