When I arrived here in Jundiai, I was having a really hard time understanding what anyone said in Portuguese. I was really disappointment with myself. I had expected to be just fine since we’ve lived in the country before, and had become quite proficient before we left just a year ago. I know a year away is a long time, and I thought it might take me a day or two to pick it back up, but I was still really struggling after two weeks.
I think I underestimated the accent.
Here in the state of Sao Paulo, which is about a ten hour drive away from our previous home in the state of Rio de Janeiro, there is a marked difference in patterns of speech. The “r”, “t” and “ch” sounds are pronounced quite differently here, and there are local phrases that we weren’t familiar with.
In Rio das Ostras, our waiter brings us a beer and we say, “Obrigada”, she replies, “De nada”.
In Jundiai, our waiter brings us a beer and we say, “Valeu”, and she replies, “Imagina”.
But we’re getting there. It’s been a month, and I realized today that I’m not struggling as much. I’m picking up pieces of every conversation and understanding about 85% of it all. I haven’t had to ask a cashier or waiter to repeat themselves in days, and I’ve followed every dinner conversation we’ve had with friends with minimal confusion. I think I’ve finally turned a corner.
I still struggle a bit with vocabulary as there are just some words that I don’t know yet, and I know the cure for that is to read and study, and to ask questions when I can. Still, I’m feeling a lot more confident and have stopped getting nervous when the phone rings, or when I have to ask someone for information. It makes me truly grateful that everyone here from the hotel staff to friends from Brian’s work have been wonderful, and so helpful.
Going out for dinner and drinks with Brian’s co-workers has been a huge help as well. When there are six or eight people at the table, one of them doesn’t speak English and one of them doesn’t speak Portuguese, there is this wonderful mix of language that seems to flow in the best way. Hearing the in-the-moment translations of all of our personal stories and jokes helps us fill in the gaps with the words we don’t know yet, and the beautiful rhythm of Portuguese sinks in a little bit more each time.
Learning a second language has always been a goal of mine. Having this chance to finally do it, and to learn in the best environment possible is a dream come true.