It’s been a long time since I’ve written in this blog. I didn’t stop because I was lazy, or tired, or bored…in fact, I had a very important reason–the resuscitation of my Spanish. As it turns out, learning a third language has caused quite a bit of chaos in my brain. Maintaining a language while not using it is extremely difficult, especially when trying to learn another language. The longer I am in Brazil acquiring Portuguese, the more it is taking over the “Spanish” section of my mind, and the harder it is for me to keep my Spanish at the level it was when I left Madrid a little less than a year ago.
I came to this realization about a month ago while conversing with a Spanish-speaking friend here in Brazil. While talking, it dawned on me that my Spanish vocabulary and grammatical structures were being replaced by Portuguese. For example, during our discussion about the security issue in São Paulo, instead of saying the Spanish word for safety, seguridad, I used the Portuguese translation, seguranza. Another time when it was cold and rainy and I wanted to express the impossibility of going outside, I said “No da para salir hoy,” instead of “No se puede salir hoy, or es imposible salir hoy.” Recently, when I am in shock or surprised about something, “Nossa!” replaces the “Madre mía” that I used to utter just 7 short months ago. I now have exchanged the Spanish verb coger (*Note, Spain Spanish) with the Portuguese verb pegar. Like Spaniards and coger, Brazilians use pegar for everything! Pegar o ônibus, pegar uma coca cola, pegar uma menina na balada i.e., Michel Telo “Ai se eu te pego”
Anyways, keeping up with all of these differences has created a mess in my head. Uff! Qué lío.
These small changes may seem insignificant, and when I first arrived to Brazil, I thought they were funny slip-ups, but it was becoming more apparent that Portuguese was taking over my brain. Now, maybe that’s not a big deal to some people, but to me it was devastating and simply something that I could not allow to happen. Of course I love learning Portuguese and any other language, but my Spanish is so precious to me, and is something that I could not bear to lose. So what did I do? I headed down to Avenida Paulista in the center of the city to the Instituto Cervantes, which is a non-profit organization run by the Spanish government in order to promote the learning of the Spanish language and culture worldwide. I’d always known about the Instituto Cervantes, in fact, I walked by the main office nearly every day when I lived in Alcalá de Henares, but of course I never felt the need to go there while living and studying in Spain.
Fortunately, one of my best Brazilian friends that I met in Spain happens to work at the Instituto Cervantes, and she suggested some courses that I could take to practice with some native speakers. The only problem was that these classes were fairly expensive and I wasn’t willing to pay loads of money to speak Spanish. Well, after my first visit there, as luck would have it, a few of the Spaniards were extremely excited to meet a native English speaker, and suggested an intercambio. YES! For those of you who have never studied or lived abroad, an intercambio is when you meet with someone to practice languages. For example, you can meet at a café or bar and speak Spanish for half an hour and then English for half an hour. It’s a free way to meet friends and converse in the language that you wish to learn!
That brings me to why I stopped writing in this blog. After starting my weekly intercambios, I decided that I should take the DELE C level test offered by the Instituto Cervantes “for fun” to motivate me to study and work on my Spanish writing as well. Yes, I wanted to take a two-day, intensive exam “for fun.” I think that officially qualifies me as a Spanish nerd, but I love it! To fully focus, I had to stop writing in English for a time and strictly concentrate on Spanish.
I spent this past month writing, reading, and speaking with my intercambios in Spanish, and finally this past Friday and Saturday I took the DELE. It had been about 6 years since I took my last standardized test, and wow, this DELE was quite an exam. The folks over at the Universidad de Salamanca who create it are surely trying to torture the exam candidates, I am certain of that! It is so long and filled with technical articles for reading comprehension, long listening sections, formal presentations, letter writing, essay writing; en fin, a Spanish ultra marathon.
After the whole experience I left the Instituto in a daze, starving and exhausted. I stumbled around Avenida Paulista, thinking in Spanish, but again surrounded by Portuguese. I tried to think clearly, but the only thing on my mind was food, and for some reason, the only food I could think of was açaí (the Brazilian super fruit packed with energy, probably one of my favorite things about this country.) So, I walked into the nearest café and ordered it in my broken Spanish/Portuguese/English, because, by this point, my brain was so fatigued that I could not speak properly in any language. As I was leaving to pay, I handed the waitress my Cervantes library card because I was too exhausted to realize it wasn’t my Itau debit card. The woman kindly asked for my real debit card, so I embarrassingly paid and left the restaurant. As I exited, I walked into a huge manifestación (protest) on Avenida Paulista and was bombarded by cameras and a woman inviting me to participate in A Marcha das Vadias, which in English means, “The Slut Walk.” I think it is a march to create awareness about domestic violence, but I was too out of it and tired to realize what was going on. To make matters more confusing, I was then interviewed by some news channel regarding my opinon about the march. I wish I could have seen what I looked like, because I’m fairly certain that nothing coherent came out of my mouth. I just remember saying “Ummm, uhhhh…..não, obrigada??” (Ummm, no thank you?).
Ahh, the results of trying to maintain three languages!
Somehow after that whole encounter I made it onto the metro and back to my apartment where I took a shower and passed out on my bed. This three-language existence is certainly something that requires time and lots of energy, and if I want to maintain all of these idiomas, I can’t stop working and practicing all of them. Something that does make me happy, however, is that it has been quite difficult to write this blog article in English (Note, please excuse any grammatical errors or awkward phrases). While writing this, I have had the urge to use sin embargo or asimismo instead of the English connectors “however, or in addition.” YES, Spanish is back in my brain….but we’ll see how long that lasts…
Until next time, Hasta luego, até logo, see ya later!