Lacking Language

I’m one of those guys that loves to set goals, but often beyond my reach – or life happens and the once important goal I set falls to the wayside. Such has been the case with my goal of learning Portuguese. I had it all planned out, but I haven’t put as much energy into it as I would have liked. My lack of practice came back to haunt me this past week.

As my previous post mentioned, I have been traveling with Martina and one of her host families from Brazil. It has been wonderful, but there have been some communication barriers since the parents don’t speak much English and I don’t speak much Portuguese. But I can tell from the translations Martina gives me, and the little communication we do manage, that both parents have great things to say and that talking to them would be a real delight!

Now, I cut myself a little slack, because Duolingo probably wouldn’t have made me fluent enough to have real deep conversations with them, but every little bit helps. And more than anything I have learned two things from this language experience.

First, learning languages is more than being able to get around a different country or add a skill to your LinkedIn profile. Its about connecting with people. Its about listening to different views and growing from these unique interactions; telling stories and sharing moments.

Second, language doesn’t have to be a barrier. This wasn’t the first time, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time that I connect with people in spite of a common language. And I know this is something that happens to all travelers.In other words, despite the small difficulties of a language barrier, I have genuinely come to love and appreciate Martina’s host family.

10357453_10152300859380677_8262620893160497139_n - Version 2The verbal communication we call language is only one way in which we communicate our feelings, thoughts, and ideas. I’m not going to stop trying to learn Portuguese – though slow my progress might be – so that I have another means of making those human connections.

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That ain’t English…

Well, even though I’m done with school I’m definitely not done learning. And while there are a number of things I could study I’ve been putting my efforts into learning and improving languages. Specifically improving my Cambodian (Khmer) and learning Portuguese (seems like a random combination, but Martina speaks both, so there is  connection) Khmer learning resources are difficult to come across so my learning has been more up to me and creating my own language learning plan. On the other hand, to study Portuguese  I have been using a free app on my phone: Duolingo.

You may scoff at using a phone app to learn a language, but it has several benefits: first, its free; second, its fun, and last but not least, it works for me. Seriously. I go through the little lessons earn points, level up, and learn Portuguese – I double check some of what I learn with Martina so I get the added practice that way.

So why tell you all this? Well, shortly after I started playing/learning with this app a friend of mine posted an infograph (the one below) on Facebook. It categorized the hardest languages to learn (based on English as a first language I think). As you can see, Portuguese is ranked ‘easy’ with a degree of proficiency achieved after about 6 months of study at about 3 hours a day. Long story short, I’ve decided to take this ‘challenge’ and see how proficient I become in Portuguese – though I’ll have to adapt my plan, because I can’t spend 3 hours each day studying Portuguese, I do after all have a wife, child, and a job that take up a considerable amount of time.

Here’s the initial battle plan*: Goal: I want to be able to carry on a basic conversation, read/understand the majority of a Portuguese newspaper, and understand more of what’s going on in a Portuguese film. [I realize these aren’t the most solid measurable outcomes, but give me some time to work out these details].

Time: This is a hard one, because I have to work in language study into my daily life so, realistically I can probably spend 20-30 minutes a day on Portuguese, which means it will take me more like 2 years to become proficient (according to this infograph).

Tools: Duolingo will be my day-to-day study tool. As I progress I’ll watch movies in Portuguese (probably dubbed Disney films or something of that sort) and find simple books to read. Through all this Martina will be like a private tutor and will give me the much needed opportunity to SYL (Speak Your Language – an acronym instructors use in the MTC).

Measuring: This is tricky because I’m not sure exactly how to quantify my skills…Duolingo offers skills tests, but if you have any suggestions please share them with me.

*Goals need to be adaptable as life/ability/etc change in unforeseen ways.

Well, I’m super excited to embark on this learning adventure and I really hope that it doesn’t take me two years to learn Portuguese. All I know is its a skill that will come in handy when we go to Brazil to visit Martina’s family there and I’m sure in ways I don’t even know about yet.