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I don´t know if I’ve mentioned it before but I’ve moved to Brazil. In Brazil people speak Portuguese. I can´t speak Portuguese. I’m trying to learn but I’m  slow, very slow. It has been a frustrating experience to have my ability to use language to communicate effectively removed.

At times, however, I have taken a perverse pleasure in the obstruction of not being able to use words. It’s like having one of my superpowers removed. Like all good superheroes this has only made me stronger. I have learnt to rely on my other superpowers; smiling, eye contact, gestures, mime, listening, more smiling. My mouth is starting to ache. I haven´t smiled this much since Arsenal won the double.

My life is now free of the clutter of unsolicited conversations. I can´t chat to the cab driver, the person in the shop or the man in the street asking directions. You may well want me to sign up to help Save the Children or Amnesty International but I won’t be able to help because I don’t have a clue what you’re saying. It’s hard to trick me or scam me when I don’t understand you. I usually find no is a good answer to most things I am asked (this might have also been a sensible response to some other situations I have been in but that’s another story).

I am getting used to not understanding what is happening round me, I can tune out the world more easily. I don’t find myself forced to listen in to dull conversations about what you are having for tea just because I’m sitting near you on the bus. No one can try to sell me stuff or talk to me unless I make the effort. I can say ‘ Eu não falo português’ , I don’t  need to learn much more than that do I?

I am going to learn Portuguese. In all seriousness I would consider myself pretty rude to come and live in another country and not learn the language. But it is hard, very hard. My tired old brain, weakened and wasted after years of abuse, doesn´t learn so well anymore. I’m starting to regret each brain cell I carelessly tossed aside in my 20s.

I can’t remember vocabulary, I want to, and I can almost touch the words with the tips of my thoughts, but it’s so difficult. I realised I need my teachers to be energetic, fun and memorable. I need there to be a clear structure. I need to know what I’m doing and why. I need to feel like I am making progress. I need to apply my knowledge to real life situations.

It sounds a bit like OFSTED lesson observation criteria.  Please don´t tell me they were right all along…

I’ve lived on my own for 13 years now. I would consider myself independent and self-sufficient. Any crisis that occurred I had to sort it out. Pigeon in my kitchen, broken fridge, TV not working, locked out, locked in, furniture removed, furniture to buy, banks to phone, bills to pay.

I had help sometimes but usually I could use my communication skills to negotiate a solution. Here in Brazil, I can’t. I have no linguistic skills. I have to ask for help to communicate. It is hard to ask for help. I want to do it myself but I have to be aware of the limitations of my knowledge.

Losing my language has taught me many things:

  • There is a whole world of communication which exists beyond words. These are some of the key skills of a teacher. We are constantly using non-verbal communication to encourage, support and manage our students. A smile is a powerful thing, it can change a situation, it can get things done and it can make you feel safe.
  • Learning new things is hard but it is made easier with good, creative, funny, resourceful, and passionate teachers.
  • Finally, I need to ask for help and accept it when it is given, but truly great help strives to move me to a point where I can do it for myself.

I will learn some more Portuguese. Despite my addled old lady brain and my hard to please teacher as learner mentality, I will learn more, but I hope I learn more than just a new language.

Obrigado pela leitura