How about you? what do you think being bilingual means?
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My name is Anabel and I’ve been studying English since I was eight at school and although I know that it was all about grammar and vocabulary and it’s very difficult to master a language by just studying those, I still feel bad as I think that I have been studying English since I was a child and I am not bilingual yet.
It’s true that you don’t learn much at school as teachers don’t pay attention to the really important part of learning a language, I mean, they don’t pay enough attention to developing the listening and speaking skills. However, I can’t help but feel like quitting and defeated as sometimes, I can’t notice my improvement that much.
It’s very important that people who have been learning English for a while tell us their opinion on this subject so that we don’t create unrealistic expectations regarding this.
It’s fair to say that I started learning English in a serious way just four years ago, and of courset I have improved a lot since then as I used the correct tools to succeed but it feels like I will never stop learning new things because as you can see, I post a new phrase or expression that I come accross every single day. Don’t get me wrong, please, I don’t want to stop learning new things as we are always learning and it’s natural and marvellous, of course. But at times, I need to know when I am going to be bilingual, that’s all, when I am going to fully understand natives and when I am going to know not just some of the idiom but all of them.
All those questions spring to my mind whenever I come across a new expression that I don’t know and when I listen to someone whose accent is hard to understand for me.
Why does it happen to me?well, when studying English some people’s goals are getting a diploma because they need it for their job or maybe to being able to get by when they visit an English speaking country, but for others it’s more than that. People who really like English and especially those who have reached an advanced level of English, normally dream about being bilingual, that’s their aim and it can be both, a good thing and a bad thing. Why am I saying that it can be negative and positive? well, because if you want something so much, you fight for it, you are determined, you feel motivated to reach for the stars but when any difficulty comes up you also feel like quitting, you can feel stuck, like you are never gonna get that goal and those things can have a very negative effect on you.
I have been speaking to Norman every single day for four years now and I don’t consider that I am bilingual yet. Norman tells me that I am, but I always think that he is trying to make me feel good as I don’t feel like that at all. However, I am never gonna give up because English is my life, I enjoy it so much and it has changed me as a person.
I have been doing some research about people who have been living in an English speaking country for many years. Let’s see what they have to say about being bilingual:
«Yo llevo ya 10 años aquí y no soy bilingüe y eso que en casa y en el curro solo se habla inglés… hay pelis que me cuesta entender al 100% y a veces no me entero al 100% de una conversación telefónica, dependiendo del acento»
«Yo tampoco soy bilingüe, a pesar de que llevo casi toda mi vida en el extranjero, nunca podré dominar la lengua local como un nativo»
«Es un tema que he debatido varias veces. Yo sinceramente(aunque me gustaría pensar lo contrario) creo que no se pueden hablar los dos idiomas exactamente igual de perfectos, siempre hay uno que predomina. Yo, por ejemplo, soy supuestamente bilingüe (castellano-gallego) y ni de coña se decir en gallego todas las expresiones que se decir en español. Tengo una amiga española de padres ingleses que según algunos amigos británicos, no se darían cuenta de que no es inglesa cuando habla, salvo por el escaso uso de argot que tiene. Dicen que habla un inglés británico absolutamente perfecto pero que cuando habla no sabrían decir si es de Londres, de Oxford o de que zona. Lo cual no les pasa a los británicos ya que cuando hablan se distingue la zona del país de donde vienen. Es decir, habla un inglés perfecto, sin modismos de una zona determinada y sin expresiones y juegos de palabras. Es lo que dicen sus conocidos ingleses, habla bien pero le falta algo, le falta espontaneidad, el doble sentido de las cosas, el usar acertijos y muchos matices que sólo los usas en la lengua en la que piensas, es decir, en tu lengua nativa»
«Ni los niños supuestamente bilingües, criados en dos lenguas, tienen exactamente el mismo nivel en las dos. Siempre hay una superior a la otra dependiendo de su uso»
Taking into account all of those comments and from my own experience, I dare say that the term «bilingual» is a little controversial and it depends on what you think a bilingual person is. I used to think that a bilingual person was a person who could speak English as good as Spanish but I’m changing my mind about that now as I don’t think that I’m ever gonna know English as good as Norman does. Why? because learning a language is not just about grammar and vocabulary, it’s the culture, it’s the experiences in life, it’s a background that people have.
I think that we should differenciate the term «native» from the term «bilingual» as they are very different from my point of view, even if some job offers say things like: » looking for a native-bilingual person» . A bilingual person is that person who is able to communicate in a fluent way but not that person who knows everything about the language and the culture as they weren’t born there so it’s impossible that they know everything.
Like I said it’s more than a language, it’s a culture and it is impossible to know everything as you will always come accross expressions and phrases that might not be used every day but they are still used and all of the natives know them.
In my opinion a bilingual person is a person who is native in one language and who has and advanced level of the other language. A person who is able to communicate in both languages without having major difficulties.
I know a lot of English people who have been living here in Spain for at least twenty years and they are able to speak Spanish really well, they know a lot of common Spanish but they still keep their native accent and they are not able to understand when people play with the words.
I will give you an example. A foreigner won’t be able to understand certain phrases or expressions that we use if they haven’t been here in the time when «Chiquito de la Calzada»(the comedian) was always on TV. So if they come across the expression «comooorrrr?» they won’t understand it.
This «natural gift» is only possible if you have been brought up here in Spain, as you need to know the culture very well to be able to understand certain expressions that come hand in hand with it.
So becoming bilingual depends on how you look at it but from my point of view we won’t ever reach the level of a native and we can’t ever compare ourself with them.
Being bilingual means to be fluent in a language and being proficient means to be a native. If I am honest, I have never seen anybody who is proficient unless they have been brought up in an English speaking country and even people who were born there aren’t proficient as they make mistakes with grammar, they don’t know every single word, etc.
So please, from now on, if you are fluent in English, whenever you write your CV, write that you are bilingual, even if you don’t know every single idiom and all of the slang, because believe me, you are bilingual if you can speak about everything without getting stuck, you are bilingual if your are able to think in English and you don’t have to keep translating things from Spanish into English.
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