Being born in Colombia, my native tongue is Spanish. It’s a language that immediately makes me feel comfortable. I speak in English everyday with my friends and all of my academic work is in English. However, Spanish still holds a special place in my heart. It’s how my mom communicates with me.
Portuguese and Spanish are extremely similar. So much so in fact, that my University has a “faster” track in the Portuguese department for Spanish speakers. After one semester I felt that I could get around. It just simply made sense. Words were a little different, but the structure and the sound were nearly the same. Since I had grown up knowing the only two languages I’ve ever had to study, I never really learnt the mechanics of language. Grammar is somewhat foreign to me.
After a year and a half of studying Portuguese at Penn, I decided that I was ready to study abroad. I felt my learning from the classroom had peaked. I needed to be speaking it every day.
When I arrived to Brazil it was a bit overwhelming. However, my comfort with South America immediately kicked in and it was almost like being back in Colombia where everyone only speaks Spanish. In fact, the amount of English spoken to me here is surprising. It always frustrates me a bit when someone insists upon speaking in English with me. I have learned to accept it because they are simply trying to learn from me in the same way that I am trying to learn from them.
I think my biggest obstacle has been that I am definitely a very opinionated and intellectually curious person. I like to get involved in class discussions and debate different ideas. This is really challenging in Brazil because I simply can’t say what I want to say in Portuguese the way that I can in English. I understand everything without any problems, but my vocabulary just isn’t at the level that it needs to be to actively participate in a discussion on the topics that I am studying.
The nice part about Brazilians is how friendly they are. Whenever I look particularly lost for whatever reason, or am having a difficult time trying to say something (such as in the deli line at the grocery store) someone who knows some English will step in and begin to work out what I am trying to say.
I really do like being tri-lingual. The other day at the bank, I wasn’t paying attention at the “languages” option page. I accidently hit Spanish instead of English or Portuguese. I was momentarily upset by this careless mistake. Then I realized that I am in fact a native Spanish speaker! This mistake didn’t really matter at all. I spoke all three languages that the ATM machine offered me.
To work in Latin America means to speak and understand the cultures of English, Spanish and Portuguese. I hope to one day work with Latin America. This will be an important job skill for me.
Since I am not a grammar person, this has sometimes been a difficult task. However, I find that watching TV shows, or listening to music in that language, really helps. By integrating it into your life in some other way than homework helps you to learn it more easily by taking some of the pressure off.