L is for Learning Portuguese – and English!

“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!

acrylic painting by Alyson Sheldrake

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!)

 Michel Thomas Cds

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!

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15 Responses to L is for Learning Portuguese – and English!

  1. Pingback: L is for Learning Portuguese – and English! – Algarve Blog | My Personal A to Z Challenge

  2. Marianne says:

    I know the feeling, Alyson. Keep trying 🙂

  3. Spanish is definitely easier in that you ‘say what you see’ but I’d struggle to get a sentence of Spanish out these days as I’ve converted what I once knew into Portuguese.

    I still struggle with speaking Portuguese and it’s always a great relief when the person I’m speaking to on the phone has had enough of my attempts to explain what I want in Portuguese and asks “Would you like to continue in English?”.

    I really must sort out some lessons, or maybe a language exchange like you’re doing.

    • ferragudofan says:

      It’s when you realise just how good their English is, it’s embarrassing isn’t it?!??!
      perhaps I’d better just perfect my English first – we covered prepositions yesterday and I suddenly realised just what a difficult and confusing language English can be … not sure if that is encouraging or not?!!

  4. sami veloso says:

    Lovely cat portrait Alyson. Portuguese sure is a difficult language, especially the grammar. But then English has a lot of quirky things too. What a good exchange you have there to learn Portuguese while you teach English. I have to laugh at the “ão” sound, very difficult for all non-Portuguese!

  5. Márcia says:

    Hi Alyson, what a great blog! Google brought me here and I can’t even remember what I was looking for – after spending the whole afternoon reading (some of) your stories and learning about places we’ve never been before (even after nearly 3 years living in the Portimão area!)
    Anyway, I have a tip for you to pronounce the “ão” properly: just use 2 fingers to completely close your nose and say it – that’s the way it should sound (very nasal like). I know… you can’t do it in the shops or people will think you are bonkers… :-), but it is just for you to practice.
    As an alternative for saying cão, say cachorro (ka – cho (as in shone) – rro (as the “ho” in Soho). This also means dog – it is mostly used in Brazilian Portuguese, but even not using it very often the Portuguese know the word – I bet your neighbour is going to be impressed!
    Good luck and don’t give up!

    • ferragudofan says:

      ah welcome to the blog! and thank you for the tip – you’re right I’m not sure how well the ‘fingers up the nose’ trick would look in a restaurant – but I know what you mean – and I shall go off and practice on my own somewhere quiet!
      and thank you for ‘cachorro’ too – I shall try that one! 🙂
      have a lovely weekend

  6. I so admire adults learning new languages. I really cannot imagine how I’d fare…not well, I think! I think the Portuguese language is beautiful. I listen to several recording artists who sing in the language and I find it really lovely. You’ll continue to do fine, because you have such a willingness and openness to learn! 🙂

    • ferragudofan says:

      ah bless you! but if only it was that simple! we do have the radio in the kitchen in Portuguese now and I catch the odd word I understand – and the weather forecast – and then I go to the hairdressers where they are all chatting away ten to the dozen and I haven’t a clue what they are on about!!

  7. restlessjo says:

    My language skills are still at the nodding and smiling stage, Aly, though I’m full of good intent. I did think of doing one to one stuff with a Polish person, but bottled out. I’m quite shy really. (poor excuse) You’ll be loved for trying.

    • ferragudofan says:

      thanks Jo – I love how the Portuguese people respond so warmly to you even if you are hopeless at their language – they really do seem to appreciate any small effort!

  8. Pingback: 2012 in words and pictures | Algarve Blog

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