The Portugues Problem

As a young boy, I would often turn on the Spanish television station and poke fun at how they sounded.  Like any other little boy who had been raised speaking only English, I thought it sounded hilarious.  Years later, as a joke, when my mother would fall asleep on the couch with the television on, I would once again switch the channel to Spanish so when she awoke she was rather confused.  As an eighth grader, I was offered the opportunity to take a very basic Spanish class, but I opted not to participate, although I learned from my friends how to say “No me gusta,” or, “I don’t like.”  Of course I knew a few other basic words.  Hola, adios, como esta, things like that, and much like many of the uneducated fools around, I would jokingly add an ‘o’ to an English word, thus making it Spanish.  I regret being so foolish now.

In high school, I was required to take a foreign language, and my choices were Spanish, French, Italian, or Latin.  Despite being young, I knew Latin was useless, and I was once again persuaded by my silly prejudices of a 15 year old to hate the idea of even speaking French, and since I was somewhat aware that Mexico was closer to me than Italy, I opted for Spanish.  Now, initially, I tried to get into it, but I was in a new school surrounded by people I did not know.  I had never taken a foreign language class before and I felt totally out of place.  I struggled early on mainly because I did not have the courage to ask questions.  Ultimately, I fared ok with my first year and continued with Spanish right through my senior year.  I would not say I enjoyed it, but I reached a point where I knew that I knew enough to get by.  I never thought I would be strong enough to speak the language, but I was confident I could get by well enough to pass the class.  At that point in my life, I saw no point in speaking a second language.

Over the net few years, I maintained what little knowledge I had of the language through basic communication with my co-workers.  I could name all the meats an vegetables and could make basic commands and ask some questions.  When any of my employees tried to have anything more than a very simplistic conversation, I would do my best to recall what I had learned in high school, but I realize now I must have sounded like a caveman.

It was the summer of 2008 that my passion for language grew.  I had been slowly developing friendships with my coworkers and I wanted to be able to speak better with them.  Due to reconstruction of our building, I had three months away from them, but I promised them when we returned, I would speak better Spanish.  I started buying up every program I could get my hands on.  I pulled out my old text books, bought new text books, and began watching only Spanish language television and movies.  While I can not say I never watch TV in English, the fact is, since 2008 I have watched more Univision than anything else.  I try to read the news online in Spanish and listen to Spanish music.  All in all, I have done my best to immerse myself in the language while still living in an English speaking environment.  Since moving into my own apartment, I have made efforts to get work in Spanish speaking restaurants, and although I am rarely successful, I try to speak Spanish with the waitresses when I go out to eat.

As of today, I feel pretty good about my ability to read and write in Spanish, and if it weren’t for my shyness, I would probably speak pretty well too, but this still causes me concern.  In all honesty, when push comes to shove, I can say just about anything I want, even if it doesn’t come out perfectly.  About two years ago, I thought it would be a great idea to add more languages to my collection.  At first it was Italian, then I added French, along with Portuguese and then I planned on moving on to either German or Mandarin.  My goal was to speak in at least five languages, including English, up to as many as eight.  English, Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, German, Mandarin, and possibly an entirely fictional language based on the movie Avatar.  I know, lofty goals, but at the time, I had this feeling that I could do it.  Even if I could not speak each of these languages perfectly, having the ability to have at least very basic conversations with people in all of these languages opened the doors for me to speak to so many people throughout the world.

At first, I struggled with Italian because I did not have a good studying routine, but after trying and failing, I went back to it three months later and I would say I was doing pretty well.  So well, in fact, that I decided to add French.  French was more difficult as far as pronunciation was concerned.  In fact, I found Italian easier to pronounce than even Spanish.  In spite of this, I was proud of my progress.  I was still practicing Spanish, learning how to read and write in Italian, and slowly adding vocabulary to my French.  I could understand most basic news programs I found online and for a while I felt like I was going to pull it off.  I even went so far as to buy a program to learn Brazilian Portuguese.  I thought I could do it all.  Unfortunately, a few things came along to hinder my progress.

Life.  Yes, life was the first thing to stand in my way.  While I am not exactly a social butterfly, I do need to get out once and a while and enjoy life a little.  For a long time my friends were off doing other things, leaving me alone to study.  Once they returned, I sacrificed study time for social time.  In terms of my health, I’m sure it was better for me, but I soon found myself falling farther and farther behind in my studying.  I was a little disappointed at first, but I decided that I was going to focus entirely on Spanish and let the others go for a while.  It’s been a few months now and I have been more dedicated to Spanish but I have not studied any other languages at all.  Honestly, being so dedicated to Spanish was the second hurdle to stand in my way.  It is hard to study Italian or French when I want to say everything in Spanish.  For a while, I attempted to use Spanish as a springboard in learning other languages, but I felt like although I was strong with Spanish, I wasn’t that strong that I could consider myself fluent.  I still have a hard time saying I am fluent despite the fact I can carry on conversations without tremendous difficulty.  Perhaps I am too hard on myself.  In any case, I started feeling like there weren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish all I wanted to accomplish.  I had made charts laying out, hour by hour, day by day, how I was going to study, but it just wasn’t realistic.  Sure, if I never left the house, or only spoke in foreign language when I did, perhaps I could have maintained it all, but the fact was life and the English language got in the way.  I am not one of those people who thinks you have to travel to a foreign country to speak the language, but it is not easy to pick up more than one or two languages at a time here in this country.  Can it be done?  Absolutely.  Can I do it?  That is the point of this post.  It only took me 1300 words to get there.

The reason I am going on and on about all of this is because last night while at work we started discussing the Olympics, or more importantly, where the next Olympics are being held.  It turns out that Rio is hosting the 2016 Summer Games, which surprised me because Brasil is also hosting the soccer World Cup in 2014.  Several months ago, when I discovered Brazil would host the World Cup, it inspired me to learn Portuguese, but I gave myself too long of a goal to do it.  Two years is a long time and there are too many opportunities to quit along the way, and I did, even though, to be honest, I found Portuguese to be my favorite sounding language I have tried to learn.  I had picked up a few words and phrases, but once again, let it slip like Italian and French.  Learning last night that Brazil is going to have two major world sporting events over the course of the next four years has once again lit the spark in me to learn Portuguese.  The question is, how am I going to do it?  It is still a very long time frame, so if I want to be serious about it, I have to break it down, ideally into three month blocks.  Now, anyone who knows me knows I am not a patient person and when it comes to hobbies and such, I want to be an expert in no time at all.  Realistically, if I actually were to break it all down into three month sections I bet I would do very well, but I fear I won’t have the patience to sit still long enough to wait it out.  Of course the program I have for learning Portuguese promises success in only a matter of months, but I think it better to stretch it out.

Here are my concerns.  I have not lost the desire to learn Spanish.  In fact, in addition to attending the book club in Spanish every Friday, I am looking for other opportunities at the Community Center to be more involved and actively speak Spanish as much as possible.  While I have not heard back from the owner of the restaurant, I still have hopes he may call and offer me a position in his Puerto Rican restaurant.  I know I should really just go in there if I really want the job, but something is holding me back.  I was also trying to find out if there were any language based programs within McDonald’s that I could involve myself in, but right now there is not much more than basic language classes.  No matter what, my ultimate goal will always be fluency in Spanish, so can I once again attempt to learn a third language without hampering my progress there?  Of course I visit here all the time and everyone involved would say by all means can I learn Portuguese.  In fact, they would probably encourage me to learn four or five additional languages, but in the end it’s not what they think but what I can actually do with the resources I have available and the time I can devote to it.

I get angry when I look at the stuff I bought to learn Portuguese and see that I did not move forward with it.  On one hand, it would be very easy to sit down and work on it, but on the other hand, I feel anything that takes away from my time to study Spanish is detrimental to my progress.  I’ve worked on plans for this before.  Perhaps I just need to sit down and figure out a time frame I can use that won’t hurt my Spanish studies, or maybe even enhance them.  If I can use Spanish to learn Portuguese (which I tried with my Anki deck for a while) I may be able to increase my level in both, who knows?

In any case, I need to get some lunch.  I’ll let you all know what happens.

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~ by James on August 11, 2012.

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