So, we have survived our first week of Portuguese classes. In fact, we are midway through our second week, trying to keep on top of our homework, to stay afloat on a vast sea of vocabulary, and to train our mouths to make sounds they aren't at all used to making. We are being challenged and stretched as we take on this task of learning another language.
And yet, at the same time, we are finding it easier than we thought. My French (I took two years in high school) is coming back to me and proving very helpful, and Rusty is finding the little Spanish he knows comes in handy. (French and Spanish are both Latin-derived Romantic languages, like Portuguese.) But beyond that, our experience with Japanese makes any other language seem easy by comparison. I already feel like I am in Portuguese where I was in Japanese after 6 months, mainly because I can already read and write Portuguese. I don't have to learn two separate alphabets and a bunch of Chinese characters just to figure out what things are at the store, or read a menu, or read the songs at church. Never, never underestimate the importance of literacy in our modern society or when learning other languages!
We are in class for two hours every day, Monday through Friday. And each day, we also have work to do at home. Some of the work is book work -- conjugating verbs, translating sentences, memorizing vocab, listening to and repeating mini-conversations. But there are other things that our teacher also considers "homework" -- like reading Portuguese children's books aloud (which will also help Alex with his language acquisition), using the Portuguese we are learning in class as we are going about our daily lives, even watching Portuguese television! She actually encouraged us to pick a Portuguese soap opera to watch every day (they are easy to follow because of the melodrama and overacting), and when Alex is watching kids' shows in Portuguese, even if we are doing other things and not giving our full attention to the television, we can count that as time spent in exposure to the language. The important thing now is to immerse ourselves as much as possible in the sounds and get our ears used to hearing it. I am already finding that I am able to pick out words and hear where sentences begin and end, where at first, it was all just a jumble of sounds. So, that is encouraging. And then there are other days when I can't even order a cup of coffee properly or remember the correct response to "How are you?" Ah, the ups and downs of learning a second language!
We really like our teacher, Eunice Carapeto. She expects us to work hard and treat language study seriously, but she is also understanding of the fact that we have a family and therefore aren't able to give as much time to our studies each day as a single person or a couple without children. On our first day, she told us to be sure to reserve a day every week for resting and relaxing (so we don't burn out), and not to change a lot about our family life just because of language learning. She also told us to keep a hobby because learning a language can be a frustrating and humiliating experience, so every once in awhile, it's nice to do something you are actually good at! I sure am glad I brought a few scrapbooking supplies and an album to work on. All in all, really sound advice for people living abroad and trying to learn another language.
Eunice has told us that around the 3-month mark is when we will notice that we are able to actually carry on a meaningful conversation. We so look forward to that day. For now, we stumble around, butchering the language and risking being laughed at, because there really is no other way to learn. We have to become like little children again and be willing to make lots of mistakes in order to make forward progress.