Thursday, 21 December 2017

Portuguese class isn't working for me, and I can't figure out why!

I went to my Portuguese class last night. Or rather, I dragged myself there. Signed up for it in October, it was advertised as an advanced conversation class, held in central Munich. It takes me about 30-40 minutes to get there. There was nothing closer to where I live at this level - all I could find was beginners' courses in Brazilian Portuguese (I want European).

I really enjoyed the first few classes, I guess it was a bit of a honeymoon period. The classes are centred around a book, O Viagem Do Elefante (The Elephant's Journey), by José Saramago.

I'm at a loss as to why this has become such a struggle. True, the level is high - C2! - but I can follow the book and the discussion in class just fine. I even contribute. Maybe not as much or as eloquently as I'd like to, but it's a small class (6-10 people), so there's room for everyone to chip in.

I like the teacher, she's warm and friendly and very knowledgeable - and from Lisbon, I think. My classmates are nice people as well as interesting - there's an American woman, a French woman, someone who spent his childhood years in Lisbon, a son of Portuguese immigrants, and a guy who has a house in Portugal and spends half the year over there. And I do love books. I'm really enjoying "The Elephant," it's clever and witty and am thinking of reading more by this Nobel-Prize-winning author.

So, what don't I like about this class?

  • Having to read out loud. In any language. It's a foible of mine... but I can do it, and everyone is really patient with me.
  • Schlepping into town on these cold, dark evenings is the pits.
  • Being the worst in class. My level of Portuguese is noticeably lower than everyone else's. But I expected that when I signed up - it's a C2, after all, and that's the highest level there is. I get frustrated with my incompetence and can't stop thinking that, if it were Spanish, I'd be sailing through this and contributing lots and lots.
  • For some reason, I'm not connecting with my classmates. I expected to be making friends, but it just isn't happening. The fault, I fear, lies with me, not them. I can feel myself shutting down, isolating myself. It feels like I've got some kind of wall around me while I'm there. Not sure why this is happening or how I can get over myself. I'm worried that, since I've now set up this unfortunate dynamic, it's going to be hard to change it.

The class runs till 24th January, and I've not yet signed up for the next semester. I wish there was something closer to where I live, but there just isn't. There's another class in town, a C1 conversation class. I might try that one for the coming semester. Oh, I just don't know...

I love Portuguese with a passion and not only do I want to keep up my level, but I want to improve! I feel I need a new strategy, and I'm currently ruminating over it.


  1. Ugh...sounds frustrating. However, from the sound of your last post, it appears that you've got a lot to worry about with regard to your family. So at the very least, just worry about that, and don't worry about worrying.

    As for language, if I were studying Portuguese my biggest worry would be that it's too similar to Spanish and I'd mix them up. That happened to me when I took Italian in college. I'd get called on in class and then end up responding in Spanish instead of Italian, or hopelessly mixing the two. I finally decided that I'd have to chose one or the other, but not both. As you know, Spanish won out.

    All that said, I still contemplate learning Brazilian Portuguese as I'd love to travel there some day. And if I listen carefully, I can usually get some kind of gist of what people are saying in Portuguese since it's so similar to Spanish already. I've tried watching some YouTube videos in Portuguese to see if I could teach myself. But I wasn't persistent enough, however the method holds some promise, especially since I found a YouTube channel about psychology hosted by a VERY handsome Brazilian guy.

    Anyway, don't be hard on yourself; that's the worst thing you can do. You'll eventually be a fluent polyglot, sliding easily between multiple languages and impressing innocent bystanders.

    Saludos y un abrazo,

    Kim G
    Redding, CA
    Where we did recently get hit on by a Brazilian guy, but he spoke perfect English.

    1. Hola compañero :) Yup, mixing the two up is certainly a problem and it does frustrate me, but there's no way I'm giving up Portuguese at this point. The challenge will be constructing myself a "life" in Portuguese - and it's the only way to get to the next level. Moving to Portugal for a few years is out of the question at the moment, so I need to find another way of pulling it off.

      Don't you speak French as well? I seem to remember something about that...

      There is a really good site, by the University of Texas, teaching (Brazilian) Portuguese to Spanish speakers. You might want to check it out:

    2. I used to speak a somewhat passable, conversational French. But I've pretty much lost it. Funny you should mention it, though. I have lately been thinking more about French, and some of it seems to be gradually filtering back into my conscious mind. That's a language I could probably get back just by watching YouTube videos.
      Thanks for the link above. I'm going to check it out.
      Saludos !

    3. Do it! It'll take your mind off things... might be a welcome distraction at a time like this. And there are so many good resources out there in French. My little town has two language/culture appreciation societies: French and Italian. Typical! Just the two languages I don't speak/know enough about. Sigh. Maybe I should found my own!