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.
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.
I had to visit Portugal to see the country with its history intertwined so closely with Brazil. And I had a particular fascination with Lisboa because of the poetry of Fernando Pessoa. If you haven’t read any of his works, then at least read the one I have included below. His originals are in portuguese, but this english version does this particular poem justice!
The poet is a faker
Who’s so good at his act
He even fakes the pain
Of pain he feels in fact.
And those who read his words
Will feel in what he wrote
Neither of the pains he has
But just the one they don’t.
And so around its track
This thing called the heart winds,
A little clockwork train
To entertain our minds.
If I thought that Paris was a great city to explore unplanned on foot, then Lisboa is even more so. Wandering around from ruined cathedrals to city forts perched on the hill, its a historic city with rustic views around every corner without the faster pace of Paris.
For a stimulating read, try Fernando Pessoa’s semi-autobiography, “The Book of Disquiet”. If it doesn’t change your views on a number of topics, then it will at the very least stimulate you into thinking about them.
I ran into fellow backpacker, Gemma, who had spent six months in Brasil and spoke portuguese as well. So we celebrated by nostalgically drinking a few espressos or ‘cafezinhos’ at the famous Cafe do Brasil in central Lisboa. That may have followed with some traditional cachaça testing as well which resulted in the rest of the night being somewhat of a blur…