Portuguese and Me

François worked several years with the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  After a number of international assignments, he decided to take up a job with the Protocol section of the Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, where he stayed three years.  After the Games, François moved back to the Canadian capital where he juggles his interest in consulting and language learning.  During his years of study and work outside his home country, François had several opportunities to dabble in languages other than his native French, including German, Swedish, Arabic and Spanish.  Here, he talks a little about his new challenge: learning Brazilian Portuguese. “As I once explained to classmates, there are three reasons I became interested in learning Portuguese:
  1. I have a good friend who is Portuguese (and we like to surprise one another);
  2. Having worked for the Organizing Committee of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games, I am interested in preparations for Rio 2016; but most important…
  3. Ever since my teenage years, I have been intrigued and captivated by ‘Bossa Nova’ and Brazilian music in general.
I could add a fourth reason.  I like travel and I am fortunate to have visited or lived in some of the best metropolitan areas in the world. In my personal rankings, Vancouver was tops. Geneva, Hong Kong and Paris followed, that is, until I visited Rio de Janeiro for a three-week stay in November 2011.   I fell under the charm of the Cidade Maravilhosa. I enjoy learning languages.  My ‘liberal arts’ education always had a strong language component. In high school, I studied Latin and Greek.  Over the years and through my work I have taken formal tuition in German, Russian, Swedish, Arabic and Spanish.  French is my mother tongue, English the language I have used most often at work. I can venture to say that grammar and syntax hold very few secrets for me but once in a while I come across something new (future subjunctive anyone?). I began studying Brazilian Portuguese in September 2010 at Algonguin College, a community college in Canada’s capital city. By May 2011, I had completed the two levels of Brazilian Portuguese offered at Algonquin.   Our excellent teacher was a lady from Belo Horizonte.  In the class setting, we completed twelve lessons in the manual Ler, Falar, Escrever.  Now I am continuing on my own, using the internet and of course lyrics from Vinicius de Moraes. In getting to know the language better, I have also learned to appreciate Portuguese-language cinema.  The classes at Algonquin introduced us to a few movies: – Dois Filhos de Francisco (Two Sons of Francisco); – O que é isso, companheiro? (Four Days in September). Then I discovered that the Portuguese- language section at our local university presented a weekly showing of films from countries of the Portuguese language community during winter months.  In that setting I was introduced to: – Abril Despedaçado (Behind the Sun). On my own I also borrowed from the public library: – Fados; – Cidade de Deus (City of God) – Central do Brasil. (Central Station) I have been truly impressed by the quality and sensibility of these movies. There is another tool I use in trying to learn Portuguese.  This is how I learned English in the first place.  I watch as much television shows as I can in the target language.  This was easy for English as I grew up, since almost half of the TV stations we received growing up in French-speaking Quebec were American and English-Canadian.  As I turn to learning Portuguese, this tool is not as easily accessible.  But Canada being a multicultural society, we have a community channel (Rogers’ Omni http://www.omnitv.ca/ ) broadcasting in various languages for a few hours every day.  So I have become a regular of: – the 6AM half-hour news show in Portuguese – mostly spoken in continental Portuguese, which is much harder for me to follow, given my schooling in Brazilian Portuguese, but it still helps.  The Toronto-based news room has a couple of Brazilian reporters, including Marzo Lorenzo (who is on Facebook), so that I can really notice the difference in pronunciation. – the afternoon broadcast of Brazilian novelas.  I am on my third currently.  After “Escrito nas Estrelas” came “Vider a Vida” and now the much more sombre, São Paulo-based “A Favorita” is unfolding.  Over time I have felt a remarkable improvement in my ability to understand most of the conversations – when the actors do not speak too fast. For written Portuguese and vocabulary, I also ‘follow’ a number of travel and news sites in Portuguese on Facebook and Twitter, including this very useful site, “Fun with Brazilian Portuguese”!  This way, the vocabulary becomes more familiar day by day. Conversation remains a challenge.  Another trip to Brasil would come in handy and it’s in the works!”  

3 thoughts on “Portuguese and Me”

  1. Alan Sutcliffe

    I have to agree, soap operas are the way to go. if you can get subtitles then it really helps. Wait until Avenida Brasil starts! Soooo good.

  2. Katja Powell

    I do myself believe there is no better way of learning a language than the kind of immersion you have described. It is the way we in our family of linguists have learnt our languages, including modern Greek in my case. Now I am starting to learn S(erbo-Croat).
    By the way, thank you very much for mentioning those films in Portuguese, both Brazilian and continental, which I shall be on the lookout for. After all, Portuguese is one of my favourite languages, probably because the family I was staying at in Lisbon, working as an au-pair girl, were so nice.
    So I always have to try to cultivate my knowledge of the language, because one so quickly forgets a language, too, wouldn’t you agree?

  3. Georgios Markakis

    Try seeing “Tropa de Elite”. It grabs the real feeling of what it means to live in Rio.

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