We’ve been in Portugal part-time for a year now and for most of that time we’ve made learning the lingo a big priority, but it’s not easy. Keith, my beloved, isn’t the world’s greatest linguist, having sent our first teacher into despair with his incessant engineer/scientist need to know ‘why’ teacups are feminine and flowers are not. Our teacher said that one lesson with Keith was more exhausting that four lessons with other students. We, not feeling that this was a way to encourage a student, gave him the heave-ho and found someone with more patience (or Valium). I was doing a bit better and got to the advanced stage of being able to take a radiator back to the shop and tell them that it only had three wheels instead of the requisite four and negotiating a replacement. Our lack of any victims to practise on is out main problem. We live in a rural location and have no cause to speak to random strangers in public apart from at our local bar, and even then it’s difficult to strike up some small talk when the chance of me knowing what is said back to me is slim.
In a bid to get more exposure to listening to the language, I have been watching Portuguese TV on Youtube, namely Chef’s Academy, which is the local equivalent of Master Chef. I can’t work out why it’s called Chef’s Academy and not something in Portuguese, but there we go. It’s a vaguely familiar format, where a presumably celebrity chef demonstrates three dishes simultaneously whilst the contestants watch on scribbling furiously in their notebooks before having a go themselves and the getting horrendously slated by the judges. What makes it useful as a learning tool is that it is very visual and relatively limited in communication with not much of a plot to follow. What makes it useless is that all I am learning is a wide vocabulary of cooking terminology. Well, it’s a start.
Weirdly, I feel more comfortable here than I do in the UK. It’s almost as though there is liberation in not knowing what the hell is going on, which, rather than get anxious about, makes me brave and fearless. I am undoubtedly more sociable and willing to speak to new people in Portuguese than I am in English. Poor buggers.
This past week, I have taken my efforts to have something useful to say to the friendly people at our bar rather than the bog standard greetings to a new level. I have been at the Cial Language School in Faro for a week studying Portuguese for 6 hours each day. I don’t recall ever being so uttlery exhausted, close to tears, migraine and nausea. Don’t let any of that put you off – it’s been fantastic on all counts except those. The school operates a variety of options from group classes to individual lessons and I opted for a mix of both, hence the language overkill. Most people do a 3 hour group class in the morning as I did, but I added a 2 hour individual lesson in the afternoon, which with hindsight was a bit much.
The school itself was a warm and positive experience with students from all over the world (me being the only British person there) and of all ages and levels each wanting to learn Portugues for different reasons – some just for the fun of it. I was the only person living in Portugal. I am told that in the summer the demongraphic is younger and groups are larger. I have spent the week with two Swiss people in my class, both older than me, both serious and committed learners but both happy to go out for lunch (still speaking Portuguese, which the youngsters appear not to to) and crack a joke or two.
I already had a basis in Portuguese from my Skype lessons with a tutor, but have found the opportunity to speak to a number of people in the group and the school has had an amazing effect on my ability. The lessons follow a course in the form of a book, exercises and discussion with opportunities for reading, speaking, writing and listening. All of the teachers I came into contact with were full of energy and interest. I can’t praise the place highly enough.
Next week I return home to inflict my new found grammatical abilities on an unsuspecting population out in the hills. I can start asking questions about growing vegetables. Now what is the word for aubergine…