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Learning the Language of My New Life

Updated: Apr 2

Language Lessons at My Local

Learning the language of my new life is high on my list of priorities and is not without its challenges. Luckily, I have some neighbors that have been extremely helpful to me, always trying to teach me new words and phrases and help me perfect my pronunciation. Others are less helpful and must be overlooked. Or punished. 

Challenges of the Portuguese Language

Let’s face it. Portuguese is not a beautiful language. It’s harsh sounding and choppy. On the contrary, the Italian language is so melodic and beautiful. I loved learning Italian as it just rolls off the tongue and you can easily convey your current mood by your tone. Portuguese is not like that. I can never tell the difference between my neighbors having a huge argument or a friendly chat. It all sounds the same to me. 

To add a level of difficulty, the Portuguese will simply leave syllables and even entire words out when they are speaking. Just leave them out. Yet they still understand one another. As you can imagine, this greatly increases the level of difficulty for someone new to the language.

Language Lessons With Lara the Fado Singer

When you come to the Alfama, there is no escaping the traditional Fado music that pours out of every cubic meter of the neighborhood. While tourists flock to hear the beloved fado, to me it is the Portuguese expression of complete and utter depression. 

As luck would have it, my favorite local watering hole is directly across the street from a fado restaurant. The fado singers and guitar player come in and out on their breaks for a quick drink and a chat. Lara is one of the singers. She is beautiful with long black hair and a friendly disposition and was one of my first friends in the neighborhood.

Lara has made it a priority to help me learn Portuguese and in return I help her with her English. She says “one new word or phrase a night”. Of course I am not in the bar every night and would learn Portuguese in about 70 years at that pace but it is a lovely gesture and every little bit helps.

Rodrigo “Helps” Out

Rodrigo, one of the brothers that run the bar, also likes to help me practice my pronunciation. Rodrigo is a stickler for correct pronunciation while Lara aims to get me good enough that I can be understood. While I adore Rodrigo, I am solidly on “Team Lara” on this. 

One night, Rodrigo was adamant that I get the pronunciation of my new “word a day” perfect. I was not having much success. I felt like my nephew when he was 3-years old, convinced he was saying “yellow” but it was coming out “lello”. Like my nephew, I thought what I said sounded right but Rodrigo did not agree, insisting I repeat it until it was perfect. 

Lara intervened and the two of them started arguing loudly with one another. I could only watch, feeling like I was in a hostage situation. Given they were speaking Portuguese, it could easily have been a friendly chat and I would not have known the difference. 

They finally settled down and we switched to chatting about Lara’s upcoming concert. In addition to working in the fado restaurant, she is in a popular band. She showed me the band’s youtube videos. One was shot right here in the Aflama!

Learning the “Ugly” Words

One night, one of the fado singers, Afonso, and the guitar player Tomás were taking their break while standing at the bar with me. Afonso is a bit of a jokester as is Rodrigo, while Tomás is quiet and sweet and largely minds his own business. 

Rodrigo was being particularly annoying that night, joking around when we were trying to have a semi-serious chat. Afonso decided it was the perfect time to teach me some new Portuguese words. He pronounced the words and I repeated them back, working hard at saying correctly what I thought was “Rodrigo is crazy”. Rodrigo looked horrified and explained I had said something very unkind about him. It was something I would never say to anyone, not even write here. 

Tomás, who I trust more than any of them, looked at me and said I had not said anything more than “Rodrigo is crazy”. I threw a very displeased look at Rodrigo, who laughed, enjoying his latest prank. I had no choice but to ask Afonso how to say the very unkind phrase so I could more accurately describe Rodrigo’s behavior.

Rising to the Challenge

The tough challenge of learning Portuguese is in front of me but I will not give up! I will master this crazy, maddening language so I can speak with ALL of my lovely neighbors. Even the crazy ones!

*The names have been changed to protect the innocent, guilty and annoying.

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