Published Jun 2, 2005

I’m very happy that I took the time to learn a little bit of Portuguese before traveling to Brazil. Having the ability to understand, and to communicate with, many of the people I met there really improved my trip. Of course, it also got me stuck riding in the front of cabs and talking to cabbies, so it wasn’t all upside.

Now, I’ll freely admit that it’s easier for an American to learn Portuguese than it is to learn, say, Mandarin; there are big advantages to working in the Roman alphabet, just for starters. And it was particularly easier for me since I already spoke French (well) and Spanish (poorly).

The Spanish was useful because many words are the same in the two languages, but Spanish has the disadvantage of being pronounced like it’s written, whereas Portuguese has either 2 or 3 (depending on how you count) “r”s, you say “de” as “j”, “m” as “n”, and many “o”s are pronounced as “u”. This is a lot like French, which is not at all phonetic, so French got me ready for the difficult pronouncing part. Both languages prepared me for the grammar and cadence of Portuguese.

It was really easy to learn the little bit of Portuguese that I did learn; a friend and I just split the cost of the Pimsleur Brazilian Portuguese I, and I did one lesson a day for a few weeks. Good practice and fun.

And it was useful! I was able to go out and walk around on my own regularly, and it was easy for me to communicate with servers, vendors, etc. I could figure out what the cabbies were saying, and, when they wouldn’t seat us at that one bar, I could understand that it was because there was a private party there.

In sum, I’d highly recommend anyone going on a PRIME trip to learn a little of the language of the country to which they’re going. It made my trip more fun, and it will make it more fun when I go back to visit Chile and Brazil on my own.