#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 21

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 21

Day 21

I have began to learn Portuguese again.
I had forgotten how much fun it is to learn a new language, to discover new ways to speak and express the world around me.

Did you know that a fox is uma raposa and a bowtie is um laçarote? But that in french, a fox is un renard and a bowtie is a un noeud papillon (literally a butterfly knot. Isn’t that a wonderful way of describing the item?)? I probably will never need those words, but they are a delight to say.

A lot of the vocabulary I’m learning in Portuguese I already know. After all, I am French and have learned Spanish at school. So it’s not hard to make out what a lot of words are. But some, like uma raposa and um laçarote are completely foreign. I repeat them over and over, letting them roll on my tongue, trying them out until they begin to sound familiar.

I enjoy the sound of them, picturing their shape in my head. I have learned long ago that the best way to learn a language for me is to let go of translation. I do not understand uma raposa as a fox. I picture a fox instead. I do not understand estou come fome as ‘I’m hungry’ (literally ‘I am with hunger’) but as the rumbling of my stomach. I am trying to understand a language, to apply it to the world I live in.

This is an unfamiliar way to learn a language. I use to be taught at school by translating, by comparing and making bridges between languages but this only leads to thinking about a language in a way that is not its own.

English and French for example behave differently. It is only when I stopped translating that I became more familiar with English. I was forced to think in the language to make my sentences work. I needed to understand the mechanics of it to apply it. As a result it took me years to be able to fluently navigate between English and French. They used to be compartmented spaces in my head, each belonging to its own box.

And now, I am creating a third box. I will never be fluent in Portuguese the way I am with French and English but it doesn’t matter. I am not learning Portuguese to move to the country. I am learning to discover a culture I like and to be able to converse with people more easily when I visit. But this is secondary. I do not visit Portugal very often. The last time I was there was three years ago and while I would like to visit more often, it is difficult when you are trying to fly a lot less. Instead I want to read in Portuguese, I want to be able to follow a film or a series in Portuguese. It is not the same as getting to know a place by living in it but reading and listening allows me to discover a different perspective on the world and in a way, it allows me to travel without leaving my house.

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