This paper reports on two studies that addressed the issue of ultimate attainment by late second language learners. The aim of the studies, which included a carefully screened group of highly successful Dutch learners of English in their designs, was to determine whether or not late second language learners who had achieved a nativelike performance in the pronunciation of a second language could be identified. Speech samples provided by two groups of learners, one of which consisted of highly successful learners only, and a native speaker control group were rated for accent by native speakers of English. The ratings obtained by some learners were within the range of the ratings assigned to the native speaker controls. Such results suggest that it is not impossible to achieve an authentic, nativelike pronunciation of a second language after a specified biological period of time. Examination of the learning histories of the highly successful learners lead the authors to argue that certain learner characteristics and learning contexts may work together to override the disadvantages of a late start.
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