May 11, 2010

Can you learn (or re-learn) Portuguese in three months?

I hoped our three kids - aged 9, 9, and 6 - would pick up some Portuguese during our three-month stay in Brazil. As we are preparing to leave Brazil, the kids are able to communicate wth their playmates. But, they are far from fluent.

Raymi, my six-year old daughter, has learned the most. This is interesting because she was the most resistant at first. When I spoke to her in Portuguese when we first arrived, she once replied "Don't talk to me in THAT language!" That said, when Raymi wanted an ice cream a few days later, she mustered up the Portuguese words to order one. Now, when Raymi is with her teachers and friends, she puts together full sentences in Portuguese and gets her needs and wants across.

Tatiana and Soraya - my nine-year-old twins - were more keen on learning Portuguese, or so it seemed. Tatiana would ask me to talk to her in Portuguese before we came to Brazil. Now, however, when the twins talk to their friends, it is almost always in "Portunhol." They do manage to communicate and will laugh at television shows in Portuguese, but still use a lot of Spanish in their conversations. Nevertheless, every so often, they will play translation games with me.

We are getting ready to leave Brazil (in less than two weeks!!), so I don't know how much longer it would take for them to become fluent. I am sure, however, that they have learned some of the language and that next time we are in a Lusophone country, they will have a head start.

As for me, my Portuguese is still not at the level of fluency it once was. But, it has improved quite a bit. I can even understand people on the phone now. The main reason my Portuguese is not up to par is that I do not speak Portuguese every day. I only engage in extended conversations in Portuguese when I travel out of town to visit friends. When I stay in Cidade Goias, I spend most of my day alone writing or with my family.

It is much quicker to learn (or re-learn) a language when you have full immersion. The kids are only getting full immersion four hours a day at school. (If you look closely at this video, you can see Raymi at her school.) And, I am only getting it when I leave the house.

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