If you think that the challenge is learning a foreign language, think again. That’s actually the easy part. Try flying to a continent, where supposedly you need to know only 2 languages – Spanish and Portuguese. Who are you kidding? The way in which Spanish is spoken in Argentina is way different from Colombia and different from Chile and so on.. and the Spanish in South America and the Spanish in Spain is different too… the way in which Portuguese is spoken in every part of Brazil seems to be different…. and I don’t think the Portuguese from Portugal understand any of the Portuguese from Brazil…
Its crazy… Rio De Janeiro is pronounced as Hio de janeiro in Brazil and Rio de Haneiro in other parts of South America. Pollo (chicken) is pronounced as Poyyo in some countries, Pojo in some and Posho in some….
I really should not complain coming from India. Imagine the poor tourist in India. After every couple of hours of traveling, the language changes.. the script too…
Coming back to South America, its more than three and a half months since I landed in South America. I’ve been making a conscious effort to learn the language…. If God paid me for effort, I would be able to sponsor my next trip.
Anyway, why am I writing this post now…. after so long… Just 2 weeks back, I spoke for 7 minutes on the phone with a Police officer in Rio De Janeiro Airport about renewing my visa. Totally in Portuguese. Phew! I am serious. If you do not believe me, check with my friend Aarti. She witnessed the whole conversation. And today, I did something even more outrageous… I called a friend in the United States and left an angry voice mail in Portuguese. All in Portuguese. So, I think Im finally getting the hang of how Portuguese works… Well, I’ve used a couple of techniques for learning the language. Just thought it might be interesting….
Rule No 1 – Do not get psyched by people who are ‘natural born language learners’. Por exemple, my travel partner Neesha was learning to say words like extraordinary, probable, destiny, etc when I was still stuck with Good morning and Thank you. She is incredible with languages. Right now, she is headed further North and I am sure she already knows the dialect there.
Rule No 2 – Watch movies and tv. In South America, they have all the international channels and subtitles in Portuguese and Spanish. As you listen to English, read the subtitles. That’s a very fast way of picking up words. In about 1/2 hour, you can learn close to 30 words atleast. Ofcourse, if you are watching some real trash, then you will learn swear words earlier than anything.
Rule No 3 – Buy a dictionary before heading out. Phrasebooks and Teach yourself books won’t get you anywhere. With a dictionary and South America in front of you, you can translate anything – billboards, menu cards, flyers, etc. That way, you will start learning. Fast trackers can buy books in that language and start reading. For me, I am just still reading billboards.
Rule No 4 – Listen to people. Then, talk to people. Irrespective of how horrible you sound, just try to talk. It doesn’t pay to be shy. Hang out with people who don’t speak English… you’ll be forced to learn. And then, when you feel like its too much, hang out with people who dont speak the language you are trying to learn. Whatever you have learnt will be more than what they know and they will probably land up complimenting you and that will only make you feel more charged to learn the language. Psychological feel good tips to learning.
Rule No 5 – Start with simple things and important things. For me, my objective was to learn everything that I needed to learn to save myself in a coffeeshop. On day 1, it took me a frustrating 7 minutes to order coffee and I got really upset. That charged me to pick up coffee stuff. Today, I can walk into a shop and say ‘Cafe sem leche por favor…’ with confidence. Can also ask for ‘coffee to go’, ‘with or without sugar’, ‘how much it costs’, ‘double shot with water on the side’, etc. Its been a real challenge, but if you meet me in a coffee shop, you’ll think I am Brazilian.
Rule No 6 – Decide what your style is. Do you want to be the ‘Wren and Martin’ type or the ‘Sign language type’ or the ‘Word by word type’. To explain further, the ‘Wren and Martin types’ learn everything in a grammatically perfect manner. The sign language varieties use some words and the rest are just gestures and expressions. The word by word type is like join the dots… For eg: Eu, Centro, Bus, Onde means I, Centro, Bus, Where… which actually means I need to go to Centro…. Where can I get a bus… It works.. People understand.. People are glad you are atleast making an effort…
Rule No 7 – Listen to music… Music is one of the best ways to pick up the language… try and choose your favourite songs and look up the translation on the internet… its an interesting way to learn… this also helps you learn some romantic words… (since most of the songs anyway have some romance in them.. its Latin America)
Rule No 8 – Write letters in that language. I spent about 2 hours and wrote one paragraph. Then, I decided it would be good to begin with postcards.
Rule No 9 – Learn some nuances… for example, in Brazil, everything is pronounced with this sounds ‘chee’… Internet is internechee…. Citibank is Cicheebankee…. Hip Hop is Hippee Hopeee… Samba Rock is Samba Hockee… and the Portuguese equivalent of ly in english is mente… Actually is actualmente…. normalmente.. generalmente… facilemente… so, when you are stumped, you can use mente and you will be fine.
Rule No 10 – No more rules….. Just, learn to say ‘I love you’ in the language. If you don’t know anything, you can survive with romance. That’s my latest theory about life.