Nothing like teaching English to make you doubt your language skills.
Just the other day I was having a coffee with some fellow English teachers in Zamora when one brought up a question to which I did not know the answer. Would you say “I work in an Italian restaurant” or “I work at an Italian restaurant”? The thing is, both sound okay. But if you said “I work at a university” it definitely sounds more natural than “I work in a university.” (P.S. Someone please help me explain to a 13 year-old Spanish child why we say “a university” if “university” begins with a vowel … I get it, but explain it? Nuh uh.)
How does one explain such nuances? I, for one, am at a loss. Nuances are not exactly the first thing you teach a budding English student, yet such nuances come up quite often. Nuances are the key to sounding native, not forced. I am often striving to understand them because I hate sounding so utterly foreign. They are the most elusive of language sounds, skills the elite etain. Thus, I want them. (I’m what you might call a perfectionist. So sue me.)
My boyfriend is constantly reminding me of a certain truth: language learning seems to slow to a crawl once you get to the proficient stage. For instance, when you begin to learn a language, you learn large amounts at time. You learn house, boy, girl, car, mail, short, etc. These are easy words, simple to ascertain. But there comes a point where you know all those easy words and the things you don’t know are much more complicated (nuanced): verbs like depose, idioms, slang, pronunciation, accent … you see what I mean. For me, this is intensely frustrating as I often feel, perhaps mistakenly so, that my own progress in Spanish is, well, nonexistent. Mario assures me this is not so, but I’m so good at convincing myself that what he says often goes in one ear and out the other.
So, I began to lean on my English skills, taking pride in my ability to understand it, as weird as that may sound. English isn’t easy, as proven by my students inability to speak it correctly. Yet I get it, truly understand it in a way few people have the privilege to. Then up came those doubts mentioned by my fellow language assistants and that upset the little balance I had going. Oh well. I suppose I’ll find something else upon which to place my pride.