So you don’t speak Spanish or Portuguese? Great, then you probably didn’t notice that something is wrong with the title of this blog. When I decided to move to Brazil for an internship I knew that I had to start learning my fourth language: Portuguese. I always wanted to learn this language because it is spoken in my favourite continent. Therefore, I saw this internship as an opportunity to finally venture into the mysterious Portuguese.
My internship company organises two private Portuguese lessons of one hour (so two hours a week) with Ronaldo, a Brazilian who is an English teacher for Brazilians. In the classes we do a lot of things, such as exercises with conjugating verbs, watching short films or speaking in Portuguese. Reading and understanding Portuguese is going pretty well and if I want to send emails or messages in Portuguese I luckily have Google Translate (even though I try to survive without).
SPEAKING IN PORTUGUESE
As I described in my blog about my first weeks in Brazil, I didn’t speak a word of Portuguese in the first few weeks. Slowly but surely I started emitting Spanish noises with a Portuguese pronunciation – or vice versa. Hence, the foundation of tudo bueno. But, my language skills are developing and sometimes I even make phone calls in Portuguese at the office (which yes, get awkward sometimes).
But sometimes Spanish words just slip through which can lead to interesting conversations and misunderstandings. I think the funniest confusion was with the words embarazado/a (Spanish) and embaraçado/a (Portuguese). In Spanish this means pregnant, but in Portuguese this means embarrassed or confused. My Portuguese teacher thought I was talking about an embarrassed or confused colleague while trying to tell him she was pregnant. Because I was constantly referring to a baby and a surprise, this was an incredibly strange conversation until we discovered what was going on.
It is a confusing mishmash of languages that I created which I like to refer to as Portuñol. The problem for me is not that people don’t understand me – on the contrary. I notice that if people take the time for me I can have a nice conversation and I do have some friends with whom I only speak Portuguese. But I am also quite frustrated during this learning process.
Honestly, it is quite frustrating that I am not only confusing Spanish and Portuguese but I am combing the languages as well. This has consequences for my Spanish language skills and I notice that I use a lot of Portuguese words when I speak Spanish. This makes me very sad because full disclosure, and I very much hope that my Brazilian friends will not read this, but I am just going to admit it: I prefer Spanish over Portuguese.
Another frustration I have is a cultural barrier that I have when speaking Portuguese with Brazilians. Because Brazilians really like to talk. So what happens is that I start a conversation in which I am often interrupted by my conversation partner because he or she likes to speak. It is not their fault. I have since learned that this is not rude in Brazil and that people often do this because they are afraid that they will forget what they want to say. But when I try to put together a sentence in my fourth language with a little bit of a headache I sometimes get a little frustrated when people don’t let me finish talking.
PORTUGUESE FOR DUMMIES
If someone interrupts me too much, I sometimes ask my conversation partner if he or she can let me finish. But sometimes, when I’m a bit tired, I choose the easy way out and I use my Portuguese for dummies. In the last three months I collected a number of words you can use in almost any context that keep your conversation partner talking. For example, I often use ‘ta’ and ‘e’, the Portuguese version of dale (or vale in Spain) and sim (yes). I also like to throw translations of cool in such as ‘legal’ and ‘bacana’. And I am very good at confirming things: ‘está bom’, ‘está certo’.
In a country with the surface of practically entire Europe it is very special that only one national language prevails. I do notice that Portuguese is spoken differently in some parts of Brazil though. During my trip around New Years I met two girls from Cuiabá (North Pantanal) and they had a very funny accent. It almost sounded like an American from Texas who tried to speak Portuguese. Cariocas from Rio also pronounce some words slightly differently, such as ‘gente’ which they pronounce more like ‘gentjie’. And my accent? Well, I believe my accent sounds like a blend of Dutch with the hard G, the rolling R from Spanish and a dash of almost British English.
DON’T GIVE UP
I highly doubt that I will speak Portuguese fluently by the end of my internship. But I do believe it is incredibly important to speak the language of the country I live. Therefore I will not give up, despite the fact that it learning Portuguese is at the expense of my Spanish language skills. I’m having great fun chatting with Brazilians and I also enjoy their stories about their beautiful country. Admittedly, Portuguese is never going to be my favourite language, but I know it is a useful language for my career path. And I am sure that in the future I will have the chance to pick up my Spanish language skills again as I know I will be roaming around this amazing continent for a very long time.