Language Learning in the Sun

by Sheila Attersley
(Nova Scotia, Canada)

<I>*Brazilian Day 2008, New York City</I>

*Brazilian Day 2008, New York City

Editor's note: The original article was written in English. :o)
To read the Portuguese, click here.



I learned Portuguese while I lived in Brazil as an exchange student.

I graduated high school here in Canada and had decided that I'd rather live abroad for a year then go to university right away. In all honesty, I had wanted to learn Spanish or Afrikaans on my year off, but it wasn't in the cards.

I got a call in February from my coordinator saying that he hadn't heard back from the countries I had wanted to go to, and asked what I wanted to do. I said I'd still like to go to South America. 3 months later I got an email welcoming me to Bahia, the happiest place in the world.

About a week after I graduated high school I was on a plane bound for Brazil. I arrived late, after several delayed flights; delayed flights being a common occurrence in Brazil as I would soon learn.

My host family was at the airport, ready to pick me up. They were all very excited to have an exchange student staying with them; but there was one problem. I didn't speak Portuguese, apart from "sim" and "não"; not only did I not speak Portuguese I also didn't understand it...at all.

My first few weeks were difficult, the first few months really. There were lots of times that I just felt left out, because I didn't understand what people were saying. After two or three months I could understand what people were saying but I still couldn't participate in conversations very well.

It wasn't until December that I could really speak in complete thoughts. The first time I noticed myself having a conversation was backstage at a show I was at with my host mom and aunt; my mom was late and I was chatting with my aunt, but I was coming up with full sentences, it was an amazing feeling.

Part of the reason it is such a special memory is that music was a huge help for my learning, I was always singing along with the radio, and in the car with my sister as we drove to the beach; I looked up lyrics on the internet and then translated them, and BAM I learned a new wordEu aprendi português fazendo intercâmbio como estudante no Brasil.

Over the next 5 months I continued to improve and by the end of my year there I was fluent. I wasn't as good as some of my other exchange student friends, but I could hold my own (and I could surf better than them so we were even).

I started off carrying my Portuguese to English dictionary with me everywhere, but by the end of it I was OK to take on the city without it; I still have it on my shelf, a little wrinkled, and torn in a few spots, but it still does the trick.

Together with my friends we experienced Carnaval in Salvador, and acarajé and what it was like to live in summer all year round. We learned the bus system so we could get around and visit and I even taught English for a few months.

Almost a year after returning there is hardly a day that goes by that I don't wish I was still there.... I feel 'saudades' everyday, for my family, friends, for the beach and the sun, and the food. I still talk to my friends and family every now and then; not as often as I would like, but it helps me remember all my Portuguese.

I'm planning to go back next year to visit, or maybe do a semester of university, and that trip just can't come fast enough!



Portuguese version:

Eu aprendi português fazendo intercâmbio como estudante no Brasil.

Quando terminei o ensino médio aqui no Canadá, decidi que gostaria de viver um ano no exterior antes de ingressar na faculdade. Pra ser honesta, eu queria aprender espanhol ou algum idioma africano durante o ano seguinte, mas não era viável.

Em fevereiro, recebi um telefonema do meu coordenador dizendo que ele não havia tido retorno dos países que eu gostaria de visitar, e me perguntou o que eu queria fazer. Eu disse a ele que gostaria de ir à América do Sul. Três meses depois, recebi um e-mail de boas-vindas vindo da Bahia, o lugar mais feliz do mundo.

Na semana seguinte à minha formatura do ensino médio eu estava no avião a caminho do Brasil. Custei a chegar, após diversos atrasos no vôo; tais atrasos são comuns no Brasil, o que logo aprendi.

Minha família anfitriã estava no aeroporto, pronta pra me receber. Eles estavam muito animados em ter um estudante de intercâmbio morando com eles; mas havia um problema. Eu não falava português, só sabia dizer ‘sim’ e ‘não’; mais do que apenas não falar português, eu também não entendia... nem um pouquinho.

Minhas primeiras semanas foram bem difíceis, na verdade, os primeiros meses. Diversas vezes eu me sentia um peixe fora d’água, por não entender o que as pessoas estavam dizendo. Depois de dois ou três meses eu já estava entendendo, mas ainda não conseguia participar das conversas muito bem.

Quando chegou dezembro eu já conseguia expressar meus pensamentos de forma completa. A primeira vez que percebi estar conversando de verdade foi durante um show que eu estava assistindo com minha mãe e tia anfitriãs; minha mãe chegou atrasada e eu estava conversando com minha tia, mas eu estava falando frases inteiras, foi um sentimento maravilhoso.

Em parte, esta é uma lembrança especial porque a música desempenhou um papel primordial em meu aprendizado, eu sempre estava cantando com o rádio, e no carro com minhas irmãs a caminho da praia; eu procurava algumas letras na Internet e as traduzia e TCHA-RAM, lá vinha uma palavra nova.

Nos próximos 5 meses eu continuei a melhorar e quando o período de um ano estava por terminar eu falava com fluência. Eu não era tão boa quanto meus outros amigos do intercâmbio, mas eu me virara (e eu surfava melhor do que ele, então estávamos empatados).

Comecei a carregar meu dicionário de português-inglês pra todo lado, mas no fim do período eu já ia ao centro sem ele; ele ainda está aqui na estante, um pouquinho amassado, gasto e com orelhas, mas ainda desempenha seu papel.

Junto com meus amigos nós aproveitamos o carnaval e o acarajá de Salvador, e era como se o ano inteiro fosse verão. Aprendemos o esquema dos ônibus e assim podíamos passear e conhecer as redondezas e eu até ensinei inglês por alguns meses.

Já faz quase um ano que voltei e dificilmente passo um dia sem ter vontade de ainda estar lá... sinto saudades todo dia, da minha família, amigos, da praia e do sol, e da comida. Ainda converso com eles de vez em quando; não tão freqüentemente quanto gostaria, mas isso me ajuda a recordar o português.

Estou planejando voltar lá pra visitar no ano que vem, ou quem sabe estudar um semestre da faculdade, e já não vejo a hora de viajar!


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