Aprender outra língua é fascinante e humilhante

Leia texto de jornalista da The Economist sobre a experiência com o português. Ela conta como se sentiu humilhada por crianças quando tentou usar a língua portuguesa no Rio de Janeiro. Em tempo: a jornalista é irlandesa.

Language learning

No, she’s foreign!

Aug 31st 2011, 14:12 by H.J. | SÃO PAULO

LANGUAGE-learning is fascinating, but not for those who can’t take the occasional humiliation.

I live in São Paulo and though I’m sure my Portuguese accent is horrible, it’s horrible in a recognisably Paulistano way. I say the “e” in duzentos (two hundred) with a twang; and I don’t say “sh” for “s”, as Cariocas, or residents of Rio, do. Generally people in São Paulo understand what I’m trying to say—and so do taxi drivers and hotel staff in Rio. Indeed, they are usually so delighted to meet a foreigner who speaks any Portuguese at all that they are highly complimentary, which even if it is more to do with Brazilian hospitality and courtesy, is delightfully confidence-inducing.

Not so Cariocas who don’t have regular contact with tourists. On holiday in Rio with my family recently, I tried to strike up conversation with some children aged around 11 or 12 on the top of the Pão de Açúcar, or Sugarloaf Mountain, one of Rio’s most famous tourist spots. I asked one if they were visiting with their school. (This was an easy guess; they were wearing uniform. But I wanted to practise.) He stared at me, bemused. I repeated: “Vocês estão aqui com sua escola?” No good. He called over a friend. By now I was getting embarrassed, but I tried again. This time he turned to her and said: “Não entendi nada” (I didn’t understand a thing). Only when a teacher came over and repeated my sentence to the children did we get anywhere. Very depressing.

A few weeks before that, in the course of work, I visited a school in Complexo do Alemão, a notorious conglomeration of favelas, or slums, in Rio. The head teacher, Eliane Saback Sampaio, did what good teachers everywhere do: she turned the occasion into a learning experience. She brought me from class to class, introducing me as a visitor—but a visitor with a difference. “Listen to our visitor speak,” said Ms Sampaio said each time (in Portuguese), “and tell me whether you think she was born in Brazil.” Thus set up, I gamely said, “Boa tarde, meninos,” (Good afternoon, children)—and in every room, immediately faced a forest of flying hands as the children called out: No, No! She’s foreign! “That’s right,” said Ms Sampaio, happily. “Doesn’t she sound strange?”

The children guessed I was American, European, Spanish, Argentinian—and then came the next humiliation, trying to explain where and what Ireland is. (Brazilians universally think I’m saying I’m from Holanda, not Irlanda. There are strong trade links with the Netherlands, and Brazil is one of the few places in the world with hardly any Irish emigrants.) I really enjoyed the school visit—Complexo do Alemão was until recently run by drug-dealers, and it was inspiring to see a school doing such great work there. Too bad it came at my expense.

A question for language-learners: what have been your most depressing moments along the path to fluency?

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