Monday, July 13, 2009

Você fala português?

As I spread the news about my departure for Brazil over the past few months, the question I was most often asked was this: Do you speak Portuguese? And I probably gave a different answer every time.

Sure, I speak Portuguese -- I took it for three semesters. But that doesn't mean I speak it well. In fact, now that I'm actually in Brazil, I feel that I speak it more poorly than I did in the classroom. I don't think I've once used the subjunctive during my week here. And the future and conditional tenses don't get much use either.

I told myself that what was more important than grammar (sorry, Mom) was an effort towards communication. So I've been making an effort to talk to my host mom, tell her stories and ask her questions, even if my Portuguese isn't all that comprehensible all the time.

For example, in Portuguese questions are usually asked with a simple inflection -- when written, they look just like statements with a question mark. So sometimes when I'm stumbling over the nasally sounds of the words, my voice doesn't manage to pull off a proper inflection, and my host mom thinks I'm merely pointing something out, so I don't get the answer I'm looking for. 

Other times I throw in a French word here and there (with a Brazilian accent) without noticing and wonder why my host mother is confused. In my head, French and Portuguese mix to form a strange and incomprehensible language. For example, I thought to myself just a few minutes ago, "Tenho mal au ventre" -- "I have a stomachache," half in Portuguese, half in French (my host mother told me I looked thinner yesterday so I ate a lot this afternoon to make up for it). Sounds perfectly good to me but if I said it out loud no one would have any idea what I'm talking about. 

The intensive Portuguese classes that I will be taking for the next few weeks start on Wednesday, so hopefully that will help me straighten myself out. In the meantime, I'm working on a list of words that I've learned since I got here -- mostly vegetables, since my host mother is obsessed with them. And perhaps I'll make an effort to use the subjunctive every once in a while, thought it's been kind of nice making statements without any sense of doubt.

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