Learning the Lingo

We’ve been in Portugal for two years now and for most of that time I’ve made learning the lingo a big priority. But it’s not easy. Our first teacher was a delightful Irish church worker, who was also a trained teacher and offers classes to raise money for his church. He was good. However, many of the  twenty plus learners were not. Despite most of them having been in Portugal for over five years we got no further than the present tense of the verb ‘to be’. He had the patience of a saint but we didn’t, so after five or six weeks of squashing into a classroom smaller than our kitchen, we decided to move to fresh fields.

Our second teacher was a Portuguese woman raising money for the local community centre. We were hopeful when we found the class was less than eight and in a decent-sized room where we could clearly see the whiteboard.  However one of the group sent our teacher into despair, with his incessant need to know ‘why’ teacups are feminine and flowers are not. We stuck at it for several months feeling a great solidarity with other students suffering from her put downs, fingers drumming the table with impatience and high pitched rants (particularly directed to the male students) .

I don’t recall ever being so panicked, close to tears, migrainey and nauseaous as during her classes. We lived through dramas of dictionaries being purposefully flung in her direction, people stomping out and respected senior citizens being reduced to tears. Don’t let any of that put you off – it was enjoyable on all counts. Except those. Oh, and comments like “Alan you’re as bad as Graham” was not the way to encourage students, so we gave her the heave-ho and looked for someone with more patience (or Valium). Unfortunately at this stage Alan more-or-less dropped out, although from time to time I do find him secretly using Duolingual to brush up his Portuguese vocabulary.

I found a delightful Portuguese young lady wanting to teach Portuguese. Yolanda is bilingual, having grown up in South Africa and is full of energy and interest in our language acquisition. I can’t praise her highly enough and decided to ask Christine, a French friend, to share classes with me. Christine’s Portuguese is far better than mine on account of her native French being a lot closer to Portuguese than English, added to which she already speaks Spanish and is, in fact, a linguist. I hoped that her language abilities might somehow sweep me along with her to attain higher levels. Well I was ready for the challenge anyway.

A lack of victims to practise on is my main problem. We live in a location where there are many other expats and have little cause to speak to random strangers in public. Even brave attempts at striking up some small talk are usually shattered when the reply is in English or, on the rare occasion when it’s not, the chance of knowing what is said back is slim.

In a bid to get more exposure to listening, I’ve been watching Portuguese TV on Youtube, namely children’s animated stories. I was mightily chuffed when our 3-year-old grandson showed interest in this pastime and Garibalde o balde became our shared friend.

Chef’s Academy is another program I watch. I can’t work out why it’s called this and not something in Portuguese, but there we go. It’s a vaguely familiar format, where a celebrity chef demonstrates three dishes simultaneously whilst the contestants watch on scribbling furiously in their notebooks before having a go themselves and then getting horrendously slated by the judges. What makes it useful as a learning tool is that it is very visual and relatively limited in communication with not much of a plot to follow. What makes it useless is that all I am learning is a wide vocabulary of cooking terminology. Well, it’s a start.

In another attempt to force myself to speak Portuguese I joined Speaky.Com in order to find online language partners. This is easier said than done as 99.9% of those wanting a Portuguese/English exchange are Brazillians apparently on the look-out for a new love interest. However, I have made two friends through it; Pedro who needed IELTS to start a PHD he’d got funding for in London and my dear friend Maria from the Alentejo region. She’s enriched my life enormously, teaching me many things about P and they way people see things here. She and her husband have stayed with us and we’ve had wonderful visits to Sines, met her children, grandchildren, shared her birthday and has become my Portuguese sister.

Weirdly, I feel more comfortable speaking to strangers here than I do in the UK. It’s almost as though there is liberation in not knowing what the hell is going on, which, rather than get anxious about, makes me brave and fearless. I am undoubtedly more sociable and willing to speak to new people in Portuguese than I am in English. Poor unsuspecting buggers. Now what is the word for aubergine…

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