I was reading a post on Danielle’s blog about a fellow-English-speaking blogger going to meet her this last weekend and she mentioned how great it was to be able to speak ‘unfiltered English’ with her new friend. This got me thinking about how nice it is and how we don’t even think about this once back in the States. While I do have a considerable amount of foreign friends here in California (and select few online), there are of course plenty of places I can go or people I can talk to if I wish to speak unfiltered.
The reason bumping into a native speaker of your own language is so nice while in another country is that a foreign wall falls, the one that makes you question everything you see, hear and do (like “What does this person mean by that?”, “Why is the bus I just got on going away from my destination?”, etc). When I do meet someone who speaks English natively, I find myself piling on the linguistic layers and all of a sudden, there are tones, turns on phrases and all kinds of nuances circling about.
I call myself fluent in Portuguese and for all intents and purposes, I am…but there’s always that little voice nagging me about the fact that if I stop learning, I’ll never become like a native speaker. That’s the thing, though, I’m not sure anyone ever really does reach that level and it seems to be something you have to achieve to believe. What it comes down to is the difference between treating language like a machine with certain parts (got that, check, got this, check) and having it be a living thing that flows through you.
In another post, I alluded to the fact that being yourself linguistically in a foreign place can be hard to do. Those who are getting to know us are really seeing a slice of ourselves and this can be frustrating, even when the other person speaks English relatively well. By taking liberties with what you perceive is their level of knowledge, the other person may not be understanding exactly what you’re saying, which brings me to a related point.
I love that on profiles for certain websites, there’s a question about fluency in other languages and the only choices they give are ‘beginner, intermediate, fluent’. Does anyone making these sites actually consider that language is much more difficult to measure than this? In the least, there should be a low, medium and high for each of the three choices (meaning a total of 9). Unfiltered English, being…well, not on the list because high-fluent is still not native. In its most basic form, native to me means I don’t have to question myself, even if that means pausing to think of the best way to get a point across.
What do you think? Can someone ever become just like a native-speaker?