An Aussie's misson to learn Brazilian Portuguese in Rio

November 7, 2016

 

You lose part of yourself when you try talk in another language.

That quick wit, an off the cuff observation, a complex thought, jokes, all suppressed as you try and think just how the hell to say them. It's been eye opening, stumbling my way through interactions and being on the outside of conversations. All of a sudden I'm the stupid one.

But learning a foreign language overseas is definitely one of the best things anyone can do, especially English speakers. We live in countries with millions of immigrants and often just expect that they learnt the language and that was that. 

 

We take for granted how people from all over the world learn English making it easy for us to never really memorise anything and reap all the benefits. Because in case you've never tried, learning a language is hard, real hard.

 

My brain hasn't had such a shock to the system since high school general maths. For refugees who have to do it while reshaping their lives, all I can say is “respect”.

 

 

I’ve now become the “me speakerrr no English” guy, except with Portuguese. And when you take your time to string basic sentences together to someone who’s fluent it really makes you realise how patience and a smile from them go a long way.

 

Brazilians are great for this, besides a few laughs from friends at how I pronounce some words I’ve pretty much only felt love and support. They know that even after a lifetime some of it can be confusing for them so they respect that you’re even trying.

 

Portuguese is complex, especially compared to English, which I’ve come to realise is more streamlined and simple in technicalities compared to Latin languages.

 

Our verb conjugations are minimal, we don’t distinguish between masculine and feminine forms, most common words are one syllable so are easy to remember and put together, and we leave a lot more to context and the imagination rather than strict rules.

 

Despite early on thinking I'd never get the hang of it, after seven months learning I've actually managed to wrap my head around it enough to get through my life in Brazil without having to use hand gestures and force workers into English.

 

It started with my lessons at Caminhos Language Centre in Ipanema, which is more of a family and a community than just a school, then my understanding really took off as I met and had conversations with my Brazilian amigos.

 

 

I have a lot of love for Brazil and its people. They are the reason I learn the language because Brazilian friends are some of the best you can have.

 

Being able to have a half-conversation with my Uber drivers, finding out about their home, children, football team and other simple but important things has opened a new door in my consciousness. 

 

It feels so great to interact with someone in their language, in their country and find out about their lives and tell them about mine too.

 

Now I can more or less read the news, kind of understand television, or just follow the trash written in Facebook comments without having to hit translate.

 

Each day I genuinely feel more and more part of a community which will only grow stronger as my life goes on and I get better at Portuguese and return to Brazil again.

 

Besides the plane ticket or some lessons, this isn’t a club you can really pay to be in, you’ve just got to immerse yourself and have an undying passion to learn.

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I'm Ian Walker, an Australian freelance journalist and travel writer who ditched his job as a full-time newspaper reporter to move to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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