Seja bem-vindo! Eu sou Lauren, dona de Hacking Portuguese. I’m a norteamericana living in Califórnia, where I work as an environmental consultant. I began studying Portuguese in January 2010.
I’m slowly coming to terms with the realization that I might be an adult-onset linguaphile. I studied French for five years in school, and while I was a good student, I never got excited enough about French to continue speaking it as an adult. In 2009, I met Brazilian Portuguese and everything was different. I loved the sound of the language, and I had external reasons for wanting to learn it (more on that later).
This led to a realization: you don’t choose the language, the language chooses you.
Using the tools and resources on this site, I ended up speaking Portuguese much better after just two years that I ever spoke French after five years. The speed of my progress got me thinking about how languages are taught and how motivated students might go about accelerating their learning.
I saw that the internet was creating innovative new resources for language learning – tools like Linguee, Forvo, Lingro, Skype, LiveMocha, Corpus do Português, Google Translate, language blogs, podcasts, and youtube videos, plus traditional media easily available through Amazon. At the same time, the internet makes it harder to find these great resources by introducing an overwhelming amount of throwaway content related to language learning. I wanted to share what had worked for me and help people sort through this mess, while also sharing some ideas on how language hacking techniques might be applied to Portuguese specifically.
Besides languages, I enjoy making music. I don’t think this is a coincidence – the parallels between music study and language study are quite striking. In 2007 I became interested in bluegrass and American roots music and began studying the mandolin. That led me, at the 2009 Mandolin Symposium, to take some classes on Brazilian choro music from a couple of visiting Brazilian mandolinists. I completely fell in love with choro and began studying it seriously, which was the spark that got me started learning Portuguese.
At first it was just a few words out of curiosity, but before long I was hooked. I think it was the sound of the language that drew me in; then, as the sounds became less exotic, it was the excitement of being able to read, write and converse more and more that became addictive. What keeps me going now is the thrill of being conversant in a language that just three years ago was completely unintelligible to me, and having a whole new cultural world to explore that is suddenly accessible.
In June 2011 I visited Brazil for the first time in order to practice my Portuguese, study choro with some local bandolinistas, and explore the culture. I spent a month in Rio, staying at a beautiful hostel in Santa Teresa and going out to Lapa every night to hear live music – samba, choro, and forró. I took a cooking class in Copacabana where I learned to make feijoada completa, played with local musicians at the Sunday Choro na Feira choro jam, took a bandolim lesson with local player Luis Barcelos (entirely in Portuguese since he speaks no English, yikes!), biked around the lagoa, hiked to the top of Corcovado, visited Rocinha, spent long afternoons riding the bonde, watched the sunset from Ponto do Arpoador, got lost in o Centro, ordered suco de abacaxi com hortelã at every possible opportunity, and ate way too many salgadinhos. I tried to see as many neighborhoods in Zona Sul as possible. I also visited the colonial town of Paraty, where I did an incredible 3-day sea kayaking trip to the Saco do Mamanguá, a place that is practically a case study for the kind of socioenvironmental challenges I’m interested in.
I came back from Rio with the realization that I seriously needed to work on my listening comprehension, because people speak very fast and the carioca accent is tough to understand. I had no trouble asking questions and expressing my needs, but understanding the response from Brazilians was a whole other story. So lately I have been focusing on active listening practice.
I was incredibly lucky in that around the time I was becoming conversant in Portuguese, my company began doing environmental investigations in Brazil. My second trip to Brazil was a month-long cleanup project at a chemical plant near Salvador. On the weekends I read Jorge Amado on the beach at Itapuã, visited the Pelourinho, and ate moqueca, acarajé and vatapá at every opportunity. During the week I had the great privilege to work with a fantastic team of Brazilians at the plant and improve my language skills.
Right now I’m studying environmental management at the graduate level. I’m interested in ways that people can live more sustainably off of the land, striking a balance between unchecked development and hands-off preservation, and it happens that right now Brazil is a focal point for many of these issues. I’m especially interested in the link between climate change and forests, and I’ve been closely watching the progress of the Brazilian government in combating deforestation in Amazônia and the Mata Atlântica – it’s been a great way to study Portuguese and pursue my other interests at the same time. I eagerly followed Marina Silva’s 2010 presidential campaign, using her tv programs as listening practice. Recently, I’ve been following the debate over changes in the Código Florestal, and the discussions about how programs like REDD can be implemented in Brazil.
I’ve also made some recent forays into other languages – Welsh, German and Bulgarian. But I feel like when it comes to languages, serial monogamy is the rule, and I still want to go farther with Portuguese.
Anyway – For those who want to accelerate their learning even a little bit, I hope that Hacking Portuguese can provide a roadmap to reach your goals speaking this bela língua.