I’m learning Brazilian Portuguese. Partly because I’ve been tempted with the idea of living there for a while, partly for Capoeira, and partly because I just like having something to learn and I’ve always been a fan of languages. At various times I’ve been able to speak French, Spanish and Welsh very well, and I’m slowly approaching Advanced-Level American English.
The idea of language classes really doesn’t appeal to me: I’ve never been much for classroom-based learning, and it’s shockingly expensive. Fortunately, I have a range of other options. The best approach is always immersion: placing oneself in an environment where no other language is available whatsoever. It’s how I originally learned Spanish from 14 year old boys who, as I discovered when I turned in my first written assignment for a high-school Spanish class, were rather foul-mouthed.
When that’s not available, then conversation with a native speaker – the more casual the better – can be a great help, and watching subtitled films or TV shows is a strong choice too. As one becomes more comfortable, watching these without subtitles or trying to listen to radio shows/podcasts is a pretty intense way to hone language skills.
After I’m home in Wales for a few days, with my mother speaking to me in Welsh and the TV & radio playing Welsh shows in the background, I find myself able to understand the radio and follow the (terrible) storylines of her favourite Welsh soap opera, but that all disappears again when I head over to England or back to New York, and soon the only Welsh I can remember is the name of that really long village. It’s Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, if you’re interested, and it’s much easier to pronounce when you realise that ‘ll’ and ‘ch’ are single letters in the Welsh alphabet. Anyone who actually lives near there just calls it Llanfair PG, but tourists enjoy buying a train ticket there or sending a letter from the post office.
As I get a little better at Portuguese, then, I’m going to try and start speaking it more generally with the people in my Capoeira group: our current Portuguese conversations are generally very small sentences concerning different ways to kick people, or avoid being kicked. I’m also looking at Craigslist language exchanges, where I can meet up with someone Brazilian a couple of a times a week and we can alternately chat in English/Portuguese and help eachother out with our respective native languages.
Finally, I’ve discovered Netflix has a whole set of Brazilian films which I can’t wait to watch. There’s a whole world of action thrillers, comedies, artsy films and even Capoeira films waiting for me as soon as I can get the basics of the language sorted.
For now though, I’m having fun with iPhone apps and Rosetta Stone. More on those later.