So far, I’ve been a nun, had words in my horse, and now…?

31 10 2006

…now I’ve been in prison.
This Portuguese language is harder than I thought. No, I knew it was hard, but these little mistakes make all the difference in the world. And when I hear people speaking English, I have to remember to bite my tongue when they mix up words like “ox” and “wax” because I am making the same kinds of mistakes.

Last night at dinner, I told my dining partner about a nice woman who lived in my same “prison,” when in fact I meant “building.” Oops. As you can imagine, my face flushed bright red when I saw his eyebrows raise. Immediately, he shook his head. “You’ve been in Brazil how long, and you’re already in prison?” Fortunately, he speaks English fluently, so he can explain my mistakes. Certainly, I never want to confuse those words again.

I was telling my friend about this prison woman because the night before, she had offered to make me juice up in her penthouse apartment. This is a woman who has kind of been my little guardian angel. She has a dog named Nina, who is a blonde cocker spaniel with a punky tuft of hair on the top of her head and red barrettes clipped to her dangly ears. I think Nina and I were supposed to be friends because our names are so closely related. The woman’s name is Mary. Whenever I see Mary and Nina, they are going for a walk, so sometimes I join them. We go to have juice at the cafe around from our building/prison and she has often invited me up for fresh juice in her apartment. I have never gone before, so on Sunday, I decided to go and stop being antisocial.

I didn’t know she had company, though, so I felt awkward intruding but Mary assured me it was okay. Her company was another woman, a striking Brazilian woman named Kelley (I think?) who had lived for some years in London. When we spoke in Portuguese, I could feel my flush because I knew I was making mistakes, and somehow, it’s more embarassing for me to make mistakes around Brazilians who speak English than it is for me to make mistakes around Brazilians who don’t. I feel like they are hyper aware of my ability to speak, and so then I get really timid and often don’t complete sentences after I’ve made a mistake, even though I know I am perfectly capable.

Anyway, I felt better when Kelley was telling me (in English) about a time she went to buy “ox” at a pharmacy in London. “Ox?” I wondered. What is she talking about? And when she used the hand motion of ripping hair out of her skin, I knew she meant “wax.” But all I could picture was trying to buy an “ox” at a pharmacy. And I tried as hard as I could not to smile because I knew exactly, exactly how she would have felt.

Learning a new language, and feeling timid about using it, helps me relate to my students…although their English-speaking ability is much more advanced than my Portuguese-speaking ability. I identify with my kids who prefer to whisper or write their responses instead of calling out loud or interrupting people with their answers. I frequently speak in a quiet Portuguese voice, but anyone who knows me knows my English mouth is loud and crass.

Ah…just waiting and trying to push this learning curve up and over the hump.


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