This semester I have the good fortune of a schedule that caters to my interests: literature and language. Adding Portuguese to the repertoire has offered a lot of insight into my knowledge of the other languages I've studied which are close relatives, French and Spanish. Portuguese is frequently characterized as a fusion of these two languages, with a pronunciation reminiscent of the more pungent Russian. The language is beautiful and the class enjoyable-- made so by a laid back professor and a smaller crop of students (Portuguese is not the mainstream language track).
Last week, after test day, our class convened in Coffee News, a café down the street from campus. Rather than flipping through our textbooks in the classroom, our professor wanted us to get out into an environment that was more natural and conducive to conversation. For our class hour we chatted in broken Portuguese about out summer vacations while sipping on chai tea lattes and smoothies.
Our language labs are also relaxed, being more geared toward exploring Luso-Brazilian culture in the form of cartoons and music videos, while reinforcing vocabulary through charades and drawing games.
But perhaps most eye-opening, has been the video that our professor assigned us to watch for class, the Brazilian documentary, Ônibus #174. Te film chronicles the true story of a man raised on the streets (favelas) of Rio de Janeiro driven to desperation. He held a bus hostage in 2000 and, after a 4-hour standoff, was arrested and summarily killed by the police. The documentary provided incisive commentary that not only looked at the individual story of Sandro do Nascimento but also exposed the social issues that plague Brazil-- undertrained police force, inhumane prison systems, and serious lack of social net for homeless children. It was a surprising discovery for me, but one I was glad of. It reminded me of how learning a language really opens doors into other cultures and brings you into greater awareness and connectivity with places and people in distant hemispheres.