One of the few benefits about travel for work is the opportunity to learn about different cultures and places. One of the best ways of doing this is to actually interact directly with the natives instead of hiding behind a guide or person to translate for you. Unfortunatly in many places where the language is so different from our own we have little choice.
I however was blessed to be born a Cuban, and as such was raised speaking Spanish. So when I travelled to Chile, for me it was an opportunity to get to practice my spanish further, and perhaps improve it a little, since I had most likely become a bit rusty in the land of "El Gringo".
Now here in Brazil, Portuguese is the main language..not Spanish. However, I have discoverred that both languages are fairly similar. In fact I can fairly easily read portuguese if not speak it. Also if people spoke to me slowly I could even understand them...mostly. Vice Versa as well. This was because the spelling and pronounciations were slightly different but the base was almost the same. For example I noticed that if a word would be spelled with a "ue" in spanish, it was spelled with an "O" in portuguese. An example is the word door in spanish "Puerta" is spelled "Porta" in portuguese.
These rules do not always apply, nor is it always that simple, but generally I have found the words are similar or even the same, simply pronounced differently. So I bought myself a English-Portuguese dictionary, and set out to learn by speaking to people around the office here when I have a chance. I found it helps to have silly phrases all set out Like my favorite to use that seems to get people giggling is "Isso e Louco!" ( Thats crazy!)
In fact that phrase proved to be a real ice breaker with the staff of folks that sit around me here in Sao Paolo. Since being here I am sitting in the middle of a cube farm surrounded by legal clerks and para legal secretary types. It seemed everyone stayed to themselves or on their own. Never saying hi or anything. I then found out from my local coworker who speaks excellent English, that they are shy because they are nervous about having to speak English and they cant, although they are trying to learn. So they simply avoid me.
So I said "well introduce me", because I wanted to learn to speak Portuguese and who better than people who do not and cannot speak to me otherwise. So He popped up and said something that was like "Hey everyone this is Javier and he asked me why no one speaks to him?, I said because they are shy" All of the sudden there was all of this chatter around me and one or two the women came up to him and said something like "I will kill you", but came over and introduced themselves and then laughed at themselves when they screwed up the "English" introduction. I then informed them I was trying to learn to speak portuguese, and showed them my cheat sheet that I had downloaded from the internet. The one thing I had written on top by hand was the translation "Isso e Louco" and they saw this and started to laugh, in fact this sheet made its rounds all over the floor. It was kind of funny. I had all of these people coming over to me asking for me to send them the link for this site.
It was like a language explosion had happened. It turns out that alot of them were trying to learn English and so they were eager to try and use it but felt intimidated. So it helped that I looked like a fool trying to speak portuguese ( well they THINK its because of that ;) because they were now not so ashamed or fearfull of goofing themselves, since I beat them to it. Now, days after I still hear people in the distance saying in broken English "I am learning English" and its funny. My local coworker thinks it quite funny. Because nobody ever tries to speak to him or ask him questions, now all of the sudden everyone around here is All over this English language thing. I also have a large number of folks that try to speak with, and who are kind enough to show me the correct way to say something. Luiz my local coworker said that he has heard people saying that now they have a friend from America who they can talk to in English. Its funny. Its been fun I have to say, and its made this chore of working away from home a little more bearable.
Saturday, November 15, 2008