Learn the “Lingo” or live life in an “Expat Bubble”!
I am a great advocate of the fact that when you move to a new country you ‘attempt’ to gain, at the very least, a basic understanding of both language and culture. Without this ‘basic’ knowledge so much of everyday life and cultural opportunities are lost, and you effectively live a parallel existence in your new environment; there in body but not quite in mind. You still watch English TV, read English Newspapers and mainly interact with your fellow compatriots or those who speak English.
I accept, everyone is not a natural linguist and I certainly do not fall into that category – far from it! Despite years of studying Portuguese very little has permeated the grey matter and words just float aimlessly in my memory in disjointed sentences. However, on a positive note, I now often read a Portuguese newspaper or poster and grasp at least the gist of what is being said.
Spoken Portuguese, however, is a complete challenge. I can construct a sentence, ask a question but the problem is I can’t understand the reply! Terror strikes. My mind empties; my mouth becomes dry and as I try to speak no words are forthcoming. I just stand there like a frightened rabbit trapped in the car headlights while the person waits expectantly for at least some indication their response has been understood. For those who are also going through the painful process of trying to learn a language I feel sure you understand this feeling of panic?
I just love it, NOT, when hubby pushes me forward and announces “you can speak Portuguese” I feel I want to crawl away and hide under the nearest rock as I turn various shades of piglet pink.
Over the years, I’ve discovered that the best time to actually practice my Portuguese is after consuming several glasses of vinho. I completely lose my inhibitions and chatter away regardless. I do not even try to: conjugate verbs; worry about the feminine or masculine forms of adjectives and nouns; prepositions; and in what order the sentence should be constructed etc…everything just merges blissfully into a blur. However, you can’t walk around in a permanent state of drunkenness in order to converse with people. Tempting, but just not practical!
My first attempt to learn Portuguese was at an evening class in the UK. I was unaware when I enrolled that there were two versions of Portuguese. Portuguese as spoken in Brazil, and Portuguese as spoken in Portugal. Learning Portuguese, I was soon to discover, was complicated enough without analyzing the differences in both spelling and pronunciation. This was just an unnecessary complication I could well do without. I persevered for eight lessons then I threw in the towel.
I was fortunate to study the language for several years with an extremely patient Portuguese teacher. The only problem being she was an absolute grammar demon and we practiced very little in the way of everyday conversation. This presented a problem in that while I could write things down, I was unable to pronounce the words and make my self understood.
Slight variations in pronunciations can produce some odd replies or actions. For example one day I was in a supermarket and asked an assistant.
“Ondé esta uvos?”
I was immediately taken to the grapes. I stared at her blankly and asked again. Desperate to please she gabbled a reply and looked at me expectantly. Oh dear checkmate, neither of us understood. In desperation, and to her amusement, I started to mime the actions and sounds of a chicken. I was then taken to the meat section and triumphantly shown the fresh chickens (Os Frangos). Pleased at her initiative she looked at me, waiting for my approval. I then performed a charade of a chicken laying an egg. How she did not lay one on the spot as she dissolved into fits of laughter was an absolute miracle.
Sensing failure she immediately roped in her colleague to share in the fun. Her colleague, grasping my meaning and no doubt not wishing to be subjected to further chicken impersonations escorted me to the fresh eggs. She then kindly took me by the arm and taught me how to pronounce ovos (eggs) and uvas (grapes) not relinquishing her grip until I could say both perfectly. We laughed together at both my mistake and chicken impersonations. What lovely kind people they were and so keen to help an obviously deranged English woman! At least I brightened someones day!
My language trials and tribulations continue…
A few useful words that are often barked at you by the cashier in the supermarket are:-
Diga! – Speak! ( What do you want?)
Troca – Change (Do you have any change?)
Saco! – Bag (Do you want a carrier bag?)
To be continued….