It suddenly dawned on me that today it has been ten months since I arrived in Brazil to live. I’m really not sure where the time has gone!
Before moving here, I had a vague plan. I would find an apartment to live in with my husband, do an intensive Portuguese course at UFMG, and start teaching English, all within the first 2-3 months. Admittedly, I have been thwarted by going back to the UK no less than four times, but ten months later I am ashamed to admit that I haven’t yet managed a single one of those things. The hardest thing to cope with by far has been the language barrier.
I have Rosetta Stone to thank for being able to understand anything at all in those first few months. I now take regular Portuguese lessons for three hours a week, I speak Portuguese (in the very loosest sense!) to communicate with my mother-in-law, and my husband is trying to remember to speak to me slowly in his native tongue too. But without a full-time Brazilian guinea pig to practice on, progress is very slow indeed.
At my current level, a typical ‘conversation’ goes something like this.
- Brazilian person speaks.
- I stare open-mouthed while my brain frantically tries to decipher the words I just heard.
- When I have most of the words, my brain tries to translate them into English.
- If by some miracle I have understood the phrase, I will then think, in English, of a reply.
- Cue more open-mouthed staring whilst I try to translate that English reply into Portuguese.
- By this time it has been about 5 mins since the Brazilian person spoke…
- Often I don’t know the words to translate my English reply into Portuguese, so I am forced to think of the Portuguese I know and how I could say the same thing.
- Eight very awkward minutes later, I make my reply in Portuguese.
- Cue completely blank look from the Brazilian person.
- I blush, and maybe try to run away…
To avoid these frequent awkward occurrences (I am shy at the best of times), I have even got into the terrible habit of sometimes, just sometimes, smiling and nodding even though I have no idea what was said! Afterall, you can tell by a person’s body language whether you have been asked a question or not, even if you have no idea what they said 😉
One of the things that I am finding it hard to get used to is replying to a question with the verb, instead of a simple yes or no. In English, someone might ask you “do you want a cup of tea?” and a perfectly normal, acceptable answer would be “Yes, please.” In Brazil, I am still answering most questions with a yes or no, because it is far quicker than trying to work out the correct verb form for a reply. The reply in Portuguese for this same question would normally be something like “quero”, which means “I want”.
I have been told many times that eventually my brain will be able to think in Portuguese, and I will lose the need for translating everything back and forth in my head and over-thinking things. Right now though, it seems like a very distant dream to be able to speak Portuguese. I am a perfectionist by nature and I get very frustrated if I can’t say something properly; which, incidentally, isn’t how the average mineiro speaks, making it doubly hard for me to understand. As with most languages, I have to learn both the correct way, and the local mineiro way. I am willing to accept that I will never understand a Portuguese person!
At this ten month mark, I am really missing my independence. It is a struggle to find things to do and people who I can speak to without feeling embarrassed. However, I know full well that I am the only person who can improve the situation. So I keep on trying 🙂
For the time being though, my dictionary will remain my best friend in Brazil!
I’d like to ask any of my readers: what are your best tips for learning a new language??