An Inside Look: Language Learning

Some Background:

The Reeses in Portuguese Class, June 2005

In June 2005, Danny and Katie Reese arrived in Lisbon, Portugal, to get a little Portuguese language learning under their belts. At the time, they, along with Nathan Holland, had a desire to go to Portuguese-speaking, Angola, Africa, to do mission work, but no specific plans were in place. They took a three-week crash course in Portuguese taught by Eunice Carapeto to prepare for the day when they would journey to Angola. Now, 5 years later, the Angola Mission Team is together in Portugal to learn Portuguese!

Eunice has been teaching Portuguese to missionaries bound for work in Portugal or Portuguese speaking Africa for over 25 years. The Angola Mission Team is the first full team that Eunice has taught at the same time. We take up three of Eunice’s four two-hour class slots, Monday through Friday.

Step One: Learn how to make the sounds and emphasize the right syllables.

The Challenge: The English alphabet that you can recite in your sleep becomes 26 new Portuguese sounds. If you have studied another language, you know that it is a difficult task to learn new sounds! For example, in Portuguese, the letter “i” is called “e,” the letter “j” is called “jota,” and the letter “h” is pronounced “ah-gah,” just to name a few. Each letter makes a new sound and when you combine letters they make new sounds of their own.  If you find an “o” at the end of a word you pronounce it “oo” and if you find an “s” at the end of a word, then you end the word with a “sh” sound rather than a “ss” sound.  Therefore, when you find an “os” at the end of a word it is pronounced “oosh.”

How we overcome this challenge: We may never master all the sounds of the Portuguese language, but we practice, practice, practice to have the best accent that we can have. At first Eunice gave us lists of sounds to listen and repeat until absorbed. In class we read our homework, books, and other literature aloud to practice our pronunciation and Eunice corrects us as needed.

Teague, Jordan, & Katie's Portuguese Class, November 2010

Step Two: Learn the grammar.

The Challenge:  Our communication is limited by how much grammar we know.  So gradually Eunice introduces various grammar concepts and we advance as we become more proficient in these concepts. Eunice says that with

Portuguese “there are lots of rules and few exceptions” and with English “there are few rules and lots of exceptions.” Keeping irregular verbs straight and using the right preposition are difficult at first, but with practice we become better and better at it.

How we overcome this challenge: In addition to a constant diet of worksheets, where repetition starts to give us an ear for correct grammar, translation is also helpful for becoming more proficient. We translate English writing into Portuguese and Portuguese into English, correcting our mistakes with Eunice so that we can grow in our understanding of Portuguese grammar.

Step Three: Learn how to spit the words out of your mouth.

The Campbells in Portuguese Class, September 2010

The Challenge:  Our tongues need loosening. As much as we can communicate on paper or even verbally in class, it is very difficult to come up with the words on the spur of the moment. Our brains are trying to use the right words, right pronunciation, and right grammar all at the same time and it is very difficult to just spit the words out when we are conversing with someone at church or other people who we encounter in our everyday lives.

How we overcome this challenge: More practice. Not only do we practice sounds and grammar, but we practice speaking and conversing. Along with the conversation and reading aloud that we do in class we recite “grupos.” Grupos are a list of statements and questions, designed by Eunice to help with fluency, that are more like tongue twisters to those of us who haven’t been speaking Portuguese very long. Each list comes with a time limit and we practice reciting the list over and over until we are able to read the list clearly under the allotted amount of time.

So there you have it! Throw in some new vocabulary here and there and you are practicing and learning the Portuguese language!

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply