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Ask HN: I’m already fluent in English. How can I improve further?
87 points by matanrubin 36 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 97 comments
I’ve been reading, writing and speaking English as a second language ever since I was a kid. I can conduct hour-long conversations at work or when on holiday with native speakers without getting tired or feeling strained. I give presentations, tell jokes and would sometimes even speak in English because I find it easier to express my current thought in it. And yet it doesn’t feel like a mother tongue. I still feel some sentences are direct translations of the way I would say something in Hebrew, and that a native speaker would have said it differently. I’m also aware of my grammar not being perfect. Knowing which preposition to use is sometimes challenging.

So, how do I improve my English further? What’s the next step after reaching this level? Obviously online classes wouldn’t do. The only option I could think of is living in an English speaking country, but that currently not an option.

PS this entire post was written without any help from online resources, so you can take that as my current level of English writing. If you spot out anything you might have articulated differently, it’d be great to hear! Thanks!

Joseph Conrad is considered one the greats of English literature, yet his sentence structure and flow is strongly influenced by his native Polish.

Would have he been a better writer if he had worked to eliminate this obvious influence on form? I highly doubt it.

At a certain point, you have achieved native fluency. From there, what you do with grammar and flow is up to you- the rules are not cast in stone. Borrow what you think is best from any and all languages at your disposal, and knead it in to English. If it works, we all benefit.

French too. He spent a bit of time working for French ships prior to moving to British ones. English was actually his third language, amazingly enough, which just further solidifies your point.

On 13 October 1874 Bobrowski sent the sixteen-year-old to Marseilles, France, for a planned career at sea.[15]:44–46 Though Conrad had not completed secondary school, his accomplishments included fluency in French (with a correct accent), some knowledge of Latin, German and Greek...

Really great reply, thanks for this!

My mother told me that watching TV in English made a big impact on her English fluency.

Knowing which preposition to use is sometimes challenging.

Prepositions are one of the hardest things to translate. Sometimes, translating it one way gives it a different meaning than you intended and other times it really doesn't but wouldn't be the "common" usage.

To give an example, my sister was going on about people translating stuff in the Harry Potter books, looking for hidden meanings, and she told me Voldemort was French for "flight of death" and I told her "No, de can also be translated as from. I would translate that flight from death."

Flight of death is nonsense in English. It doesn't make sense. Flight from death has a completely different meaning and makes perfect sense -- Lord Voldemort was trying to get out of dying. He was trying to escape his own death. He was fleeing from death.

But if you are talking about someone's hometown, saying "Doreen, from Columbus" or "Doreen, of Columbus" means the same thing and most people wouldn't misunderstand it. De in French is often used that way as well and it more or less doesn't matter which of the two English prepositions you use.

"Vol de mort" can also mean "Theft of death", as "vol" is both "flight" and "theft" in French. Now you have another problem.

Rowling has a strong french heritage and a degree in french literature. As a native french speaker, I can assure you that this is a deliberate play on both meanings: "Flight from death" because he is the one who escapes death, and "Theft of death" because this is the way he kills his enemies (The Avada Kedavra spells capture the soul of the dead into the wand)

I'm unfamiliar with her work, but as a native speaker myself I figured the word play was an opportunity too good to miss, albeit obvious.

Thank you for this. My college French classes were long ago and far away and my knowledge of French is quite limited.

While "flight of death" is slightly nonsensical, "Flight from death" is just wrong, "Vol" can mean a flight in the sense of flying but not in the sense of fleeing.

Edit: I just realised you might have meant that translated literally it makes more sense in English.


In the context of looking for Easter Eggs and hidden meanings in the Harry Potter books, "flight from death" makes more sense.

I don't actually know the proper usage of vol in French. My sister supplied that information and, obviously, she knows less French than I do. My example was just intended to illustrate that de can be translated as either from or of and sometimes which one you use completely changes the meaning in English and sometimes it doesn't.

Hi Mantanrubin,

I am an English teacher to foreign students and have a few at your level of fluency. With these students I usually do custom classes using content from literature, poetry and current affairs, mainly to get them using advanced vocabulary and grammar, and then applying it to their own lives so that they can discuss topics in detail in a variety of ways. Making sure to know when to use colourful language, when not to, the perfect phrasal verb or idiom and so on.

One of the other comments in this thread also mentions good fiction (Conrad). I'd second that, as well as adding variety with more modern writers as well as those of the classics. For example, a book like Satchmo (story of Louis Armstrong's life written in his own vernacular - it's brilliant) is as useful to your advancement of English fluency as is Conrad, Wharton, Louis Stevenson. The thing to note with the classics is to find one or two you really enjoy (I don't particularly enjoy Austin but I love others).

Additionally to literature you could read scientific material, listen to and interpret hip hop and explain it to someone else, try to write poetry, speak with young native speakers, speak with older native speakers and so on.

If you'd like to do a class any time you can also contact me if you'd like. My vety basic website is teacherross dot com.

Good luck and keep going.


What are some ways you get people to use more complex structures and phrasing? I'm a native English speaker learning Spanish and I struggle to get beyond small talk when talking to native Spanish speakers

Some ideas would be to listen for, or create your own, long sentences with multiple clauses (even if shorter sentences would be easier. Also by speaking to different age groups, for example older generations tend to have many colourful expressions that are not commonly used anymore. Apart from that, if you wanted to get very complex you could ask someone to explain a difficult subject matter to you, something they might have expertise in, e.g. something scientific, their heritage, their thoughts on politics etc. Anything that forces multiple clauses and deep consideration and revision of ideas.

In a very basic way, with my less fluent students I continually ask then to explain their thinking behind an opinion... Why, why, why

And of course including more advanced material than their level dictates, to push them harder and learn faster.

Hope that helps somewhat!

I am going to suggest you watch a few episodes of 'Only Fools and Horses'. It's an 80s sitcom set in Peckham, South London. The show is practically considered a national treasure in the UK and most people who grew up in the UK are very familiar with it.

The reason I suggest it is that it showcases a very particular dialect of British English that many people struggle with (even native English speakers) if they aren't familiar with it. The show was so popular in fact that many modern colloquial British English phrases/words can trace their appearance to this show, not because the show invented them, but because the show exposed so many people to this dialect.

Some examples of words/phrases popularised by OFAH: dipstick, wally, cushty, lovely jubbly.

See http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/onlyfools/lingo/ for more.

If you want to master modern British English, check it out. It's also hilariously funny.

I was going to suggest something similar; listening/watching English TV which doesn't have the received-pronounciation.

Other good choices would be "Yes Minister" (original series), "Fawlty Towers", and for extra-credit you should absolutely try to watch "Rab C. Nesbitt" (which is set in Glasgow.

I'd suggest that Only Fools & Horses (after the second/third series) is pretty understandable to all British people, but a lot more would struggle with the Scottish accents.

Here's a brief sample, and another Scottish themed comedy sketch:



Although not as good as Only Fools, I’d also throw in ‘Ello ‘Ello.

The show, set in occupied WW2 France, represents different languages by using English in different accents.

A character to particularly look out for is the British secret agent disguised as a French gendarmes. He is able to “blend in” because he “spokes prefect Fronch”.

It’s a great illustration of how much you can mangle English and still be understood ...and is also quite funny.

My biggest struggle is to sound like native due to lack of daily practice with native speakers. There is not enough resources on this one while there are plenty of resources for beginners / intermediate levels. In my native language, I can comfortably phrase one sentence in multiple ways, make it sound casual or less casual, while in English, I think I don't know enough about making myself sound casual.

Sounding "native" whether it's General American English or something else, is often a long path for a "foreigner".

The easiest start is to find a good accent reduction and pronunciation coach to have the initial assessment and understand your unique path.

Unfortunately one often finds that even the basic vowels you think you had nailed down might be "wrong" and have to be corrected in order to have an easily understood and enjoyable articulation.

For a long time I couldn't even hear a difference between IPA [i] and [ɪ]. It took a few weeks to properly recognize and replicate them in English.

Couple of my favorite resources: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-MSYk9R94F3TMuKAnQ7dDg https://www.youtube.com/user/rachelsenglish/videos https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv8YBYZ2s_imUC3H84FwVFQ

I wouldn't prioritize so much sounding as a native speaker unless you fear discrimination that may affect your career or personal life.

Under my point of view I view keeping your accent as part of your identity and something that makes you unique.

I totally agree with that too.

You’re unlikely to sound like a native but it’s also not really needed. English is a really mixed up language and we (native speakers) are used to diversity.

There’s actually a huge variations between different regions of the UK let alone native speakers from the rest of the world. So feel confident that it’s OK to retain your own accent as long as it’s not so strong it stops people from understanding you.

If for some reason you did manage to adopt a regional English accent then we’d actually find that quite funny. :D

I used to appreciate to hear this actually. However, now I'm a father who needs to teach his son speaking, and I feel that I'm not good enough.

Nothing to worry about there - he'll pick it up from his peers. You'd do better to be sure he learns your first language as well.

> The only option I could think of is living in an English speaking country, but that currently not an option.

Speaking from personal experience, I think all this will do is change your speech patterns and modulate your accent ever so slightly.

You likely read/write English better than a native English speaker already. Some of the language/grammar I've encountered from my English colleagues in both formal and informal written communication is absolutely terrible, and I attribute that to them "learning" English by way of speaking and "incorrect" colloquial usage before perfunctorily running through their English lessons at school.

> You likely read/write English better than a native English speaker already.

Kinda by definition this can't be correct. English is defined by what the native speakers speak. It might be that sometimes how they say things doesn't match up to how you were taught was correct, but it is likely to be correct for their dialect.

>> English is defined by what the native speakers speak.

What about regional accents? For a non native speaker of English, understanding English as spoken in Scotland is a challenge. And I heard people born in UK complaining they had sometimes difficulties with American English (for example with real life/social things). This without speaking of people from India who speak an English which is slightly different from US' or UK's English (and equally valuable and "native").

So I guess a definition of "native speaker" is a bit difficult.

After I learned German for a few years, I lived in a region of Germany where many people spoke in a dialect. At the time I thought I had a pretty good handle on what was dialect and what wasn't. A good amount of dialect made it into my speech anyway, since that's how the locals spoke.

Later I discovered to my surprise that a few of the words I had placed in the "standard German" category were actually from the regional dialect.

I actually think it was more helpful to my language abilities to have learned two different German dialects (one of which was standard German). It also helped me to understand how languages change and what it must have been like several centuries ago when there wasn't a standardized German and people had to struggle to understand someone from far away area that in theory spoke the same language.

I imagine there is some blurring between what's an accent and what's a dialect, especially with your Scotland example. And to break it down further, as a native English speaker I can understand people in Edinburgh just fine, but Glaswegians are a mystery to me.

Your own native language probably has similar things - I know with Dutch, someone from one region can struggle to understand people from another region if they're speaking in their own dialect.

>understanding English as spoken in Scotland is a challenge.

Interesting tangent that I somewhat recently was made aware of; some of what they speak maybe isn't English.


GP was talking about reading and writing, but you're talking about speaking, for some reason.

OP may very well have better-than-average spelling. To quote Harvey Pekar, "average is dumb!".


Written English—especially the formal register—is a different language than the spoken English of a native speaker.

Just because a native speaker might have written OP's bit above as "[...] that a native speaker would of said it differently." doesn't make it correct for "their" dialect.

These suggestions from the University of Washington might help:

"Strategies for enhancing English language fluency: General fluency" https://www.washington.edu/teaching/programs/international-t...

Many of already waded in so not sure I can add anything different. However, here I go ;)

I guess for me the main question is, what do you mean by 'fluency?' Do you want to speak/be thought of as someone from an English speaking country? Or is it more a personal feeling that you want to be better?

For someone with an already high-level of English speaking and writing, I think the remaining barrier is more cultural than language. Like can you decipher common codes as someone who lives in the culture of that English-speaking country. And from my experience, a lot of that is broken up into two categories - 1. childhood identifications, things like education system, curriculum; regional, national milestone events, etc.; and 2. pop culture today, things like TV shows, current events, views on social, economics, politics, etc.

I think it's easier for the US case just because how pervasive American soft power is. But in any case, my feeling just from your post is that it's perhaps really more culture rather than language that you want to focus on.

The answer to your question really depends on what you need it for. Technical or content writing? Work communication? Deeper conversations in your personal life?

I think the most broadly applicable answer is to read the most famous English stylists such as Gibbon, Carlyle, Arnold, or novelists like Austen, Eliot, Henry James, etc. This writing is complex and sophisticated enough to be challenging even to native speakers, but the vocabulary is still almost totally congruent with modern English.

However, since you're posting on HN, I suspect you'd like a response from a more technical perspective, in which case my answer is: read and write open source documentation! Writing good docs requires complete understanding of the terminology and concepts involved, as well as compositional skill and precision. It's a great exercise which will improve your English, as well as your understanding of the code you're writing about - and as a bonus you're giving something back while you learn.

my answer is: read and write open source documentation

I disagree. You need very little language skill to read technical docs if you're familiar with the topic, and only slightly more to write them yourself.

A lot of the advice given is good, but I would like to add something I did not see: you can only be really fluent at a language you practice daily. I speak three foreign languages fluently, and speak two of them daily (English and German). I barely speak my mother tongue (French) with anyone else than my 3 and 1 yo. I am not really fluent at my mother tongue anymore, and my family often makes fun of how I speak, which is often a straight translation from English or German (and I apparently also have a German accent), with lots of pauses to search my words. Of course, one week in a French speaking environment and fluency is back.

What I want to say with it is: do not worry too much. Read, listen and speak English with natives, and you will keep a decent enough level to gain real fluency any time you get immersed in an English speaking environment.

I'm also a 'non native' speaker of English and it has been my second language from childhood.

For me the question is - for a global or a widespread language like that of English, is there any characteristic which can be defined as 'native'. English speaker from Scotland would sound very 'non-native' in Australia and vice versa.

I would imagine for a languages like Mandarin or Russian which is spoken in a particular geographical region with homogeneous population can have that characteristic - "Spoken like a true native". But for languages like English not so, same could be true for languages like Spanish and Hindi (3rd most widely spoken - contained in a geographical region but spoken among very diverse and non-homogenous population).

As a French, half of the questions were about french words, which seem fancy and very formal in english, but very basic in french ;) Couldn't make the other half :D

> I’ve been reading, writing and speaking English

Error! Missing oxford comma! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_comma

In all seriousness, your post reads better than most native speakers.

If you're writing something formal, and you're unsure if something is technically correct, find a style guide you agree with and consult it. The journalistic styles are intended to be clear: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AP_Stylebook

There are many style guides: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Style_guide#United_States

When I'm struggling with a sentence, I make sort of a mental graph of the sentence and apply rules (usually around commas, and mostly without thinking, it just happens). I think it's because I was trained as a kid with these diagrams: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentence_diagram

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_usage_controversies is a useful list. Most speakers are bad at one or more of these. I was never able to train myself to pick out a split infinitve, for example, but I would be able to if I were better educated.

Also, Grammarly is an AI thing that's supposed to detect and correct, but I haven't used it. It's quite popular with the kids these days, so they'll probably be dictating what "english" is if they get big enough: https://www.grammarly.com/

You might also not want to speak perfect English. Most Americans certainly don't. What I mean is, is that a "double copula" is technically "wrong", but it does convey extra information and give a cadence and a degree of informality. English has lots of little choices like that.

There is a lot of variation among native English speakers. The only thing that sounds non native in what you wrote was “if you spot out anything”. I would always expect “if you spot anything”. But the fact that other posters picked up on different things suggests this could be regional variation (I’m in the UK). I know people who have lived and worked here for a decade and still feel they perform worse in a job interview in English rather than their native language due to the extra cognitive load. On the other hand, my partner has lived here about 10 years since she was a student and finds many things (e.g. work stuff) she can express more easily in English while other things (how she’s feeling) in her native tongue.

I speculate that you get better when you are pushing past your limit, whereas comfortable practice stops you from regressing. For example, being in a situation where you are too tired to speak English but you have no choice. Also, you could try more challenging forms of text such as poetry or older English literature. While I doubt you have need to speak like Shakespeare, forming a bit of fluency with 16th century English may prime your mind to be more aware of the subtle differences you hear in modern English. Anyway, just speculation so take with a pinch of salt!

I live in England and I'm married to a Brit, and I still make hilarious mistakes and cause silly misunderstandings. Would it be better if I wrote or spoke an ice-cold perfect English? I don't think so.

I'm proficient in English and I feel confident speaking. I don't think my accent hurts me in my professional or personal life. On the contrary, I think that it enriches the conversation. I can count with one hand the number of times a bad accent or not knowing a word or expression caused even the slight issue in my life during the last few years.

Going back to the question, it comes from experience. To this day I still hear words that I don't know or want to say expressions that I only know how to say in my mother tongue. In those situations, I give a literal translation and then look for a similar expression in English. You'll find that many times there is an equivalent, but other times such expressions don't really exist in other languages. And that's great! it adds to the richness of knowing more that one language. As a side, if you find yourself in these situations, make very clear to your conversation partners that you want to get corrected when you make a mistake, otherwise some people will keep quiet out of politeness.

Lastly, keep in mind that not all native speakers of a language talk perfectly all the time (far from it!). There is a good chance you already write better than some people by virtue of paying more attention to it. Once you realise that language is about communication and not about getting a perfect grade, it will lift a weight out of your shoulders and allow you to enjoy it more.

@OP Listen to me very carefully, because what you're going to read here might significantly not only improve your skills but also make the whole process of learning languages far more simpler than what most people (incorrectly) apply.

There's a branch of linguistics called "applied linguistics". Within it the people studying it learn how to - and this part is crucial - teach a person of a given nationality a foreign language of choice using proven, mostly effective methods. As you see, the AL process is going to look like differently for an Italian leaning Spanish and an American learning Polish. This is why the person that can guide you, a teacher, must be of your native nationality. It takes on average 2,5-3,5 years of not that hard work to make a person speaking let's say English into someone who's impossible to distinguish from native speakers. I've seen the results myself, and I was glazing my eyes!

Instead of looking for a regular teacher take the one that's been studying applied linguistics instead. Those people aren't much more expensive. You need a guidance of that kind because someone knowledgeable must tell you what you, specifically, do wrong. Having that knowledge and reasonable tools to address your challenges you're going to love what you can get from the learning process.

I'm the best example :) My teacher told me after 2 years that I'm the most untalented, lazy, not motivated enough, stubborn person she's ever seen in her life. Plus that the fact that she made me who I am today is her greatest success ;) Kudos to her - I'm doing pretty fine with English (being Polish). Moreover, I know what I don't know, so now I can work on my own. You can't put a price on that.

Good luck!

I looked at you post carefully (I do some copy editing, so I'm used to looking for errors), I couldn't find any. I'd not believe someone who said they could tell that you weren't a native speaker. The only thing, very slight, I'd probably say that "I'm also aware that my grammar is not perfect" would be a little more idiomatic, but that could be an AmE/BrE thing.

Correction in your last para:

"If you spot out..." should be "If you spot anything you might have..."

"Articulated" doesn't quite work because the past tense shades towards meaning "movable with joints" instead of "express." I'd have gone with the simpler "said differently."

Honestly, it gets really tough at this level, because native speakers learn these shades of meaning - if they learn them at all - through years of exposure and practice. A lot of them are just conventions. There's no dictionary or textbook for them. They're just standardised language quirks which everyone knows and copies.

I would not suggest you learn by reading the great English prose stylists, because a lot of the stylings are archaic. It's great writing and can be entertaining and enjoyable, but it's not a prose style you want to emulate because it will sound stuffy and pompous in a modern context.

See also: "social register." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Register_(sociolinguistics)

Instead I'd buy a shelf full of novels by 20th century and later writers. Orwell is always good, but also Margaret Atwood, Robertson Davies, Don DeLillo, Iain Banks, maybe Thomas Pynchon at a stretch. Definitely Terry Pratchett and JK Rowling. Among many others.

Don't just read them, see if you can understand how they use social register to set tone and define character in different social contexts.

For day to day English your best bet is probably the magazine industry. Regular reading of tech magazines and wider cultural and political commentary will help a lot.

"Articulated" doesn't quite work because the past tense shades towards meaning "movable with joints" instead of "express."

That didn't even cross my mind. That's probably "an engineer's perspective" so to speak.

These days, lots of words have different meanings to different people, depending upon the context of their lives, and it's getting really hard to treat anything as a lingua franca, even English which gets called "globish," because we have so many people with such rich and varied knowledge bases who use the same words to mean different things entirely.

I do agree that said is the better word, but mostly because it's shorter and more common and not because there is much risk of it being misinterpreted, given the context.

Honestly, to this native speaker, articulated was a perfectly good word choice in this instance & one that I might have made myself.

I agree; I don’t think the alternate meaning of 'jointed movement' is going to occur to the majority of people - it’s really not in common use.

> I still feel some sentences are direct translations of the way I would say something in Hebrew, and that a native speaker would have said it differently. I’m also aware of my grammar not being perfect. Knowing which preposition to use is sometimes challenging.

Just learn how to do that properly, and maybe learn why certain things are spoken/written the way they are (the history behind English is quite fascinating). Google exact match is a godsend for this :D

> The only option I could think of is living in an English speaking country, but that currently not an option.

That may actually turn out to be a major disappointment. Native English speakers don't care about how they speak (or even write). Aside from your accent, which may never improve, you will likely be better than half of the country you'll be living in :D

On the accent: You can sound native, but always a bit off to anyone paying attention. Physiological differences due to growing up with another language in the very early years. Perhaps constant everyday training and speaking only English can help.

I love the Only Fools and Horses suggestion.

This question and related suggestions might vary by English speaking country, or even region. The beauty is there is no 'right'.


This was my second stage of enjoying learning my mother tongue. Not Patrick Stewart specifically (he's superb), but doing Shakespeare in secondary school (UK). Great fun. This was an inner London comprehensive not a fancy school at any level, yet everyone loved it. Who hates shouting 'Ho!' at the rest of the class? The interpretation, flexibility, etymology, was enlightening.

The third stage was writing a thesis in university. I think you're there for precise writing already. I think you're > a lot of native speakers already. Try some Shakespeare. Lots of good other suggestions here too; find one that fits, and try a few that might not seem they do, but then do.

Disclaimer: Am no linguist.

As children (native speakers), we were aided in learning to read by reading the Book of Mormon aloud together as a family (taking turns, helping the younger ones). I think it helped and familiarized us with not just one kind of English that we were used to, but broadened us significantly (As the King James Bible might, but the Book of Mormon seems to be in a style slightly older.)

It's available freely online at https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/bofm?la... or https://www.comeuntochrist.org/requests/free-book-of-mormon . (I have more info at my web site, linked to my profile; feedback or questions there are welcome.)

Firstly, your English is indeed very good - for a second language, that's awesome. Well done!

Secondly, I'm in a similar position to you with German. I have two advantages over you:

1. I lived and worked in Germany for several years; 2. I am married to a German.

That said, there are a few things that I try to do to improve. Not sure if they're relevant to you, but take what you can from them.

1. I ask lots of technical questions. I enjoy languages and try to get to the root of both my own language and others, and to find the connections between them. I talk about German grammar and idiom to my wife to the point of tedium.

2. I listen to lots of podcasts by people from different regions with different dialects.

3. I try to read some older German texts, to get a feel for how the language has evolved over the last few hundred years.

Honestly though, you're getting to a level of proficiency that is quite rarefied for a non-native speaker, so returns will naturally diminish.

One final thought:

> spot out

is not good English idiom. "Spot" would suffice. :-)

Good on you for making such an effort, mate. Best of luck.

Don't worry. Many native British people don't know what a preposition is and as for those Colonials across the Atlantic, I give up!

Rather than attempt perfect grammar (if there is such a thing), I recommend you find a writing/speaking style you find comfortable with. This might mean using interesting idioms (where most natives would use cliches) or 'talking in writing'. Consider these two alternatives:- (a) Use short sentences. (b) Here's a thing you could try. Brief sentences with just one thing in them at a time.

Vocabulary will always help, but sources can be peculiar (dumbed-down or deliberately off-centre) or jarringly out of date.

All in all, people are more interested in what you have to say than picking out silly non-conformities. Read a few news or Wikepedia articles in English you might fancy comparing with Hebrew to get the flow of sentences.

Good luck. Good reading. Good writing. Good conversation.

Everything that is worth knowing was written in English or has been translated to it. Well, not quite, but it's a good rule of thumb. So, immerse yourself in books written in English. Get audiobooks if you can. If you go far enough, you will be exposed to new concepts and ideas in English first, before they percolate to your native language. After a time, you will find yourself struggling to put into your mother tongue concepts which are, for you, effortless in English.

English is a beautiful language, because it lets you reach people. Honor it by always doing your very best when writing and speaking it. Pay attention to your pronunciation, and challenge yourself by writing more, if you can, and editing and sharing your work.

Other than that, perfect native pitch is over-rated, and it may take away confidence dearly needed to talk and practice more.

>Everything that is with knowing was written in English or has been translated to it.

Noam Chomsky must have believed this too; when he was prince of linguistics he considered trying to save or document dying languages a waste of time and unfashionable.

It effectively resulted in a language genocide.

It's hubris to think English will contain all of the answers.

There was a really engaging interview with Wade Davis on CBC about this: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/saving-the-planet-means-liste...

Forgive the tangent.

> Everything that is with knowing was written in English or has been translated to it.

It's a rule of thumb, a practical rule for life at the same level than buying groceries. I'm well aware that language incarnations form a very esoteric space, worth studying and caring about if you are in the right profession, or have the time and the inclination.

Having a diversity of languages not only helps preserve culture and human knowledge, but also gives linguistics more examples to test hypotheses against. Is this language feature a universal feature of all languages, or did it just spread from one language to another?

Why would you want to save a dying language? Just curious. If the answer is in the interview you linked to, could you give a tldr?

I think humor is one of those language areas that is hard to achieve in a foreign language. It seems to me that if you can do that well then you've reached a good milestone.

English idioms are hard, even for native speakers, so you might want to get a book on those.

I knew of someone that kept his English sharp by reading whole newspapers every day. You might want to do the same thing by going to one of the big English newspaper sites. The opinion/review area is usually where you will find writers using the more common form of the language.

Additionally, to that, I would start a blog or some other writing form that will force you to practice what you've learned on a regular basis. You need to go back and review what you've written and see where you've made mistakes. You might need some help with that.

Good luck!

I was born in one, lived long in a second and now am home in a third country.

In all three languages I feel confident, can tell jokes, understand and have tested level C2 (https://www.efset.org/cefr/).

Still, every once in a while, I "have this feeling" my proficiency is subpar. Still I learn new expressions and grammar twists that I was now aware about before.

What helps me getting more certain and better in the word craft of the local language is asking locals to correct me and ask them to explain words and constructs that seem strange or unknown to me.

I found that living with a native English speaker in the same house does teach you a lot of intricacies of the language - pronunciation and grammar. However, it's a deep territory of diminishing returns. In Europe, everyone's English is kind of bad (a lot of people are fluent, of course, but almost never above the level you want to reach), so there are not many people to appreciate your fluency. I found it to be more enriching to learn a new language instead, that gives massive appreciation of the languages you already know.

Very fluent!

Little things I would tweak as American speaker

“I’m aware my grammar isn’t perfect”. “But that’s not currently an option”

Also “holiday” is a British English term. If you’re speaking to Americans use “vacation”.

This doesn’t seem to be a problem for you but the biggest area I usually see is verb tense, and singular / plural. “I want two watermelon” “I asks for the watermelons” “25% is roughly align with what I see” (should be “aligned”, or “roughly aligns” and drop is) “They hasn’t shared the results yet” (should be “haven’t” for plural subject)

For speaking and listening watch and re-watch seasons 3-10 of the Simpsons, very wonderful, dense humor. Try to make sure you get all the little off-hand comments and subtle jokes

Practice. Reading will always help you (with any language), and watching movies and tv will train your ear. If a totally immersive experience is not an option, I do not think there is much more you can do. It is normal that a foreign language does not feel like your mother tongue, you will probably keep improving but there will always be some difference.

If your goal is to improve your writing too, I cannot recommend enough "The elements of style" by Strunk and White.

I think I'm at a similar level as you, I can speak and write fluently but I suspect that I'm not always using the right words in the right context.

In my experience, the only way to really get a feel for that is to have conversations with native speakers. I had some native (Canadian, British) speaking colleagues in the past, at a time when I falsely believed that my English was near perfect, and it was amazing how much I noticed that I still had to learn.

If you'll tolerate nitpicking (EDIT: I don't consider any of this worth pointing out other than nitpicking):

Rather than "would sometimes" as "will sometimes".

I'd rephrase "current thought" to "thoughts" or "train of thought".

I'd rephrase "I’m also aware of my grammar not being perfect." as "I'm also aware that my grammar is not perfect."

"but that currently [is] not an option" (presumably a typo).

These are all the things I would have picked out - except I would just drop 'would', not replace with it 'will'. (The verb then becoming 'do', later in the sentence.)

I'd also add that in changing any of those I could easily be proof-reading a native speaker's writing.

With the exception of:

> if you spot out anything

unless it's an AmE idiom or something, to me that's the only think that marks you out as non-native. I'm aware I've said both 'picked out' and 'marks you out', and I have no idea how to explain why this is different, it just sounds weird.

> if you spot anything

AmE speaker here. I have never heard anyone use "spot out" as a verb, but on the other hand, prepositions seem to pretty frequently attach themselves to new verbs or drop from common phrases. It still bugs me a little to hear colleagues talking about "building out" a new feature instead of simply building it, for example.

That is a weird one, yes. I think it comes from 'flesh out', which, if similar, is at least old enough that it doesn't sound strange to me.

Wiktionary sort of suggests it should sound similarly odd - it doesn't discuss it on the flesh out page [0], but for flesh vb. [1] it does give '5. To put flesh on; to fatten'.

[0] - https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/flesh_out#Verb

[1] - https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/flesh#Verb

Study "The Elements of Style" (https://www.amazon.com/Elements-Style-Fourth-William-Strunk-...), a classic on better writing. It will teach you about how to really write for the reader and not for yourself.

I also recommend Steven Pinker's Sense of Style[1], as a more modern and definitely more interesting to read alternative.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Sense-Style-Thinking-Persons-Writing-...

Aside, for years PEP8 included the phrase "When writing English, Strunk and White apply", which used to drive me up the wall ...

Here are three things you can usefully try. Watch more movies in English with the subtitles off. Do "Picture Description" with an articulate english speaker (you both describe a given picture to each other). If your pronunciation isn't perfect really work on that with a coach.

Browse https://www.urbandictionary.com/

look for games like https://research.google.com/semantris

Play online games with teamspeak

Would not recommend casually browsing the former to get better at English. Looking up new terms that you encountered on social media, maybe.

also urban dictionary contains a lot of obviously joke definitions where you need to already know the word to see it is not the actual meaning.

You don’t need to know the actual meaning, but you do need the context in which it appears. If your coworker puts a new acronym in a code comment it’s likely not a vulgar definition, for example.

Yes, but then it is something like reading those list of acronyms definitions where LOL somehow means "hail Satan" (urban dictionary often is quite good, but in the context of the question this can be a serious problem). I would recommend it more for refreshing old memories rather than for learning.

Have you tried reading a lot of English text written by fluent native speakers? I find that this is a great way to learn idiomatic usage that you can then emulate. (Disclaimer: I’m a native speaker, but this is how I’ve improved my language skills. Also I’ve started writing more.)

You could try reading articles from the Economist. They have a very interesting way of writing that avoids common phrases, cliches and words that come from latin when an English equivalent exists. They also use lots of comparisons and interesting word choice.

Well, take this test to find where you really stand. (maybe be prepared to be humbled)


Read. When I a actively reading books (not the Internet, but actual books - fiction or nonfiction, doesn’t seem to make much a differenct) I can notice my vocabulary expanding. When I fall out of the habit, it atrophies.

If you spot out anything you might have articulated differently, it’d be great to hear

I'm not a native speaker, but I'd use "spot" rather than "spot out". Don't know why, just looks a bit unusual.

You "call out" something that you’ve spotted.

I suspect that the OP has merged one idiom into the other :)

As a native speaker, "spot" by itself or maybe more formally a verb like "notice" would be something that I would use in normal everyday speech in this context.

I would probably write: “If you spot anything you might have articulated differently, it’d be great to hear about it!”

OPs grammar & vocabulary is really impressive. Internalising all these entirely unwritten rules that are implicit to native speakers of a language is what makes the difference between someone who is "merely" (! hah: like there’s anything unimpressive about being fluent in a non-native tongue) fluent & someone who sounds like they grew up with the language.

(I know someone who has lived in Paris for decades & speaks fluent French, but to this day still speaks French with an obvious Yorkshire accent. Not even just an English accent: it’s obviously a Yorkshire one!)

I find that one of the hardest things is to know what sounds natural. I found this website useful for checking specific phrases https://ludwig.guru.

I’m in the same ballpark as you are, and you actually seem a bit better than I am. Some teachers specialize in accent training, it might be a good idea to find one that could help you progress in that direction.

you don't give specific area you want to improve, but your words sound like you might want to improve written or some type of formal communications. I think those recordings at Oyez might be an interest choice. Listen the recordings while read the transcript on screen. It is a mix of both formally written and quick verbal exchanges. And some of the recordings are really interesting and informative. If you prefer reading, I suggest ALDaily, hand-chosen light reads everyday, covers many fields of literacy, and well-writen.

What do you read in English? I would suggest that achieving deep fluency in a language requires experience with the greatest and formative literature of that language.

The English language is changing. Nobody speaks like Charles Dickens, John Buchan or Emily Bronte. Even TV shows from the 1970s are wildly out of date.

This assumes several things, all of which I believe are wrong:

1. it assumes that the references to the writings of Charles Dickens, Emily Bronte, William Blake etc. etc. do not litter the linguistic landscape and that people could not improve their understanding of the language by picking up on those references (John Buchan maybe not so much)

2. that there are not levels of usage of the language where these references are required (which I called deep fluency), one can certainly be fluent and argue points, but not know how to adequately poke fun at Alan Simpson's quote of "Who steals my purse, steals trash" without some familiarity of Iago.

3. Finally it assumes that there will never be any conversation or situation in which there will be people familiar with these references, and that they would do anything like sprinkle those references throughout their speech, as a sort of intellectual spice. Widely read people may often do this and, as like seeks like, their acquaintances are probably widely read as well, so it can be helpful to know what these people are talking about.

If you cannot recognize the reference, you cannot respond in kind.

At any rate I thought it a truth universally acknowledged that some phrasings don't go out of style, and must be in want of insertion into any discussion they could possibly fit.

> I’m also aware of my grammar not being perfect.

As a native English speaker is this funny since English grammar is a bit fluid.

> Knowing which preposition to use is sometimes challenging.

True that. Also adjective order.

My suggestion is read and watch popular English fiction. I say that because I'm dubious that your English is technically deficient. More likely has to do with the intersection of culture and language. As in when and how to shift from formal to informal depending on situation. Also remember the English speaking world itself is fragmented. For instance I can often tell where someone grew up in the Bay Area by their speaking style.

Deliberate practice makes perfect. (Watching TV or even reading is not enough.) One caveat, though: it will never feel like a mother tongue.

My first thought was to suggest finding multiple English translations of a piece of Hebrew Literature you like and comparing them. Then I remembered the linked article, which is a comparison of four different English translations of the verse novel Eugene Onegin, by Alexander Pushkin. The article was written by Douglas Hofstadter, a professor of cognitive science and comparative literature at Indiana University who has an essay collection called Metamagical Themas (an anagram of Mathematical Games). The first few essays are about self-referential sentences and a subset of those, self-replicating sentences, which you really have to read to believe. Maybe check out his book Gödel, Escher, Bach. It won the Pulitzer, but if you pick it up, just remember that when you get confused, it’s his fault, not yours.

But Winston Churchill said it best, and this is great advice: “short words are best, and old words, when short, are best of all”.




Etymology, learning about the roots and origins of words gives a language so much more depth and meaning.

Try to make more mistakes. Many native speaking people aren't speaking properly.

Here's one aspect of English that drives me completely insane: phrasal verbs.

Listen to BBC Radio 4.

Read fiction.

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