Aprendendo português (post pelo meu irlandês)


irlandes aprendendo portugues

E mais uma vez o R. participa do blog! Dessa vez ele fala um pouco sobre a experiência de aprender português. Já fiz uns posts a respeito disso, mas nada melhor do que ele próprio contando a experiência, né?

Oi gente!  Tudo bem?  To animado de escrever aqui de novo!

As Bárbara has previously mentioned, during the course of our relationship I've picked up quite a bit Portuguese, and it's happened quite by accident.  We thought it would be fun to share some of my experiences on the blog, so that’s what I’m here to tell you about.

In the beginning

When we started seeing each other, I was curious to learn some words and phrases, and Bárbara happily obliged me.  It was fun to hear how similar some things could be to English, and how others could be completely different.  I almost choked when I heard about the verb "relaxar" for the first time - it looks so much like English when written, but sounds nothing like it when spoken!

As time passed though, I told Bárbara that if we made it together in the longer term, then I'd like to learn Portuguese.  That's because I feel that speaking a language that's different to your mother tongue has a filtering effect on the person speaking.

I explained that when I heard her speaking Portuguese, it felt like there was more of her soul in the words.  It's not to say that when she spoke English that there wasn't plenty of feeling, it's just that I felt that Portuguese was so much more expressive for her.  It's as though some of the significance of words gets lost in translation - the emotional connection to what's being said is altered somewhat.

When we started dating, I had recently started studying Italian and I made the plan that I would continue with Italian for the moment, and if Bárbara and I stayed together for the longer term, then I would eventually start studying Portuguese.

However, things didn't quite go as I expected, because in the time we've been together (just over 2 and a half years), I've picked up a surprising amount of Portuguese alongside my Italian.  This happened by accident - almost by osmosis.  I never sat down and chose to study Portuguese - my focus was on Italian.  I took classes, did homework and studied Italian, yet day by day I learned more and more Portuguese.

It all starts with listening

Bárbara would tell me words and phrases and somehow they ended up stored in my head, without me trying to memorise them.  Then later (perhaps weeks later), Bárbara might ask me: "Do you know what this is called in Portuguese?" and I'd suddenly know the answer.

What started out with words here and there eventually made the jump to complete sentences after a few months of dating.  How this happened is unclear to me, but eventually my vocabulary reached a point where I had enough words to try to construct sentences, and I just started doing it spontaneously (although I often made grammatical mistakes).  I wish we had taken note of some of those early sentences.  They would have been very basic phrases but the remarkable thing was that the sentences had not previously been spoken by Bárbara (or at least not recently).

I had exposure from other sources too.  Bárbara would often share Brazilian music would me - she made a number of CDs for me to listen to which often contained one or more songs from a Brazilian singer/group.  I would listen to these in my car on loop and try to understand what I was hearing - try to hear the individual words and relate them to something familiar, from English, from Italian, from things Bárbara had said previously.  It wasn’t a fully conscious effort – it’s not like I was sitting there and thinking to myself “ok I’m going to understand what I’m hearing”, it was more like something that I just did automatically.  After a little while, with enough concentration and some context, I could kind of start guessing what certain parts of a song are saying.  Even if the guesses were wrong, what I was doing was practicing my listening skills without even being fully aware of it.

Another important input was when we would meet Bárbara's Brazilian friends.  The others mostly spoke English for my benefit, but sometimes they would switch to Portuguese to discuss more complex things, or if one person's English wasn't advanced enough. These scenarios gave me another opportunity to develop my listening skills, and within a year of dating, I could follow most of a conversation, provided I had some context, which could usually be established based on things previously discussed.  In fact, one of the most helpful things was when Bárbara would tell the story of an event I was already familiar with - I'd be able to recognise the sequence of events and understand what was being said, all the while subconsciously adding to my Portuguese comprehension skills.

A gift from Italy

Through studying Italian, I've also gained the ability to read Portuguese with relative ease.  It certainly takes a little concentration, but I think my Italian studies have helped me a great deal here.  For me, Portuguese is very different from Italian in the sense that in Italian, there's a very simple and direct connection between how the words sound and how they are written, which means that if you can read a word, you know how to pronounce it, and if you can pronounce a word you have a very good idea of how to write it.

Portuguese is a bit more like English though - there can be surprising differences between how a word sounds and how it's written.  I’ll concede that English is a far bigger offender in this regard, but Portuguese doesn’t get away scot-free either – just take "muito", "mas" and "atras" as some basic examples!  Not to mention the various ways that the “s” sound is made in Portuguese!  Back to my original point though, I think that if I hadn't studied Italian, I wouldn't have picked up the ability to read Portuguese quite so easily, so for that I’m grateful.

Fala direito!

When it comes to Portuguese pronunciation, I have a strict teacher, which helps :)  The pronunciation is not straightforward for an English speaker (and yes, I know Brazilians have a hard time with English pronunciation too, so I’m not complaining).  However, Bárbara has been very thorough when working with me on pronunciation.  If I say a word incorrectly, she catches it immediately and teaches me the right way to say it – she doesn't want me to sound like a gringo when I speak!  While that might seem excessively harsh, it's necessary constructive feedback, and she's always extremely patient with me in teaching me how to correct the mistake, which means that I don’t get upset with taking the feedback.

In fact, I think this part of the language learning experience has been the most difficult for me, and the part I've put the most deliberate practice into.  It took me a long time to get the hang of the nasal sounds (saying São Paulo correctly was my Everest) and it wasn't until I sat down and focused on learning how to do them properly that I was able to start reproducing the sound on a consistent basis.  To this day, I still find pronunciation one of the hardest things about the language, and I've definitely got a lot more work to do before I truly master it.  However, the net result of all of this work is that when I speak Portuguese with others, they're amazed by how accurate my pronunciation is.

A lot done...

All of this has continued up to the present day.  I was still studying Italian for most of that time, but what I didn't realise was that I had been learning two languages simultaneously, and truth be told, my Portuguese is better than my Italian in some respects.  For example, my listening ability in Portuguese never ceases to surprise me (and others too).  If I'm in the city centre and I pass some Brazilians speaking, I often understand what I hear.  In a group of people talking at a party, I can follow the conversation.  If Bárbara is tired and doesn't want to speak English, that's fine - Portuguese will work.  I'll respond in English if I have to, but she can say almost everything in Portuguese.

...A lot more to do

Now I'm at the point where I've decided to formalise my Portuguese study.  We made some plans for this while we were in Brazil last year - we bought a Portuguese course-book and I'm going to start working through it in my spare time.  The reason why is because I know too much to start a beginners Portuguese course - I'd be bored.  At the same time, because of the way I learned so far, my grammar foundations need some work before I could start an intermediate level course.  For example, I've never had much need to use the "nos" and "vos" conjugations of verbs because most of the time I’m speaking to Bárbara, rather than with Bárbara to one or more people.  That's pretty basic and it's something I'm missing!  Also, while I can read and listen to Portuguese and I have some reasonable speaking abilities, I've never written much Portuguese so that whole area needs practice, and that'll also strengthen my communication skills so I think it's worth the effort.

That said, Bárbara and I opened the course-book the other day and took a quick look through it and found that it's probably too easy for me!  Nevertheless, I'm going to work my way through it over the next few months because it'll reinforce my abilities and fill in a few important gaps.  Beyond that, I may get a more advanced book and do the same, or start studying in a school.

Casualty of progress

Sadly, I’ve decided to cease my Italian study for the time-being in order to work on my Portuguese more directly.  It’s my hope to return to it at a later stage and improve my level a little bit more, but it was never my goal to master it and even if I don’t go back and study a little more, I’m very happy with what I’ve achieved with Italian.  However, Portuguese will have a much bigger role in my day to day life so I’ve decided that it must take priority now.

On one hand, I think that Portuguese has distracted me from my Italian studies (which is the reason why I’m stopping my lessons), on the other hand Portuguese has helped my Italian to some degree (although to a lesser extent).  Also, were it not for Bárbara’s help and support, I might not have continued this far with Italian, so I have her to thank for that.

That’s all folks!

So that's the story of my adventure with Portuguese.  I guess you could say that I've been learning through immersion in the language - even though the immersion has been partial, it's had a huge payoff in my case.

I hope you enjoyed reading my story, and wish me luck as I begin this new stage in my learning.


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