Love-Actually-colin-firth“I am not Chinese. She is not Chinese. We are not Chinese. Are we Chinese? That’s my marker. That is my desk. She is a professor. How do you write your last name? Is your mom Russian?”

Yeah. If you want to talk to me in Portuguese, I can say alllll of those things. We are in our third week of language classes. Two hours a day, twice a week sounds okay. But consider that after being on campus for eight hours already, my fellow teachers and I sit in a circle of chairs made for second graders, and try to keep our wits about us as the most enthusiastic chipmunk-faced nymph of an instructor drills us with grammar and genders and the pronunciation of this God-forsaken language until our minds are so numb and our spirits so broken that our brains simply accept it and we are fluent.

At least, I think that’s what the subtext of the “total immersion” approach is. Portuguese is sexy and exotic and beautiful, but it is freaking hard. Last week my best friend and my roommate cried in the same class. Tess cried because her normal response to overwhelmage is to come to my room for candy (wasn’t an option at the time) or make the tears. And roomie cried because after our sweet instructor Marjorie (God bless the woman) went over cultural gestures, Anysia realized she had been in fact cursing at her students.

about half of the gang, in happier non-class times.
about half of the gang, in happier non-class times.

This week it was my turn for hysterical sobbing, although it WAS in a drug-induced haze (we’ve had some pretty serious viral things sweeping through). The teacher called on me to go over greetings and I didn’t understand what she was asking and cried “what do you want from me” when all she wanted was to shake my hand. Then I thought she was introducing the word “magical” and said “ooooh HARRY POTTER!” but it was actually the word “medico.” Which means doctor.

Learning a language is difficult and humbling. I think that as we teach at this international school (curriculum is American and we teach in English) it’s a nice reminder about how difficult instruction might be for our students.

As an adult wandering around Rio unable to speak the local tongue and feeling somewhat helpless and lost 95% of the time, I still manage an existence. In fact, in some ways, not knowing the language makes my life simpler, as I am limited in activities (aka spending money) because I have no way to communicate what I want to do.

eu te amo, brasil. thanks for being nice to me.
eu te amo, brasil. thanks for being nice to me.

I get a bit worried I will be taken advantage of, like today outside of the soccer game when the guy we bought scalped tickets from ran yelling after me and was either accusing me of stealing from him or trying to give me money (thank God I was with protective brothers in Christ) . . . or when the beer guy said it was 5 reias a beer and I bought two but only got 8 reaias in change for a twenty . . . or when some guy at the stadium creepily ran his hand up my body and then walked away . . . But I can mostly get by with “nao fallo portuguese?!” and what I hope is a charming smile.

But our poor students are learning like chemistry and history and a million things in a foreign language. With goofball teachers like me who slip into Minnesota accents for no good reason, and draw hearts on my feet and tell students they are scratch and sniff tattoos (two girls fell for this. I almost peed my pants.).

It reminds me how important and special my job has the potential to be. This week I will finally start working one on one and in small groups with all the kids I have been testing for the last few weeks. Their wee minds are like sponges and so ready to soak up dat knowledge. It’s gonna be so sweet.

Hm. Realizing that I will need to stop using “dat” as a real word and inventing nouns like “overwhelmage” because it feels right.

Cheers to a challenge!

the journey of a thousand miles . . .
the journey of a thousand miles . . .
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