(Mission update; no language/travel tips in this post!)
Time flies when you’re having fun, and Brazil is about as much fun as you can have! In less than one month already, I’ll be flying back to Ireland for Christmas! My purpose in Brazil this time has been the ambitious goal of convincing Brazilians that I’m one of them before my (less than 3 month) time limit runs out. So, will I make it??
I was well aware of most of the difficult challenges that lay ahead of me when I started; I have conquered some of them and discovered new ones. Honestly, it could still go either way! But it’s looking harder and harder to reach the stage where talking to someone for 2+ minutes will have them genuinely surprised when I slip up or naturally say where I’m from. However, I won’t give up until the end of my stay here
The good news:
The good news is that I have definitely hugely improved my Portuguese; much more so than I would by just leaving it to improve “naturally” by simply living in the country. I’ve worked hard, spoken only in Portuguese nearly all the time and the results are evident.
Everybody who talked to me at the beginning of my time here, or before it, has noticed that I’m speaking so much better now. This was always the priority for me, so I’m very glad to say that my informal/streetwise vocabulary has improved, my body language and general communication with locals is much better and my accent is greatly reduced, especially with regards the music of sentences.
Rather than rely on compliments to judge this, I can see by a slight change in the interactions with my Brazilian friends, who no longer speak slowly with me or use as much formal vocabulary, which they wouldn’t do so often between one another, in order to help me. As I’ve learned about the Carioca dialect of Portuguese, I’ve also learned a little bit about Carioca culture and the act of sacaneando (taking the piss, or light-hearted mocking) is really popular among friends (more so than many other western cultures, but about as much as in Ireland, so it doesn’t take much getting used to) and they do this more now as they see that I am not likely to get offended due to misunderstandings.
Some of them were very glad to read why I love Brazilians so much, and have assured me that based on my attitude and my own understanding of Brazil, that no matter how well, or badly, I speak Portuguese, that I’ll always be “Brazilian at heart”. This acceptance is a huge achievement in itself and something I’ll always be proud of hearing.
The bad news:
Despite trying to act Brazilian, the (somewhat) bad news is that my accent is still convincing people of the same thing as was when I arrived; that I’m actually from Portugal!! In fact, it’s happening to me even more now than when I first arrived, as I make less grammatical mistakes that I needed to iron out. Despite making huge improvements in the music of the language, I’m still eating my unstressed vowels and not opening my mouth enough as I speak. This is a very easy thing to get over in theory, but when speaking at machine gun speed in an active conversation, this way of speaking is still not natural enough to me, and is therefore not so easy to control.
I just need to keep practising, and working on this problem will be one of my priorities in the next few weeks. Even after my time in Brazil I will have to work hard on this, because it will hold me back in trying to speak other languages with no accent. This doesn’t happen so often when I really focus on speaking clearly and using as many gírias from Rio as possible, that they’d never hear elsewhere. In that case they say that I sound much more Carioca, but it still requires me to force it a bit.
On the plus side, I can use this to my advantage for the point of view of the mission, and claim that I have at least achieved the stage of convincing people that I’m a native. This was not my initial goal and it only works with those who are just vaguely familiar with the Portuguese accent, but it’s something – and I’m always one to see how the glass can be half full
Despite the progress that I’ve made, as I said in the first month summary, I could have done much more. This time I can quantify the cause much more clearly, of simply not socialising enough.
I live in a really nice penthouse apartment (that I got for an amazing monthly rate using a combination of Indian haggling skills and Irish charm!) and this has actually been a bad idea since I feel more inclined to invite people here rather than go out to meet them, especially since I get so many visitors from nature anyway to add to the amazing views that I’d like to share with people.
This means that I’ve been lazy to leave the house as often as I should – I am officially striking “live in a penthouse apartment” off my bucket-list and getting somewhere simpler in future language-missions to encourage me to stay in the house less when I’m not working. Ideally, I’d live with other locals, but this has been difficult with my home-based job, where I need a quiet environment whenever I’m working. I’ve already lived with over 70 flatmates (not counting almost a thousand couchsurfers), so I’m enjoying having my own space for the moment
I go out to socialise about 3 times a week, but since I live alone and not within walking distance of any of my friends, this makes me a bit lazy on the other days and I end up only superficially interacting with people in shops etc. It is simply not immersed enough and I can go a day or two at a time without having a real conversation, especially when workload increases. Time is no excuse to not make progress in a language, and I have been guilty of using the non-valid excuse of not being “extrovert enough” despite telling others that they shouldn’t either.
So for the next few posts, I’m going to discuss how I’ve been eliminating this problem; especially since a lot of readers tell me they are too shy to try some of my more hands-on methods and get out of their audio courses to actually practise. I’ll be discussing some ways of how I make lots of friends as a lone traveller and adapt to the local culture, without embarrassing myself.
Do you think I was crazy to try to fool Brazilians into thinking I was one of them, or do I still have a chance at succeeding? Maybe the acceptance of being “Brazilian at heart” is enough and I should just leave my accent as it is? How would you deal with the social problem differently? Do share your thoughts in the comments!
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This article was written by Benny Lewis
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