Proof you can reach native like levels in another language

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
by ~Winston Churchill~

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Here is the proof that some people might need to help them believe what I and others have been saying, namely that it is possible to reach native like levels in another language.

With enough practice, some learners of a second language can process their new language as well as native speakers, research at the University of Kansas shows.

Using brain imaging, the researchers were able to examine  how the brain processes a second language. They then compared these findings with their previous results for native speakers and saw both followed similar patterns.

The research was published this month in the journal Second Language Research.

The study highlights the brain’s plasticity and its ability to acquire a new complex system even in adulthood.

There are many reasons why learning a new language to native like levels seems beyond the capacity of so many people, key amongst them are:

Learning not like native speaker– going about it in ways that will not produce results (primarily prompted by the poor practices used in most schools and language centres),

Use a fork to eat soup with and the results are a given

– resulting in the belief that “I do not have the ability”, strengthened by widely held mistaken beliefs about the nature of talent and what is possible for people,

– compounded by the development of various disempowering personal characteristics in some, such as shyness which prevents the individual from gaining the practice they need

All of these reasons just tell us that what we need to do to ensure that we can learn a language to the levels to which we aspire is to: 

Learning a language to native like levels– discard practices which are not working and look for and embrace practices that do.
These are the spoons!

– do whatever it takes to change your beliefs so you do embrace wholeheartedly that native like language skills are possible. Reading this article is one such step towards that.

– check to see if you do have personal traits that are holding you back. If you find some, understand that working on them may well be as important as working on the language

So take heart and be assured that you are able to learn a new language to a native like level, if that is what you truly desire. There are MANY examples of this and you too can be one!

  • vera

    So glad I found this site. I would like to teach ESL in my old country, but I absolutely despise the stuff I was put through as a young learner. I came to America at 18, with only a smattering of English. I now have (many years later) a native command of the language. I have only met one other person who matched my experience, a Cuban in Florida.

    I have always believed that it is not some special magic I had — except for love of languages — that enabled me to go on and get so good. I basically fell off the wagon early regarding the textbook approaches, and pushing myself hard to look stuff up in the dictionary turned me against that too. Immersed in an English-speaking environment, I just swam in it, and began to notice that I suddenly knew how to say things without having “learned” them. That’s how it began.

    I am now looking for useful ideas to apply to teaching folks who are not immersed in a foreign country but want to learn while in their home environment. I am distressed to find the same old excruciatingly boring texts I remember as a young student. Gadz. Even heavily recommended Duolingo bores me to tears.

    Anyways… won’t go on and on. Just wanted to say how delighted I am to find this site. Looking at what successful informal learners do, both children and adults, should be always the place to start…. but noooo…. maybe the very realities of schooling doom people from the get-go, both teachers and students?

    • Interesting to hear from you Vera. Many could well learn from your experiences! Many thanks for commenting. Great for others to hear of real life examples.

      Orthodoxies in every area of life do provide a base for us to live by but they also can serve to constrain us. We take for granted that what we think or do is THE way something should be. Most will fight for that belief. It falls on the shoulders of those who have seen the limiting nature of that way of thinking to shine a light on that way of thinking which holds us back and a way forward.

      Looking forward to hear more of your experiences! 🙂

      • vera

        Wonderful to hear back, Andrew! 🙂 I will think over my experiences to post more. I do know that I progressed in definite stages. One interesting one was the switch to not keeping a careful eye on myself all the time. I decided it was a tedious way to be, and had enough confidence in myself to make this scary leap.

        I basically decided to let my deep self speak without supervision! It resulted in some very hilarious situations when I would realize that I just said something quite garbled. This went on for many months… couple of years, now that I think of it. But it was worth it. I knew that I would never be able to “go native” without this step. (By that time, I had been an English speaker for exactly 20 years.)

        Which makes me wonder… if I had not been warped early on, would that form of over-self-conscious self-monitoring be a problem? Is it a problem for others?

        Another leap (earlier) was marrying an American with a love for English. He taught me a lot, and I finally had a constant and intimate example to emulate. My pronunciation improved a great deal. He was into crosswords and other word games, and that too was a wonderful challenge at that time. I have since become a crack Scrabble player.

        One thing that never was a problem: spelling. Coming from a nearly phonetic written language in the same alphabet, English spelling was a breeze (though an annoying breeze), and later, I would poke fun and say that it takes a foreigner to spell English correctly! Everybody seemed to agree. 🙂

      • vera

        Reading about the “unplugged” approach, I see that I was very fortunate to encounter a teacher who long ago practiced just that. There were no textbooks in our free “immigrant English” classes. Adults of all ages interacted all day, sharing their puzzles and their lives, with some input from the warm and enthusiastic Mrs Auerbach. I remember one morning when my new friend Mrs Sugimoto, all perplexed, related how a man came up to her husband on the street, saying Hey body can I have a light? Heh. Or the time we girls from Eastern Europe got into a debate over a math problem with a young man from Latin America. No matter how hard we tried to show him his take was wrong, he would not concede. That was my first time encountering machismo. 🙂

        We talked about life as it was coming at us. And made friends all over the world. In a bit over two months, I went from a bare beginner who could not understand others to full-fledged functional. Then, because I was doing so well, they put me in an inner city high school. From heaven to hell, in one fell swoop.

        • Your memories remind us that rich experience like that can transform us and our relationship to the language we are learning. Fortunately you did not start out at the high school!