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Fast-talking Friends

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.

When Push comes to Pull…

One thing I found funny here in Brazil is the words in Portuguese for Push and Pull…

‘Empurre’ is Push, and ‘Puxe’ is Pull. The way you say Puxe, sounds exactly like Push, only it means the opposite.

As a result, I’ve been running into quite a lot of doors of late…

Linguists Unite!


The Museum of the Portuguese Language in Sao Paulo is quite the unique experience. It’s a museum, the only one of its kind in the world it claims which is dedicated to just one language and its history.

Through the interactive exhibits and the cinematic show which ends up with you walking ‘through’ the screen into another room of projection displays.

Another gallery has a wall of continuous video displays more than a hundred metres long, showcasing different aspects of the words relating to Brazilian culture – football, carnival, food, music, history…

I was lucky with my timing at this museum as there was also a temporary exhibit dedicated to my favourite poet, Fernando Pessoa. His poems once translated into English are still fantastic, but in Portuguese they are truly incredible.

He was quite the philosopher who wrote under a number of heteronyms, or assumed characters, which allowed him to explore life from a number of different perspectives and different voices.

Try a few of his poems out for yourself and see if you like them… Personally I think he is among the world’s finest poets.

His collection of short observations about life can be found in English as ‘The Book of Disquiet’. It’s my favourite book.

When music transcends…


I caught a live music show in Sao Paulo last night, and absolutely loved it.
Thiago Pethit was the main attraction, and he really delivered. His style is unique, but if I had to compare him to anyone, I’d probably say he has Mika-stylings, only Thiago is far more entertaining than Mika.

He sings in Portuguese, English and French, and is quite the talented and animated performer.

He was supported by another local act, Letuce, whose name sounds far more interesting when pronounced in Portuguese, than it does in English… 🙂 I think she was pregnant to the lead guitarist, but this could neither be confirmed or denied… hehehe

I loved it when both Thiago and Letuce sang in English. They had passion, musicality and mostly had their English accents perfected. The pronunciation made me smile, just as it seems to make the locals here smile when I speak with them in Portuguese. It’s those subtle inflections that always give you away as an ‘estrangeiro’ or foreigner…

(Side note: Brazilians have a really difficult time pronouncing the differences between ‘beach’ and ‘bitch’ in English… Also ‘can’t’ and well, you know the other word… It reminds me a little of Air New Zealand’s Rico!  In reverse, I always have trouble ordering bread in Brazil, as one of the words for penis is unfortunately far too similiar for my ear to detect…)

The performance venue, from what I can ascertain, is the performance hall of SESC, a group formed to push the agenda of social education and promote creativity and culture for the past 60 years. It must be working, as the show had a really had a fantastic vibe, and drew a very eclectic crowd of Paulistanas (locals from Sao Paulo).

Anyway it was strange, and comforting at the same time, to hear Lou Reed covers in the middle of this gigantic metropolis that is Sao Paulo. Thanks Thiago for a great show… I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

This moment was just one of the many secrets that the city unlocked for me during this visit. Thanks to Ricardo for lining up the tickets and sharing the experience with me.

Ten Brazilian Timeouts from the Brazilianaire

You’re at work aren’t you, and you’ve been YouTubing again… I can tell by the glazed sparkle in your eyes. Well don’t despair, this highly researched list of ten of my fave Brazilian themed clips online will pep you up. If you’ve seen another you like better, send it through in the comments!

#1 Favelas/Equality… This is Michael Jackson’s music video for “They don’t really care about us”, shot on location in Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and a few other hot spots around Brazil. The songs topic addresses the vast divide between rich and poor, which in Brazil is widely considered to be its main domestic challenge

#2 Samba… even the toddlers are outdoing me on this front. I have to skill up pretty quickly so I don’t get stomped on during Carnival

#3 Carnival… You’ll never look at a street party in the same light again afterwards… 2010

and a bonus clip of our Jen in Rio‘05

#4 Rhythm… You can get it in a tram, you can get it on the streets, matter of fact I got it now… 

#5 Brazilian Waxing… You can wax any part you want to in Brazil. It’s just called a wax there… The good news is, no visa is needed to experience a Brazilian wax…

#6 The Boys from Ipanema… Distractions aplenty on the beaches of Ipanema… Need I say more…

#7 Portuguese… such a beautiful romantic language, except perhaps when you get your maid to try and spell out YouTube’s web address in Brazil. 

#8 Football… whether it’s the emotional ankle injuries for the refs, or even the emotional shows from the refs, football is about 95% performance

#9 Football Passion… if you think the fans go a little nuts for football, then wait ‘til you see the commentators!

 And finally… #10 Churrasco… Bring on the Meat Sweats! If the meat doesn’t get you drooling, at least the dancing tomato clip art kitsch will get you grooving

Forgetting English

Paulinho's night school where he teaches English

Paulinho’s night school where he teaches English

I have met a number of people here in Miracema who speak English. But I think I might be forgetting how English works, because its a little difficult to understand them at times. But with my Portuguese and their English we manage to cope.

Meet Paulinho. He has three jobs, and is passionate for the English language. He soon became my most regular visitor here in Miracema. He calls me Mister Adam every time he sees me as he wants to practice his English. I visited his night school where he helps to teach adults who never got the chance to go to school when they were young. I felt an inspirational chill when I was introduced to the whole school and talked with a few of them. Some of the students were older than 60 but just wanted to get an education.

Meet Terese. She runs an English school here in Miracema and nearly broke down in tears when I came to visit and speak with thirty of her students. As she says, We need more forig-aners to practice our English with. The students were a bit shy to start with, but after taste-testing some Marmite, they loosened right up and began to ask questions about Australia and Sydney. They couldn’t believe that I had learnt Portuguese as few people in the world speak it. English to them is a language of opportunity, opening doors in other countries for work and communication. For me, Portuguese is all about understanding a culture better by speaking to them in their language.