The real test of mastering another language is when you’re accepted into a group of friends – and they stop talking slowly in their native language for your benefit.
The storytelling begins, the pace quickens and the vocabulary suddenly takes on rarer and unusually evocative words – all of which means that confusion reigns supreme.
It’s a slap in the face for the cocky linguist (I avoided using cunning there…), and a challenge afoot to learn more…
One such time was the trip back from Bezerros to Recife. The car was abuzz with storytelling, most of it coming from Wilton – who could only be described as the fast and the furious. It was pretty safe to say that I had no idea what on earth they were talking about for most of the conversation. Perhaps my brain had had too much and shut down, but I was processing ‘nothing’.
It made me stop and think about sometimes how I talk with my friends back home, and if I change the way I speak to make it easier for my friends from afar to understand.
The key to helping them understand is not really to speak louder. That only helps in the clubs and bars! Try these tips instead.
– Avoid using descriptive language which relies on cultural references. We love to describe things in ways that only a local will understand – but remember that not everyone may get what you mean. A work colleague had fun once by talking about the ‘elephant in the room’ and one of her teams overseas were probably wondering why the hell we had elephants at the office. Cliches can lead to plenty of confusion for foreigners.
– Don’t shorten all words – expand them out at first, and slowly introduce conjunctions.
– Keep it simple. Shorter Sentences are best. After all communication is better when its flowing between two people, so try practicing listening and speaking.
– Keep as much of the conversation in the present tense, or be specific when refering to past or future events. Tenses can confuse and confound at the best of times, even more so when you’re learning a language.
Of course, not everyone wants to be understood – some prefer the challenge. Ask your friends from afar, and check in with them to see if you are going too fast (or slow) for them. After all, they are probably here to study English, and learn the unique flavour behind Australian lingo.
Our merry band of revelers decided to see what the countryside had to offer for Carnival, so we made our way on Sunday to Bezerros, an hour and a half outside of Recife. It was Robson’s hometown, so we were welcomed by family and friends and invited to stay for the food and festivities.
There in the heart of Bezerros, the traditional ‘Papangu’ festival was already getting underway. In this parade, costumes are key, particularly masks, and the locals have clearly spent a lot of time preparing for this annual event.
Picture small cobblestone streets filled to the brim with colour and sound of every description. There are no giant floats, just lots of people hitting the street and in a total festive mood.
I was apparently the only foreigner in town, beseiged by Brazilians in full party-mode. I ended up feeling the sun a bit too much halfway through the afternoon, so took a quick nap (and lots of water) at one of Robson’s relatives houses. It was kind of difficult grabbing some shut eye while the bass of a thousand drums are beating just out on the streets.
After I woke up, I really wasn’t feeling all that hungry, but you know hometown hospitality. Robson’s brother wouldn’t let me stop eating. The fact that he was a little tipsy and wouldn’t take no for an answer didn’t help the situation. I eventually begged him to stop feeding me after three plates of food, and I think the family decided that I’d had enough.
The sun was setting, and the party looked like it wasn’t going to be ending anytime soon, so I headed back out onto the streets to find Ricardo, Robson and the gang. It was fun walking through the the crowds of happy drinkers. There was no violence, just happiness, as everyone put aside their worries and concerns and just enjoyed the moment.
A twenty-something Brazilian slowly pulled up a car on the side of the road, popped open the trunk and got some seriously funky tunes pumping out of the speakers. Within minutes there were flocks of people dancing to the tunes, that quite clearly, they’d grown up with all their lives.
I felt somewhat disconnected, yet happy to be the observer. I couldn’t relate to the music that clearly had evoked some rapturous high inside them – but I could relate to their sole goal of enjoying the moment. After all, what more do we have?
I found Ricardo and Robson and the rest of our merry bunch dancing their way through the side streets. Realising that I had some major catching up to do to get into the same state they were in, I grabbed a few drinks and tried my best to dance alongside them. 🙂
At the end of a long day of dancing, drinking and absolute mayhem – we found ourselves sitting outside in the balmy breeze, in a small square in front of an aging church. We talked about Robson growing up in Bezerros, and about some of the town’s traditions.
And then, just as we were enjoying the quiet of the moment, another of the town’s traditions sped past us. All the guys from town were on motorbikes, dressed in womens clothing, racing past at high speed, screaming and having fun.
Ah Carnival in Brazil. Joy comes only at the cost of sensibility.