Yesterday I busted out my old Portuguese workbooks. I have recently decided to start studying again. Of course I have only managed to go as far as dusting off the covers and reviewing my old work before stopping to reflect. What can I say, it’s part of my nature.
A conversation with an older Brazilian woman is what caused me to bust out my old books in the first place. She told me about the hurdles she faced while learning English. The main one, in her opinion, was that she could never think in English. That was her problem, she couldn’t think in English thus could never speak it anywhere close to fluently.
She immediately took me back to memories that I possibly blocked on purpose. I had completely forgotten about that phase, the one where you have to translate what has been said into your native language in your head. It is the phase where your brain can translate the language but not yet think in it.
Thus while in a conversation you can only come up with a response after translating what has been said. Then you have to translate your response so you can share it.
How I forgot that frustrating phase is beyond me! If you have ever been in a conversation with more than one Brazilian, you know you have about a second and a half before the conversation completely changes directions.
During this phase I could finally understand what was happening in the conversation but couldn’t produce a response quickly enough to stay in it. Not only did I not get to actually participate in the conversation, I would once again find myself completely lost due to the time I spent mentally translating my response.
At that point the only thing you can do is stick your tail between your legs and ask someone what the hell everyone else is talking about. Then you catch up, think of a reply, and BAM you are back in the same spot.
Looking over my workbooks only brought back more and more Portuguese learning memories. I remembered how confusing it all seemed. I remember thinking that I would never fully understand it. I also wondered why in the hell any language would need two different kinds of “to be.” It is a bit a bit much.
Thankfully though, I can now understand. I can take part in just about any conversation without getting lost. Hell, I don’t even translate anymore, my brain jumps between both languages like a young 60 yr old who regularly participates in water aerobics.
Of course I have my Portuguese limits, in case you didn’t pick up on my fabulous analogy. I am inventive at best when it comes to verb tenses and conjugation. Don’t even ask about feminine and masculine, I just make that shit up as I go. Also, please don’t ask me to write in Portuguese. Part of me was hoping that I would learn how to via osmosis but let me just tell you now, that method doesn’t work.
So as much as I have grown when it comes to my Portuguese, I have also failed myself. That is a very difficult thing to admit, especially because initially I had planned for this to be a fluffy “you can do it” post.
Honestly though, you can do it. You can learn another language, especially if you are in a country where it is spoken. You just have to remember that you get back what you put into it. You would think that fact would be obvious but I am here to tell you it isn’t.
I have been half-assed with my Portuguese
inquisition acquisition and thus my language skills reflect it. I thought I would learn everything just by being here. While you can learn a lot with this method, there is a definite glass ceiling. Seriously, I am not being hard on myself. I may be able to hold a normal conversation, even read, but I can’t write as well as my 2nd grader. I have been here for over 8 years. There is no excuse for that.
Think of it this way. Learning a language is like going to the gym. The harder you work, the better the results. Yes, both are incredibly annoying at times, but you will never regret doing them.