Over the past three years, Hodge and I have experienced firsthand how learning another language can put a strain on your own native tongue. I can only imagine that as our kids have the opportunity to grow up learning two languages, it will be an even greater strain for them. But for now, this is what we have to share about our experience.
Whether fortunately or not, many of our Portuguese friends know at least some English while others know quite a bit. While all took English in school at some point, many have shared with us that they learned English because they grew up watching cartoon network (which was not dubbed into the Portuguese language at the time). Even today, many Portuguese radio stations play a great majority of English-language songs during air time, movies in the theaters and imported tv shows are dressed with subtitles instead of dubbing, and English can be found on various signs and billboards across the country.
Because of the prominence of the English language in Portugal, we often have the opportunity to communicate in our native tongue with our friends and the people we meet. In fact, many a times before we even have the chance to open our mouths, strangers will start speaking to us in English. I guess we don't blend in as well as we thought do! But as we communicate, this English that we speak is often our own interpretive language. First of all, we often speak slower so that our friends have the opportunity to catch every word. What's more, we often speak in English from directly translated Portuguese. This means that we take the Portuguese phrase that our friends know, and we use the literal translation, even if it doesn't make sense in English. A lot of times we do this because it is what we are hearing from our friends as they speak to us.
Take the following examples.
"more close, more far"
The Portuguese language has only a handful of words that use the equivalent to the "-er" and "-est" endings. For most comparatives and superlatives, they simply put more or less before the describing word. In English, it would be like saying, "That tree is more tall" as opposed to "That tree is taller." So, often times, Hodge and I find ourselves using this formula in our daily conversations. "Hey Hodge, do you want to go to the beach that is more close or more far?"
"take a coffee"
When arranging to meet someone for coffee, the phrase "tomar um café" is often used. This literally means "to take a coffee". Initially, Hodge and I would often joke: "O, are we just going to steal it?" or "Take it where?" But over time, we became so used to this translated phrase that, without realizing what we were saying, we would ask each other, "Do you want to take a coffee?" This made it a bit difficult when we were coming back to the States, and as I was messaging a friend, I had to ask Hodge, "How do you invite someone to coffee?"
The Portuguese do not have a word for "lend." Instead, they use the same word to mean both "borrow" and "lend". So, translated, it would sound like this: "Would you borrow me that book?" Hodge used to make fun of this phrase probably more than any other. However, as he was talking with someone on the phone one day, he instinctively asked, "Will you borrow me your airsoft gun?" It was then that he realized there was no getting around it, and he just embraced his new found language skills. So, sure enough, we have now added this phrase into our repertoire of Portu-glish.
Learning another language through interaction has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of living in another culture, as well as one of the most challenging. But the more I learn, the more I realize just how beautiful the Portuguese language is. And the more I learn, the more and more my own language continues to fail me at times. It can be both funny and frustrating in the same moment when my mind forgets the word for "fork" and the only thing that my mouth can muster up is "garfo".