“Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The latest in our series of A to Z posts about living in Portugal.
Regular readers will know of my previous mentions of trying to learn Portuguese – you may enjoy What time is it anyway? for example!
Thanks to the FB page Portuguese Lessons for this image
The simple fact is that Portuguese is not an easy language to learn! We are determined to try – and would love to be able to converse with our neighbours and Portuguese friends more easily – and we will keep trying!
But we do find it hard! And we make lots of mistakes!
One of the big problems is that on the Algarve so many Portuguese people in shops, restaurants and the service sector all speak very good English – and they are very ready and willing to speak English to you. Sometimes even my best efforts at Portuguese are met with a response in perfect English … and the challenge then is to continue with my faltering Portuguese when it is so easy to slip back into English! Even the older generation manage to speak English to you – it’s embarrasing at how fluent they are and how bad we are!
I admit if I am trying to do something ‘technical’ or complicated in a shop I will usually ask if they speak English (at least I can ask that in fluent Portuguese!) and if the phone rings at home it’s nearly always cold-callers so I am very quick to pretend I cannot speak any Portuguese at all (!) as they quickly go away!
Speaking on the phone in Portuguese is really hard – it made me realise just how much I rely on sign language and arm signals when I am speaking!
Regular readers of the blog will also know that I am famous for getting my words wrong too – another recent story goes as follows:
I popped into Lidl’s with a friend and she managed to accidentally knock over two bottles of red wine which smashed all over the floor. Not wanting to just abandon the mess (which made an almighty loud smashing noise and spread red wine all over the floor) we waited around for the shop assistant who must surely come rushing over (it was a very loud crash!) – nobody came! After a few minutes I thought ‘I can do this – I can go to the till and get someone to help’ …. so I wandered off to the tills, thinking through the simple Portuguese sentence I would need … and decided that I could manage to say ‘I have a problem with wine on the floor – please can you help me’ (and point to the wine aisle) … (they don’t speak any English in our local Lidl’s so I figured it might be fun!) … I did my best Portuguese and was somewhat surprised at the reaction which was a very dismissive huff and wave of the hand … I wandered back to the wine mess and after about another five minutes gave up waiting … I couldn’t understand why no-one had come to help us. It wasn’t until much later that I realised that what I had actually said was ‘I have a problem with wine on the ceiling…!!’ oops! They must have thought ‘batty English alcoholic…’ and just ignored me.
Note to self – learning words that go together – like hot and cold / black and white / – or in this case floor and ceiling … can backfire on you!
I am a constant source of amusement to our neighbours as well – my neighbour next door can see me from his garden if I am painting in my studio and always likes to enquire what I am painting that week … I am often commissioned to paint pet portraits and I dread him asking me if I happen to be painting a pet dog that week – as I just cannot pronounce the word for ‘dog’ – ‘cão’ properly … that ‘oww’ sound is almost beyond me – so every time he asks me, I reply “cão” and he laughs and says “mooo” and I say “não, não uma vaca … um cão … woof woof” (no, not a cow, a dog!) and he then says ‘oww oww oww’ at me and tries to get me to say cão properly … I dread to think what the other neighbours think of our antics and laughter!
There is fortunately another solution to this problem – paint cats instead – I can pronounce those!
For those who are interested, the one Learn Portuguese series we have found useful is the Michel Thomas method with a detailed and easy to follow series of CD’s – and also a cheap programme we bought and downloaded onto our computer called Linkword Portuguese which uses some bizarre word association methods to help you learn words – but all I can say is – they work! I will always picture a cow vacuuming a field from now on and I will always move father off the sofa if I need a cushion (almofada!)
I am also now helping a Portuguese person to learn to speak better English – he works in the hotel trade and his English is actually very good – but his accent is very awkward. Like many Portuguese who have learnt their English mainly from the television – and often American TV –the accent is often strained and unnatural. This is really helping me with my Portuguese as well – and really testing me too! My qualified teacher status is a distant memory – and my teaching days seem a very long time ago (although I am a qualified English teacher!) so I am often found doing my own homework the night before … how exactly do I describe prepositions and how can I teach them!? And what are the 44 sounds of the English language?
In return, he helps me with pronouncing some Portuguese too – and now I can finally pronounce where I live! I have always had a thing about trying to say ‘urbanização’ – which is difficult when it is in the first line of your address (you’d be surprised how many times you are asked for your address in Portugal!) – so now – finally – I can say it properly … ‘er – ban – knee – za – sow’ (And yes – I know it’s got one of those dreaded cão’s at the end!)
So maybe there is a little hope for me … yet!
And if you are learning a language too – do add a comment below and let me know how it is going!