Earlier today, I went to visit the Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain) to watch the beautiful sunset. While there, a Hispanic family politely approached me to ask in their language if I could take a picture of them. When I responded in Portuguese, they automatically assumed I was Brazilian. As soon as I told them that I’m actually from the US, the kids immediately began speaking in English, as I continued to speak in Portuguese, and the parents in Spanish. This has actually been one of the peaks so far of my Latin American experience.
Every language has its own unique culture, history, and select group of native speakers: differences which are all very important and should never go unnoticed; however, from my time speaking with this Hispanic family, I have realized that every language is tied by a common thread: the desire to communicate and connect with others.
Interestingly, this ties right back to the theatre education I have been receiving at Notre Dame. More than once, I have revisited one of my favorite quote from Peter Brooks’ book The Empty Space: “The word does not start as a word—it is an end product which begins as an impulse, stimulated by attitude and behavior which dictate the need for expression.” Sometimes, it’s just not about the words. Revisiting this concept has helped me get through tough conversations in which I’m not entirely sure of the right verb, tense, or grammatical mood to use. Or even in situations when I didn’t speak a language being spoken to me at all. I hardly know any Spanish, yet I was still able to understand every expression that Hispanic family was trying to convey. I believe that this process described by Brooks is the underlying mechanism that takes place in every conversation. It begins inside the person speaking and is then repeated inside the person(s) replying. Though each speaker may only be aware of the words they are using, each word expressed is in fact only “a small visible portion of a gigantic unseen formation.”
I have been improving very well in my Portuguese, and am extremely happy to finally be getting a much firmer grasp on complex grammar topics. I still don’t speak Portuguese perfectly, though, by any stretch of the imagination. I make many mistakes, including some which have been both laughable and even inappropriate. (I would share the story here, but I’ll spare you the second-hand embarrassment. Yeah, it was that bad.) What has gotten me through these experiences is the need to express myself in the language, rather than a desire to speak Portuguese perfectly. My Portuguese will perfect itself in due time.