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True romance: more than just a language Ellen Bird


True romance: more than just a language

After going straight from high school into undergraduate and then graduate degrees, I doubted I would ever pick another textbook again. But here I am, not even finished my master’s and already beginning to learn a totally new language, Portugues.

Two years ago I moved from my hometown, Halifax, to attend UBC in Vancouver, during which I began dating a Brazilian. As our relationship progressed, I saw how important family was to his culture and how much they wanted to communicate with me, despite the fact that they were still in Brazil.

My boyfriend’s roommate –also a Brazilian- was interested in becoming a Portuguese tutor and I quickly became his guinea pig.  Having learned the principles of noun genre and verb conjugation from French classes in high school and vocabulary and sounds from living in Ecuador, for three months, I was off to a good start! But soon my tutor left for summer holidays and I had to resort to flipping through the Vancouver Library’s beginner Portuguese books. Learning from a book was challenging because I knew I needed to listen to pronunciation and to practice what I’d learned.

I found a free website (busuu.com) that allowed me to learn/listen to vocabulary, practice reading comprehension, test myself, receive feedback on my writing and speaking skills, and to chat online with native Brazilian Portuguese speakers. After only a month of becoming hooked on this fun little website my skills have improved dramatically and I can read and write basic Portuguese sentences. The various accents not present in the English language (i,a,a,o,ô,e, etc) continue to be a challenge for me – “avô” for “grandfather” and “avo” for “grandmother” is just downright confusing – but I have already been able to build new relationships as a result of my efforts with Portuguese.

For example, my friend is renting out a room to a Brazilian girl who has come to Canada to learn English. She’s just started learning and does not have a broad enough vocabulary to carry on full conversations, but speaking together, I am often able to help fill in the English words she doesn’t know. I have been communicating with my boyfriend’s mother as well. She is in Brazil learning English from the same website I am learning Portuguese and, through the site, we have been able to send messages to one another. We now enjoy weekly emails that are half English, half Portuguese. It’s an exciting experience learning Portuguese and now I can communicate in another language. Not only does it bring me closer into my boyfriend’s life, but also opens the doors to me learning more about this beautiful culture. I highly recommend it!

My hope is that I’ll go to Brazil and test my Portuguese in person!

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