Approaching Near-Native Competence: Can Our English Be As Good As Native Speakers?

Bilingualism is a common thing in today's globalized world. With the countries of the world becoming more interconnected than ever before by virtue of the internet, speaking an additional language, especially English, becomes a must. When learning an additional language, some people may be successful while some others may face difficulties. It is because different learners have different factors which make their learning successful.

According to Saville-Troike (2006), there are seven factors on why some learners are more successful than others. These include:

  • social context, 

  • social experience, 

  • relationship of L1 and L2, 

  • age, 

  • aptitude, 

  • motivation, 

  • and instruction. 

Some learners that are regarded as successful learners may go on to achieve more competence in terms of fluency which resembles native users' competence. We call this competence near-native competence.


"How can someone achieve near-native competence?" we might ask. From a general point of view, we may say that near-native competence is when someone speaks very fluently in a language that is foreign to him/her. Moreover, how one is able to have this competence is due to some factors mentioned above. Some learners may have near-native competence because they started learning English from a very young age. Non natives living in Anglophones countries may progress better as they receive stimuli directly from the natives. In judging someone's fluency, we often take a look at the way they pronounce words in English.

Saville-Troike (2006) suggests that pronunciation is the most likely linguistic production to retain foreign features in L2 learners. In other words, a person's pronunciation, although a non-native speaker, can be perfected to resemble native speakers' pronunciation. Nowadays, we often see most children, who are probably taught English by their parents, speak fluently with the correct pronunciation.

Li (2015) stated that although L2 learning can happen at any age, especially the input on pronunciation or accent, children before the age of adolescence attain a better native-like accent. Oyama (1976) also stated that if a learner starts learning a language earlier, his/her accent will be more native-like. However, language is not all about pronunciation fluency as there are other factors such as grammar and vocabulary to be mastered in learning a second language.


Near-Native vs. Native

Gass & Glew (2008) describe near-native speakers as people who are highly proficient speakers but not totally native-like as they are still distinguishable from native speakers, although in small ways. Saville-Troike (2006) explains that near-native competence means that there are no large differences in their performance and that of native speakers, while not saying that the two are the same.

As stated earlier, pronunciation is the most likely attainable foreign feature (Saville-Troike 2006). However, since an L2 learner is not a native speaker at all, some errors, though minor, may still be found. Besides accent or pronunciation, a native speaker would obviously have a wider range of lexicon than a near-native speaker. Near-native speakers would also have lesser cultural information to understand the meaning of, say, allusions or connotations, compared to those of native speakers (Saville-Troike 2006).

In writing, word choices between the two would also be different. Native speakers possess interpretations of variability that would be difficult for non-native speakers to grasp fully. Communicative competence between the two would also be different. There are always distinctions that differ between non-native speakers and native speakers, no matter how proficient the non-native speakers are.

As learners of English, the main goal that we should bear in mind is not to be as good as natives, for it is an impossible task. Instead, the main goal should be how we can be understood by others, whether they are natives or non-natives. With this goal in mind, near-nativeness should be approachable.


Gass, Susan, and Margo Glew. 2008. Second Language Acquisition and Bilingualism. Taylor & Francis.

Li, Zhou. 2015. "Can Adults Attain a Native-Like Accent in Their Second Language?" Sino-US English Teaching, Vol. 12, No. 6 403-409.

Oyama, S. 1976. "A sensitive period for the acquisition of non-native phonological system." Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 5.

Saville-Troike, Muriel. 2006. Introducing Second Language Acquisition. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Writer: Diaz Adrian

Editor: Hasna F