Tuesday, May 01, 2007

frustrations with the language

I'll always remember the day I decided to learn Poruguese. I was at the UN-CEPAL office in Santiago late at night bored. They had a Portuguese dictionary. I read the introduction page and was like, I've never seen or heard Portuguese before but can understand most of this. This is because of how much Spanish and Portuguese have in common. This happens with most combinations of Latin languages, but none more than Spanish-Portuguese (correct me if I'm wrong).

I thought actually learning it would be a breeze. A couple low-level classes at the UA were similarly encouraging. The main 2 verbs are ser and estar. I've heard this before, I thought. Pronunciation was different, but in class seemed manageable. Then I got to Brazil. Now I'm realizing that the pronunciation is much harder than expected even when I knew the pronunciation was hard. My Portuguese teachers in the US had one big difference from typical Brazilians. They were used to Americans and their crappy pronunciation and so recognized mistakes and new what they were saying anyway. Here that isn't the case.

My biggest current frustration is when I pronounce something and the person I'm talking to acts like I'm speaking Greek. Sometimes I'm corrected. The problem is that even when they correct me, I often feel like I had pronounced it just like they were saying. Portuguese has lots of subtleties and intonations that aren't perfectly natural. I'm sure Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Russian and such are much harder. I'm just saying it's a bit unexpected for me right now.

Let me see if I can give some examples of what Portuguese sounds like. First, r's sound like h's. There is no rolling of the r's like in Spanish or anything like that. For you Spanish speakers, correr in Portuguese is pronounced like coger in Spanish. The language also has various noises that come through the nose. Try saying so in English. Now try turning the o into a 5 second hum coming through the nose. Try saying so like that various times. Now try again but cut the hum to just a quick noise. Keep trying that. If you can do that you are getting close to the correct pronunciation of Sao, as in Sao Paolo. It sounds the same as mao (hand), cao (dog), and pao (bread).

Here's another funny example, taken from their pronunciation of the English word rock (rock is pedra in Portuguese, but when you are talking about rock music it's just rock. But guess how it's pronounced? I think you can figure it out, but I'll give you a few clues before I tell you. First, we already learned that you pronounce r's like h's, and that applies here. Also, know that when they adopt English words they often, as in with rock, add a long e at the end when they pronounce it. The last hint is that it is pronounced like another word in English.

Got it? The last clue is that it is a sport. Rock = Hockey.

I'm hoping a couple months from now this will all be second nature, but for now there is the occasional moment of frustration.


Blogger Mary Ziller said...

Nice post. Great blog.

Have you ever noticed that Brazilians seem to swallow the end syllable in some words when they speak English?

words like happy, saturday, nation...

6:54 PM  
Blogger Ryan said...

Yeah, compared with a language like Spanish I think the Portuguese accent doesn't go over as well in English. Thanks for the kind words.

3:14 PM  

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