Clearly, there is a lot known about acquisition of second language by adults, and the different degrees of fluency (at least on the phonetic and phonological levels) which are obtainable.

What models are most commonly used to describe second language acquisition (in terms of speech sounds)?

Forgive my ignorance, I have little experience with second language acquisition.


  • 1
    Pretty much all linguistic models assume that second-language acquisition by adults is a matter of continuous practice in stretching the native phonology and phonotactics of one's native language, with largely random results until the learner finds a way to do it more or less successfully, which leads to the speaker's achieving an "interlanguage" -- a plateau of fluency that suits their needs and that other people appear to understand. Since everybody does their own language learning, there are no real general cues.
    – jlawler
    Jun 16, 2015 at 16:01
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    James Flege has put a lot of his research on his website jimflege.com
    – Alex B.
    Jun 16, 2015 at 18:59

1 Answer 1


Generally, in SLA (second language acquisition), non-native accent (along with any other proficiency issues) would be attributed to:

  1. L1 interference or transfer
  2. Imperfect learning

The assumption behind L1 interference is that the first language is never completely deactivated. However, no detailed credible model exists for how this would work. The effects are well described but the causes are still hotly debated. Issues with pronunciation are often attributed to some hypothetical critical period in acquiring phonology but in some cases other factors like hearing loss in older learners can also come up.

Of course, the question is also how to define a 'native' accent. There are many English accents (e.g. Indian) that sound non-native to people in the US or the UK but belong to native speakers of English. But in many of these cases, this new 'native' accent is the result of past L1 interference in the development of the language.

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