“We should write the opposite way we talk.”
In the early 1980s, I briefly taught Social Studies to 5th-8th graders in a K-8 school about two hours outside Atlanta. The original social studies teacher had to quit teaching in the Spring because of a problem pregnancy so I got the job sight unseen, thanks to a cousin who already taught at the school.
The kids were bright, engaging, and spoke English with a thick Southern accent. Most of them used a form of English that would have made Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer proud. “He ain’t, we was, him and me are going” were typical phrases. Even the teachers’ kids were prone to using sloppy or uneducated English.
After repeated attempts by the English teacher to teach them to use the correct noun/verb combinations and to understand the difference between objective pronouns (I, he, she, we, they) and subjective pronouns, (me, him, her, us, them), one girl seemed to get the pictures. “We should write the opposite of the way we talk,” she said. I thought that was a really astute observation.
In the years since then, my own ability to speak standard English has deteriorated and I no long trust my ability to read written words aloud in hopes of picking out the correct way to write something. It no longer always catches the typos, poor grammar choices, or wrong versions of a word that it once did. I now have to rely on programs like Grammarly that show me that despite having a decent vocabulary, my typos and grammatical errors put me in a low ability to catch errors that I used to be able to catch almost automatically.
Having said all this, I thought about my ability to hear the correct way to speak or write in Spanish (my second best language.) I have no ear for educated or uneducated Spanish. I can not detect regional accents. The only thing I have going for me is a vague recall of the tenses that I memorized decades before in high school.
How can you become fluent in a language where you can not pick out the correct usage by sound? That lack of ability is one of the reasons I say I am functional in Spanish, but not fluent, despite studying it for 6 years in school and 1 year in college. How do you determine when you are fluent in a language?