Friday, August 29, 2014

Language Learning 101

Moving to a new place can be strange.  

“Strange and unfamiliar…I suppose this all feels pretty foreign to you," 
Google replied when I asked her what foreign means anyways. 

It’s pretty easy to feel like an incompetent toddler when you’re surrounded by people speaking a beautifully fast language you know nothing about. You can try to memorize key phrases and words—which probably works out great if you perform well under pressure. However if you’re like me and instinctively go deer in the headlights, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

I’ve already lost count of embarrassing moments I’ve had here. I tend to feel a real sense of urgency when trying to speak, only to mumble completely false statements in my haste.  For instance, just yesterday I quickly told a hostess at a restaurant I was meeting ‘meu amigo’ and she brought me to a table with two men (really I meant to say ‘minha amiga’-girl friend). Queue awkward glances from all parties involved.

And then I got locked in between two gates at a friend’s place and had to make a call to the management for assistance to get out. Couldn’t seem to articulate my predicament with my limited Portuguese vocab so I kept repeating “EU PRECISO SAIR” I need to leave, despite his ever-changing follow-up questions. Luckily meu amigo knew how to help a gringa (white foreign girl) out.

During all my daily encounters like these, I can see the pain the brasilieros feel for me.  These Cariocas really are expressive people. When I feel embarrassed, they too feel embarrassed for me. When I show hesitation, they stare silently like I am a delicate creature they can’t understand. When I speak timidly, they speak very little back.  Yet when I laugh, they laugh with me. When I show humility, they help correct my errors. 

“It’s like you’re my mirror,” JT sings over the Zona Sul radio*. And ain’t that the truth. 

It seems that my interactions are mirroring the emotions I feel.

After realizing this, I started observing other native English speakers and how they converse with the locals. The more confident the speaker, the more positive the interaction. Pretty intuitive, right? Great, so now I just need to figure out how to be less awkward.

Or maybe I just need to let go of the idea of being awkward at all.

The expectations I once had to communicate with those around me in a sophisticated way is no longer valid in a foreign language. Instead of trying to save face like an educated, twenty-something feels they should, I think I need to embrace my toddler Portuguese brain.

The importance of mindset: step one of Language Learning 101.

And if that means spending more time in the happy baby yoga pose and practicing 2 word sentences, then alright. Three cheers for baby brains, patience and a more fluent tomorrow.



Learning how to be a Carioca (you know, assimilating)

*Cultural Side Note: American music is played everywhere here. Team America is so trendy!

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