Friday, 9 January 2009

It's Cold in Lisbon: Learning Portuguese

Yesterday teams of community workers and volunteers went around poor neighborhoods in Lisbon, looking for elderly people living alone who might be suffereing from the cold. Portugal, like much of Europe, has been much colder than usual lately, and the state television network Radio-Televisão Portugal (RTP) has been reporting on how the Portuguese are coping.

How do I know this? From piecing together the short summaries of news items that accompany RTP's internet service and then listening again and again to the report as I work on my Portuguese.

For several years now I’ve been trying to learn the language. Several of my past projects have involved travel to Portuguese speaking countries. The Violets of Usambara has as major characters a couple of immigrants to Montreal from the Azores, and when I was researching that book I spent a week on São Miguel and Santa Maria. My pre-trip language study was helpful, and before I left I road side signs and menus down pat. Then when I was working on Green City, I spent some time in São Paulo, Brazil. By the time I came back from there, I was reading Portuguese very easily. Since then I’ve kept track of what is happening there, by reading the on-line editions of Brazilian newspapers.

Understanding the spoken language is something else though. Spanish was the language I took in high school, I had a roommate from Costa Rica my first year at Berkeley and these days I frequently find myself getting the gist of a simple conversations between Hispanophones on the bus. But for whatever reason the sound system in Portuguese seems so wildly out of synch with the written language that I’m really stuck as I prepare for a trip to Portugal this spring. The next book project will be about the legacy the Portuguese left around the world (there’s a logical connection with my other recent projects, but I haven’t come up with a short explanation of what it is yet) and I’d really like to be able to hold simple conversations and understand more complex things that I do now. Which means that I’ll sign off now, and go watch more internet news from RTP to see if the cold has let up.


lagatta said...

You can also listen to local news - very local for you - on the daily Portuguese-language broadcasts on Radio Centre-Ville. Most of the speakers are Portuguese, though I have heard Brazilians and people from the Lusophone African countries.

I find Brazilian much more easy to understand, as the sound seems closer to both Italian and Castillan, but can follow a newscast in Portuguese Portuguese(comme on dit "français de France"). I very much want to learn Portuguese but think I should perfect my Castillian/Spanish first to avoid confusion.

I'd been having the same problem with German and Dutch. My German is not good, but much stronger than my rudiments of Dutch.

It has been terribly cold in Western and West/Central Europe this winter, and having lived in Italy, I suspect it is more painful in the south, simply because their houses and heating systems are not designed for it. The opposite applied during the extreme heat I lived through in the summer of 2006 - almost as bad as 2003. It was horrible in Netherlands and Germany as the buildings and even public places aren't designed against strong heat and sun, and a relief when I got down to Italy, although the temperature was the same. Ah, pergolas!

A dear friend of mine, in Paris, was born in Brazil to Viennese Jewish refugees from Nazism. He grew up speaking German and Portuguese, and speaks at least 12 languages now. His (second) wife is Greek.

patàmodeler said...
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patàmodeler said...

I find "Portuguese from Portugal" very hard to understand whereas "Brazilian Portuguese" dances in my ears. I used to hate the former and discovered the latter listening to bossa nova. Je ne comprenais pas que ce portugais si laid puisse se transformer en une musique si douce, si suave.

But I speak with quotation marks because there are so many variances. For example, I don't like the ch ch of the Cariocachchch...

My next door neighbours, who are Brazilian, tried to speak their language with other neighbours on our street. Diogo said to me that he couldn't understand a thing. I didn't have the chance to catch a glimpse of this Açorian Portuguese, or if I did, I wasn't able to differentiate it from "Portuguese Portuguese".

Good luck and have fun in your trip to learning this beautiful language. I'll be working on by Brazilian Portuguese in the meantime.

Mary Soderstrom said...

Patricia, I love the idea of Brazilian Poruguese "dancing" in your ears. I had a much easier time in Brazil understanding what was said, and also on the Brazilian TV service when I went looking for news to listen and watch.

That said, my admiration to anyone who speaks several languages well, Maria.

Bom dia!


Lily said...

I find Brazilian much harder to understand than Portuguese from Portugal. There are some Brazilians I understand a little better where the accent seems a bit softer but on the whole I still find it hard. I have internet radio from Portugal on a lot so that I hear it all the time.

I think perhaps I am lucky that I came to Portuguese fresh as I hadn't really learned any other languages beforehand (aside from my native English of course).

Enjoy your studies of this beautiful language!