What being a native speaker means

One day last year, after the incredibly strenuous activity of standing up after cutting a bit of card with a stanley knife I felt a sharp pain a bit above my groin. It seemed like my hernia had opened up again.

After a few doctors visits and many months of waiting, I had a scan done today to see what’s really going on down there. The specialist who sent me to have the scan done told me it was a resonance scan.

I had no idea what a resonance scan was.

Like a lot of people I’m a fan of the series House, Hugh Laurie’s portrayal of an egotistic, but brilliant, diagnostician which is now into its eighth season. And, like a lot of those people, I have no knowledge of medicine whatsoever, but after so many episodes some of the words start becoming familiar.

So, today when I walked into the room to have my “resonance” scan and I saw the machine I thought to myself, “shit, I’m getting an MRI.” It’s a big machine which they stick you in and it does stuff with really strong magnets (good thing all my piercings are higher up).

Now, if I’d been in the health system in an english speaking country, I probably would have known what the test I was having done was before I got into the room.

I consider my spanish (Castilian) pretty good these days, I speak a lot more of it than english and I don’t often struggle to explain myself or understand others, but that’s all a long way from being a native speaker.

The difference is that I don’t have a lifetime of family discussions, watching television, reading books, and just general consumption of popular media behind me when I speak, I just have a few short years of practice, mainly speaking with people in reasonably similar fields with reasonably similar life experiences.

I’m not really disappointed by this, but it is worth remembering the difference between someone who speaks a language perfectly (and I’m a long way from this) and a native speaker.

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