Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Portuguese Frustrations

Seven months here in this country and my Portuguese is still pretty terrible. I’m embarrassed when I struggle to string a few sentences together and then stand blank faced as the person I am speaking to rattles off a torrent of Portuguese responses and I’m left desperately trying to catch enough words so I can follow along at a minimal level. Of course, some days are better than others, and I really should give myself some credit as I’ve made some great strides in the last couple of months. But over all, my Portuguese skills remain pathetic.

Many people, even university linguists, bounce around the theory that Anglophones have a particularly difficult time learning other languages. Something to do with never growing up being forced to speak a second or third…or seventh language. I guess you could call this the curse of having the lingua franca being your native tongue. I can see some truth to this. Growing up in Western Canada, I NEVER had any pressure on me to speak another language, outside of trying to get a passing grade in our French classes. But then again, I seemed to be more preoccupied with playing cards with my friends then learning how to conjugate verbs in le passé simple.

Living abroad just opens you up to the necessity of language skills. I am genuinely impressed at many of my friends here that can confidently speak 3-5 European languages..or my African friends that can speak two or three on top of the tribal languages they grew up with as kids. Language is such a fascinating cultural phenomenon and I envy people that can fluently move from one language to the next while hiding their obvious foreign accent.

But when it comes to my pathetic Portuguese, I really can’t blame geography or my unilingual upbringing…it’s purely a matter of laziness. I do most of my work here in English, writing reports, researching information online, attending meetings, despite living in a Portuguese speaking country I can do most of this in my native language. I’ve become dependant on a translator for presentations and interviews and am rarely forced into a working situation where I can only speak Portuguese. But on the street, or in a meeting with only Portuguese speakers, my weakness is clearly exposed. I’m not saying that after seven months I should be fluent, but I certainly should be further along.

A big part of my problem is that I still haven’t got a firm grasp on basic pronunciations in Portuguese. They have a lot of sounds that my tongue just can’t seem to get around all the time. It can be embarrassing but it had led to some pretty funny situations as well. For example, one time I was riding a chapa to work and approaching my stop. In Portuguese, you say “paragem” when you want to get off a bus but I said “parabens” which means congratulations!! I got a pretty confused look from the door man.

Another time I wanted to know the time so in portuguese you say “ Que horas sao?” except I pronounced it “coracao” which means “heart.” I later found out that this is a secret code for homosexual men in Mozambique to determine if the one that they are interested in is indeed on the same side of the fence. Another time I asked for the price of carrots and ended up asking for the price of a woman. That got some good laughs from the ladies in the market. Another verb I also mix up is sentir (to feel) and sentar (to sit down). You can imagine the look I got from one of our colleagues when I asked her, instead of whether they would like to have a seat, if they would like to feel themselves. Good times being the stupid bumbling foreigner!!

Despite all these mix ups and frustrations, speaking Portuguese can be a lot of fun, especially now that I can see myself improving more rapidly. I still have a long way to go but at least I can hold my own now in a basic conversation. I also have a nice Mozambican guy for a Portuguese tutor, who has been teaching language classes for 30 years. He likes to do “practical Portuguese” lessons which normally means hanging out in the baracas drinking beers and speaking with the locals without using any English.

So there is my language rant. Anyone else got any thoughts on the matter or any funny language mess ups they would like to share? I’d love to hear that I’m not the only one that embarrasses himself on a regular basis!!


Blogger Elise said...

i think you are beeing to hard on yourself. yes, it's quite hard to learn portuguese. and you didn't grow up surrounded by portuguese speaking people... example, in portugal, we have american or british shows that aren0t dubbed so we grow up surrounded by the english language,

it will take time, but i'm sure you'll get there.

have a nice easter!

6:24 a.m.  
Blogger Ricki said...

Hi Jared,
Portuguese sounds difficult, much harded than spanish cuz of the pronounciation. Give it time. A funny story: I wanted to tell my Tanzanian friends that I was going to "Mto wa mbu" or Mosquito River. Instead I said "Mto wa mboo" Penis River. Lots of penises swarming around that river I guess. It's great feeling like an ass!

7:12 a.m.  
Blogger jpmozambique said...

Obrigado Elise, estas muita sympatica! As vezes mim sento como estou melhorando e outros dias estou muito frustrado. Talvez devo vir a Portugal o visitar... você ensina as aulas? ha ha.

Bom fim de semana e fica com Deus


1:53 a.m.  
Blogger jpmozambique said...

Penis river, ha ha Ricki that's great!! Reminds me of another time here in Mozambique. The portuguese word for coconut is coco and the Mozambican word for poop is something like coku...very close. So in Maputo there are tons of nice little cafes where you can sit and enjoy a coffee with these delectable little coconut cakes. However my friends and I on a few ocassions have slipped up and asked for a nice shit cake to go along with our coffee. Yes feeling like an ass is almost a daily routine for me!!

2:01 a.m.  
Anonymous Patrick said...

damn it Jared. How can I make fun of your troubles if you openly admit your problems


1:33 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jared,

This may sound stupid but...
When i took German at university we were told to read children's books, along the line of 'Dick & Jane' and up. Some pretty basic language but it did help.


9:34 a.m.  
Blogger Elise said...

sure, i can tuttor you, but you'll have to cook for me in exchange! :D

8:24 a.m.  
Blogger jpmozambique said...

It's a deal, although you might regret it once you sample my cooking!! Estamos juntos


10:28 a.m.  
Anonymous sean said...

What are YOU cooking up for her Jared? Cookies? Schnooze Dogs? Hmmm?

11:33 a.m.  
Blogger Elise said...

hey he can learn some special mozambique dishes!


9:01 a.m.  

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