Oi do Brasil! Things are still going great. I was hoping to blog a picture post today but I am afraid that isn´t going to be as simple as I hoped, so for now I will talk about a subject that has consumed my life the past week– language acquisition! I think I am fairly safe in talking on such a nerdy subject because I know my blog readership has experience with these types of things.

Coming to Brazil this time I felt more confident than times before because I have actually been studying Portuguese for the past few months. Thanks to the Spanish classes I´ve taken, Portuguese has never been completely foreign to me (unlike a certain Nihon-go). And since I´ve been reading a lot of Portuguese over the past few months I was feeling a little better about coming and being able to have a slight head start.

But as I´ve discovered (re-discovered) since I´ve been here, learning language via immersion isn´t that easy. My current frustration is that it almost seems like people don´t want me to learn Portuguese. Of course I know that´s not true. I´m pretty sure everyone would be tickled pink if I knew Portuguese. But not many people seem to be wanting to help me much. Maybe some of you can understand some of the situations I´m about to describe.

I am a visual learner, which means I learn best by reading and studying rather than hearing. So, because of this and because I have been far removed from being able to hear and speak a lot of Portuguese for a few years, most of my practice has been reading and writing. Reading, writing, speaking, and listening are the four components of language learning, and they´re kind of like muscles. You going to be a lot stronger in the areas you exercise than the ones you don´t. And my speaking and listening muscles have atrophied. :) So that´s obviously a problem. I think my poor friends who I have been writing to in Portuguese are so confused because they obviously have gotten the impression I can speak Portuguese as well as I can write, but that´s just not true right now.

Also, maybe I´m just a little sensitive because I´m an English teacher and have had a lot of experience talking with people who speak English as a second language, but it seems like a lot of people are not wanting to help me learn. Some people speak so fast that I can´t possibly understand. Some people don´t speak clearly or mumble. Some people use strange words. And it´s not that those are insurmountable problems, but the moment I ask them to slow down, repeat themselves, or tell them I don´t know a certain word they either give up on me or switch to English.

Ha, of all ironies, you know what I need? I need Let´s Start Talking in Portuguese! Someone to practice with me and speak on my level. I´m going to talk to the minister here to see if there is someone in the church who maybe would study the Bible with me in Portuguese like that.

I really do understand most of what I hear, but I´m just so darn shy in Portuguese. In case you are a person who has never been out of your element, let me tell you how it feel at first. It´s humiliating (not like in the dream where you´re naked at school, but in that you are severely humbled)! You´re reduced to the level of a child because you really need help with almost everything. It really helps me see my own problems with pride, because I just want to hand my resumé or my college transcript to everyone and say, “Look! I really am an intelligent human being!” But right now I feel like a lot of people can´t see that because I am.

Another issue is that in language acquisition there is almost always a time called the “silent period.” It even happens when children learn their first languge– there is a time when the child is physiologically able to speak, but they have a time when they just need to absorb for a while. I am absorbing now. I am a sponge. :) Ha, but to try to explain that to the people here is not simple.

So here are my tips for you, the readership, if you are in a situation in which you come in contact with a person who is trying to learn your language–

  1. Speak slowly and clearly, please. That doesn´t mean you have to speak to them as though they were stupid, but be clear. Don´t go 100 miles an hour.
  2. Use basic vocabulary. This may take some training of the mind. It also may require that you yourself actually study a foreign language so that you can better understand which words are commonly learned by beginners.
  3. Synonyms! I am the self proclaimed queen of synonyms. Whenever I´m teaching or talking with a person trying to practice English, if I use a word that may be new or difficult I follow it up with 2 or 3 synonyms. This helps because maybe if you keeping using similar words, maybe you´ll hit on a congnate or a word that they have learned. Get a thesaurus. ;)
  4. Animation! Use your body language and facial gestures to help convey what you mean.
  5. If you think they´re not understanding you, be patient and whatever you do, don´t start talking about them in front of them. They may not be as dense as you think.

That´s all from Professora Ann Sensei. Have a great day!