Is it possible for a foreign language learner to achieve the level of a native speaker?


Is it possible for a foreign language learner to achieve the level of a native speaker?

For example, I learned and spoke Taiwanese and Mandarin as my first and second language.
I started learning English when I was around 10 years old, so technically, English is my third language.
I took the English proficiency test called IELTS last year, just for fun, and scored 7.0.
It had a scale that said 7.0 meant something like I was a proficient user of English, yet still not as good as a native speaker, for a native speaker should have no problem scoring 9.0.

Does 9.0 really represents the level of a native speaker?
If I picked a native speaker but also a homeless on the street in one of the English-speaking countries, is he going to score 9.0 as well?

Is it possible for a foreign language learner to achieve the level of a native speaker?
From 7.0 to 9.0?


It may be related to a native speaker’s education level somehow, but isn’t it supposed to represent the average native speakers?

He would be. Being a homeless doesn’t necessarily mean his education level/language ability is low.

I think it is possible for a part of foreign language learners.


That’s an ignorant question. Socio-economic status is no predictor of language ability. Some of our greatest writers have spent periods of their lives without a roof over their heads. Also I’d stake my life on the fact Trump would not score a perfect 9.0. :sunglasses:


I don’t think exams are the best judge of language proficiency, but I guess if decision making people don’t really have a good grasp of the language either, they can only rely on the test scores to make their choice.


Depends what you mean by level of a native speaker. Joseph Conrad is a fantastic writer and part of the English literature canon, and he was a foreign language learner. However, I believe he had a strong Polish accent all of his life, so although he was fluent he probably never “sounded” fluent.

I guess Henry Kissinger is a similar case.

Tests don’t have much to do with it. TOEFL and the like in particular are also testing academic skills that have little to do with linguistic ability.


It is but it isn’t guaranteed, and it even isn’t likely. Fossilization occurs for most foreign language learners where you can no longer make major progress. Chances are high that you will always have an accent that gives away you not being a native speaker. Another big stumbling point is that your brain will naturally think in its native language and this can really impact your ability to achieve “native” level.

People with a very strong natural talent for languages and accents can possibly achieve this but for the vast majority of people, they will not be able to achieve native fluency.


Not many native English speakers would score 9 on IELTS. They’d probably drop points on the Reading section and Writing.


My suggestion would be to focus more on logic and less on fluency. Fluency only goes so far.


I would say yes with many years having to speak to native speakers. English is my 4th language and by far my most comfortable language to communicate with. For me fluency is understanding grammatical rules and knowing when to break them to speak more fluidly and colloquially. Accent also plays a role.


probably not native level, theres some things that can only be picked up from growing up in a place i guess. but you can get close enough if you are really good at learning languages. i’ve met a few taiwanese and chinese people i thought were uk /usa born before they told me otherwise.


I think so, if you’ve lived in a native environment for long enough.

Btw I took the IELTS like 3 years ago and I got 8.5 lol.

It sucks that it was only valid for 2 years, though. These organisations (TOEFL and IELTS and whatnot) are like really hungry for money. :roll_eyes:


Any idea what hurt your score? I’ve taught for those sorts of tests a few times - not recently - and I don’t know how on earth the students manage to stay focused. I don’t have a problem understanding the listening sections, but wow I have a problem paying attention to them.


I didn’t lose any point in listening and reading. I got 9 for both. I lost points in writing and speaking.

I guess I just didn’t write and speak like a proper native speaker. The essay questions were really boring iirc. There was like something about roasting fish and crap. I didn’t enjoy those :joy:


I agree that being native speakers and scoring 9.0 on IELTS/120 on TOEFL are not exactly the same thing.
But these so-called language tests seem to be the only measurement, at least for now.


If you ask whether you are able to get high scores in those tests without being native, the answer is yes. You don’t even need to know much English in order to do so. The answer is knowing how to “take the exams”, its all about techniques.

If you want to achieve the level of a native, I think is pretty easy to speak more grammatically correct than natives, since the average native speaker does not always speak correctly


There’s absolutely no way that someone who doesn’t know much English could get a high score in IELTS. They would be pissing away 6,500NTD. There are a couple of techniques, of varying efficacy, that might get a half band increase in their overall score. Teachers often suggest that these exams can be gamed - for marketing reasons and/or ego - but they really can’t. Without sufficient vocabulary the candidate is doomed.


No way in hell will anyone achieve high marks in these tests without knowing much English. They aren’t designed that way.


Sure. A homeless will be perfectly able, as a senior professor, to manage in his own language. Fluency is not about grammar (in that case, not an English person would be native :yum:), is about managing in everyday life.

And sure, a foreigner can speak as a native. However, there are a looot of people saying that they have a native level; usually no, they don’t.


A 9 in IELTS is an expert user in academic English. It is unlikely that a homeless person would achieve this.

Basically, IELTS is designed to be a bridge to the kind of language an undergraduate requires to cope in an English speaking university. That’s its role.


A homeless person could be a former professor.